GREEN attempts to forge a cross-party economic consensus were branded confused and counter-productive last night.
Fine Gael and Labour did not try to hide their scorn at the way John Gormley had handled the issue as the opposition parties dismissed Minister Conor Lenihan’s call for a national government out of hand.
Five days after first floating the idea of a united economic approach, Mr Gormley sent party leaders a letter outlining his call for a meeting to exchange views on how to deal with the four year budget framework which must be presented to the EU next month.
Opposition parties questioned the motives for the move and warned that Taoiseach Brian Cowen appeared lukewarm on the matter.
“The Greens’ approach has been confused and unhelpful,” a spokesperson for Enda Kenny said.
Labour went further, insisting the plan appeared to be intended to keep the Coalition in power.
“Conor Lenihan let the cat out of the bag when he started talking about a national government – if national government is code for letting Fianna Fáil cling on to power then we do not want to be associated with it,” a Labour spokesperson said.
Mr Gormley said he could understand the “scepticism and fear” of the opposition parties but they should react positively to his approach “in the national interest”.
He suggested a three step approach which would see all parties agree to cutting the deficit by 2014, examining the Department of Finance’s books and then meeting to discuss options “without pre-conditions”.
Mr Gormley denied the Taoiseach was not fully behind the initiative, but conceded that it was a Green Party idea, not a coalition one.
Fine Gael sources said Mr Gormley’s move was “counter productive” as the major parties were broadly agreed on the level of cuts needed last week, but his intervention now made it look as if major differences were in place.
However, the party’s front bench spokesperson Leo Varadkar caused a stir when he suggested cuts should be “front loaded” and €6 billion could be sliced from spending in the budget rather than the expected figure of around €4bn.
Sinn Féin said it would not support the Government’s “savage cuts” agenda and called for a longer period to be given to getting the deficit back down to EU approved levels.
The Opposition is inspecting Finance Department data to access the full scale of the crisis.
Government cuts adviser Colm McCarthy warned the country must show international markets it is serious about fixing its finances.
“If the budgetary correction is ducked the alternative is an IMF/European bailout, which would mean the loss of economic sovereignty and huge reputational damage,” he said.
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