By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Juno McEnroe
Fine Gael has insisted any changes to the confidence and supply deal with and Fianna Fáil must be fully costed. The call comes just hours before the high-profile negotiations are set to begin.
A Government spokesperson confirmed that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to agree to the plan, saying any changes must have “rigorous financial planning” in place before they can be discussed.
At a post-Cabinet press briefing, the spokesperson said while the Government will approach the negotiations “without pre-conditions”, no “rash” policy changes should be allowed.
Senior Fianna Fáil sources last night dismissed the Fine Gael costings demand as an attempt to frame any negotiations around renewing the confidence and supply deal instead of an initial lengthy review of the first two-and-a-half years of the agreement.
The Fianna Fáil officials said the reason for the review process is because the first confidence and supply deal must be examined thoroughly before any consideration can be given to extending the deal for another one or two years.
The costings demand has been seen as the first real shot across the bows in the negotiations on the confidence and supply deal.
While no date has been officially confirmed, it is expected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s negotiation teams will meet tomorrow afternoon to begin setting out the schedule for discussions.
The Fine Gael team is made up of Tánaiste Simon Coveney, party chairman Martin Heydon, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
The Fianna Fáil team comprises deputy leader Dara Calleary, Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers, finance spokesman Michael McGrath, and agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Shane Ross has said he and his Independent Alliance colleagues want the right to discuss their own improvements.
On RTÉ radio’s News at One, Mr Ross said this would be a precondition of the Alliance signing up to a new deal.
While Mr Varadkar said a fortnight ago he wanted to conclude talks by Halloween, Fine Gael has since backed down, with his spokesperson declining to give a target completion date last night.