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Race against time for Labour as talks go on

TALKS aimed at forming a new coalition government are now unlikely to end before a Sunday deadline set by Labour.

Eamon Gilmore had wanted to conclude the negotiations with Fine Gael in time for a special meeting of party delegates at the weekend.

However, sources close to the talks say they are progressing slowly with much of the heavy detail still to be debated.

As revealed by the Herald, the talks reached a sticking point at one stage when an impasse developed over which party would control the key finance portfolios.

It is understood that they have now parked those divisions and will revisit the issue once all other policy issues have been discussed.

"It is a slow process. There was always going to be some tension around fiscal policy because our election plans were different but both sides are determined to work through that," said a source.

It is now feared that the tough talking will continue all weekend and possibly run right up to the start of the 31st Dail on Wednesday.

Minds have been focused by the fact that Labour will need the approval of its grassroots members to enter government as a junior coalition partner.

Already, minor divisions have emerged within the party as some members believe that Mr Gilmore would be better off positioning Labour as the main opposition party.

The party's youth wing fear that a coalition with 113 out of 166 TDs would result in Labour having a "minuscule" influence.

Labour officials had provisionally reserved a theatre in UCD for Sunday with the intention of briefing members on the negotiations.



Stability

This would have allowed two extra days for the parties to tie up loose ends and Enda Kenny to select his Cabinet.

However, they are now in a battle against time to reach a conclusion in time for Mr Kenny to be elected as Taoiseach on Wednesday.

Fine Gael privately maintains that with 76 seats it still has the option of forming a minority government with like-minded independents but this would offer very little stability.

Despite their differences over the timeframe in which to reduce the country's deficit to a manageable level, there has been some good news with the IMF offering a slight reduction on the interest rate it is charging for bailout loans.

kdoyle@herald.ie