Government formation talks on education have been called “detailed, but productive", as delegations from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party work to meet a “hard deadline” set down by the Taoiseach.
Much of the discussion in yesterday’s talks is understood to have focused on access to education, as well as the future of third-level fees.
All three sides will continue to meet over the weekend to discuss social protection issues including how the new government will approach the pandemic-related payments. Those meetings will include discussion on some financial issues which have not yet been sorted.
It is hoped that this weekend’s talks will yield results to allow the parties to move on to issues which the Taoiseach characterised as “perhaps ... a little bit more contentious”.
There is still believed to be “a decent amount” of negotiation needed to bring all three sides to a compromise on housing, agriculture. and transport.
That means that a deal may not ready by the end of next week, with sources saying that it may be the beginning of the following week before a deal is agreed.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there is now a “hard deadline” on formation of a government before the end of June.
Mr Varadkar said that this deadline is necessary to deal with a backlog of legislation that needs to be passed, including a Brexit bill. Mr Varadkar also cited legislation around the European Investment Bank’s pandemic funding and a need to renew the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, which gives powers to the Special Criminal Court.
Justice minister Charlie Flanagan last week received Cabinet approval to bring its renewal to the Dáil, extending the powers of the non-jury court by 12 months.
“We’re probably at the point now where we’re going to need to try to find compromises on the things that are a little bit more contentious,” said Mr Varadkar
“But the objective is to agree a programme for government by the end of next week and then be in a position to put it to the party memberships over the course of the following two weeks and then form a new government before the end of June. There’s many a slip between cup and lip, but I can guarantee you that everyone is working hard on this.
“Certainly the parties that are serious about being in government are working very hard.”
He said that if a deal is not done, alternatives will have to be considered and “they’re very difficult, as you can imagine”.
The Taoiseach added that he has not given any thought to those alternatives, up to and including a general election, saying: “I really don’t want to speculate on alternatives because I’m not planning for them.”
Sources say that among the negotiators, there is “little to no” talk of alternatives and they maintain that all three sides are committed to reaching a deal.
The leaders of the three parties met yesterday morning, Mr Varadkar said.