Water deal could see Fianna Fáil support three Fine Gael budgets

Fianna Fáil may be prepared to agree a written government deal and support three Fine Gael budgets in exchange for the suspension of water charges until the next general election.

The possibility of water charges being suspended or not remains the key obstacle to a deal being agreed between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who yesterday parked talks on the issue.

Fianna Fáil are resisting pressure to agree a deal with Fine Gael and have hardened their position on water charges, insisting bills must be suspended for the entire period of the Dáil. It is understood that Fianna Fáil is to put a proposal to Fine Gael that it will support at least three of their budgets and sign up to a written agreement only if water charges are suspended for the entire period of the Dáil. Such a move would allow breathing space for the two parties, as they settled into the terms of a minority government.

Both sides edged closer to agreeing the terms of a deal last night, but Fianna Fáil’s position was also hardening on the need to freeze charges for a lengthy period, before the contentious issue was parked and negotiation teams instead discussed differences on health, education, housing, and banks. Talks on water charges will resume today.

Claims by senior Fine Gael figures that a deal was close to being agreed, and could be ready by today, were shot down by Fianna Fáil, who insisted “there is no deal”.

Fine Gael have “yet to acknowledge” that suspensions should occur at all, confided a Fianna Fáil negotiating source, who also revealed that the party wants charges frozen for the entire Dáil.

Fianna Fáil figures were also raging about claims by Finance Minister Michael Noonan that their party had conceded to a “game changer” over charges and caved in on demands to hand over responsibility for bills and water to local authorities. Mr Noonan said Fianna Fáil were willing to agree to a national authority and that this was a “game changer”.

Discussions yesterday were also held on policy differences in the areas of childcare, disability, and education, both sides said.

Fine Gael figures said they hoped talks could be completed by the weekend and that negotiations had been “constructive” and “technical input” was needed into some water proposals, which would be discussed today.

Fine Gael are also believed to be prepared to examine suspending charges to allow a utility company set up a new charging regime, but the length of period charges are frozen for remains unknown. A proposal to introduce “generous” allowances for water charges is also being examined, which would effectively cancel out bills for some users.

Fianna Fáil TDs and senators have been put on standby and warned that a snap parliamentary party meeting may be called, either tomorrow or Monday, if a final deal is agreed.

On the other side, Independent TDs have been told to be ready to meet Fine Gael if needed.

Fine Gael TDs, on the other hand, said they were nervous about talks not concluding by next week, at which point there would be mounting pressure for another general election.

Despite the concerns on both sides, though, there is a growing expectation that a deal could be finally agreed this weekend, in anticipation of a vote for Taoiseach next week.

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