Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Coalition talks enter crucial stage

Taoiseach-designate Enda Kenny's team will meet Labour's negotiators, including leader Eamon Gilmore
Taoiseach-designate Enda Kenny's team will meet Labour's negotiators, including leader Eamon Gilmore

The leaders of the Republic's two largest political parties are to meet for a second time as they increase efforts to crack a deal on coalition government.

Taoiseach-designate and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and his Labour counterpart Eamon Gilmore will then leave the main talks to hand-picked negotiators.

Under pressure from Europe, the two sides have set a weekend deadline to form a stable pact and programme for government.

Mr Kenny's team will be led by highly regarded finance spokesman Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan, who masterminded the historic election success, and combative front-bencher Alan Shatter.

Mr Gilmore's negotiators include deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton, former leader Pat Rabbitte, constitutional expert Brendan Howlin and policy director Colm O'Reardon.

The two leaders held the first behind-the-scenes talks in Leinster House, Dublin, on Monday, and the first official phase of hard bargaining on portfolios and policies is set to take place.

Buoyed by historic success at the polls, both Fine Gael and Labour are said to be confident a deal can be done in such a short time - programme for government talks have been known to run for weeks.

Negotiations will be complex, with the parties at odds over the length of time it will take to turn around the budget deficit, tax, public sector cuts, water charges and how to tackle bondholder responsibility for banking debts.

Both have strong performers on economic and financial policy - the highest-profile and most heavily scrutinised department.

As the parties remained tight-lipped over initial progress, a resurgent Sinn Fein, which trebled its presence since the last election, warned Labour to expect a tough ride if it chooses government over opposition. The Unite trade union also called on Labour to back away from joining with the centre-right Fine Gael.

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