Belfast Telegraph

Third day of coalition deal talks

Talks between Fine Gael and Labour on forming a coalition government will continue for a third full day ahead of a weekend deadline.

Leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore met on Wednesday morning before negotiating teams settled into further discussions. The parties were briefed by government officials on the state of the economy, with both sides claiming the information confirmed the depth of the crisis facing the country.

Under pressure from Europe, the two sides have set the end of the week as a deadline to secure a stable pact and programme for government. Both sides accept the weekend target for a deal.

The negotiations at Government Buildings are 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.

Labour is also under pressure from the Unite trade union which has called on the party to back away from joining with the centre-right Fine Gael and form a strong left-leaning opposition.

The Fine Gael team is led by highly-regarded finance spokesman Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan, who masterminded the historic election success, and combative front-bencher Alan Shatter. Labour's negotiators include deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton, former leader Pat Rabbitte, constitutional expert Brendan Howlin and policy director Colm O'Reardon.

A quick deal is needed as the country faces a series of challenging hurdles linked to its multibillion-euro bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and Europe, and the banking crisis. The parties are also aiming to put a deal on paper before the Dail sits again on March 9.

It will have to be signed off by Labour's special delegate council at the weekend before the two sides can agree. That meeting, which involves hundreds of members from party branches only, is pencilled in for Sunday.

Mr Kenny is due to travel to Helsinki on Friday for a meeting of the European People's Party, with which Fine Gael is affiliated. The contacts are intended to open the door for a charm offensive and garner support to renegotiate the 85 billion euro loans.

Mr Gilmore will meet left-leaning European colleagues separately on Friday.

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