Crunch government formation talks to continue over weekend

Crunch talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party will continue over the weekend as pressure builds to get a programme for government finalised.
Crunch government formation talks to continue over weekend
Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan

Crunch talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party will continue over the weekend as pressure builds to get a programme for government finalised.

Talks on Thursday saw some minor discussion on agriculture however the discussions were mostly halted over Thursday and Friday as “Fine Gael were busy,” as the cabinet debated moving the country to the second phase of lockdown.

Saturday’s discussions will centre around transport, health and further plenary sessions.

Transport has emerged as a major sticking point in negotiations.

Walking and cycling are the issues causing the most problems according to a source, “which is a bit of a surprise, to be honest”.

The Green Party want 10% of capital budget for walking and 10% for cycling. However, the 'civil war' parties don't want to include the maintenance budget in any of the figures.

The Greens say this means walking and cycling as a percentage would lose out by around €200m. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael say such a diversion of capital funds would impact the building of “essential” roads and other infrastructure.

Likewise, carbon tax remains an outstanding issue for the parties. Fine Gael had previously suggested the “fee and dividend” model, which is favoured by the Green Party; however, the last government decided against the initiative, instead seeing the revenue raised from carbon tax ringfenced into investing in new agricultural environmental schemes.

Now it appears fee and dividend is back on the table, with the parties negotiating on how much a new fee should be set at, and how the dividend rebate from the State from costs incurred by the tax would be calculated.

Sources within the Green Party say there has been a shift in mood in the last week due to consistent reports in the media about Fine Gael policy stances.

A letter sent from Leo Varadkar to party members which emerged on Wednesday, which cited his wish for a programme “that ensures public finances are managed prudently” so that “we don’t take on too much debt”, sparked fears of a return to austerity, which the Green Party have been vocally against during the talks.

Likewise, Mr Varadkar’s comments on Direct Provision in the Dáil in which he defended the system and Simon Coveney’s open refusal to include The Occupied Territories Bill, supported by Fianna Fáil and the Greens, as well as a majority of the Dáil, in any programme for government, has disappointed some of the Green Party negotiators, who say it reflects an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith or compromise on issues in which they are a minority.

Fianna Fáil sources are confident the talks will be completed by Wednesday at the latest.

"This will be wrapped up in the next couple of days, this needs to be, the bottom line is that has got to be finished up and done by Tuesday, it's not just about what the Greens want," one TD said.

"There is a big focus on public transport investment, which is what Fianna Fáil fought for, and improving infrastructure on walking and cycling is what everyone wants, there is no major insurmountable problems here.

"We're pretty confident we'll have it done by Wednesday, we've had enough back and forth, the outstanding issues are eminently resolvable."

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle approved an amendment to the party rules which stipulated that in the event of a Programme for Government being agreed with Fine Gael and the Green Party, the membership of the party would be given the opportunity to consider such a programme by means of a postal ballot.

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