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Sunday 4 December 2016

FG/FF put talks back on track as deal now in sight

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Arthur Carron Photography)
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Arthur Carron Photography)

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have put their marathon government-formation efforts back on track as the two parties edged towards striking agreement on the issue of water charges.

The parties' negotiating teams were locked in talks last night over a compromise proposal to put the future of water charges to a Dail vote.

The plan, which represents another huge climbdown from Fine Gael, would first see the issue of charges and the future of the utility examined by an Independent Commission.

The recommendations would then be considered by an Oireachtas committee before being voted upon by the Dail's 158 TDs.

It's understood charges will be deferred for the entire period prior to the Dail vote. The compromise proposal, which was still being thrashed out last night, will effectively take Irish Water off the political agenda - allowing a minority Fine Gael government to be formed.

But acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be accused of kicking the issue to touch in order to secure his re-election.

As the talks continued at Trinity College, one negotiator said there remained a "50:50" chance of a deal.

Issues

The issue of water was deferred after about an hour into the talks as the two parties moved to discuss issues such as rent supplement and mortgage interest relief.

The news of a potential deal between the two parties comes as Sinn Fein will today try to increase pressure on Fianna Fail with a Dail vote calling for the abolition of water charges.

However, Fianna Fail itself last night called for a debate on the issue - but it's understood the Sinn Fein motion will be voted down.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny had earlier surprised his ministers after claiming that they had attended their last Cabinet meeting.

Service

He told the meeting that "history will be kind" to the Fine Gael/Labour Party government and thanked his ministers for their service.

One minister present said he interpreted Mr Kenny's remarks as meaning a second election was imminent.

But a second source said the comments could be perceived as trying to "prompt action" within the talks at Trinity College.

The ongoing political impasse is being closely monitored by President Michael D. Higgins, who may be asked by Mr Kenny to dissolve the Dail if the talks collapse.

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