Irish coalition talks may miss weekend deadline

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:01 PM
Irish coalition talks may miss weekend deadline

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Coalition talks between Ireland's two largest parties may drag on beyond a weekend deadline, the Labour party said on Friday, despite pressure for a fast deal to ease pressure on the economy.

The center-left Labour party has been in talks with center-right Fine Gael since Monday after voters handed the ruling Fianna Fail party a record election drubbing last week over its handling of the country's economic collapse.

The parties are under pressure to clinch a quick deal so a new government can pressure Europe to ease tough terms attached to an 85-billion-euro EU/IMF bailout before a package to resolve Europe's debt crisis is agreed at summits in late March.

Labour was planning to hold a meeting of party members to approve a program for government on Sunday, but that meeting may now be canceled, said party spokesman Tony Heffernan.

"That will only go ahead if the negotiations are concluded and an agreement reached on a program for government by then. That's simply not certain at the moment," he said.

Party finance spokeswoman Joan Burton told local radio that the meeting may be reschedule for Tuesday .

The possibility of a delay into next week is the result of a tight timetable and is not an indication that talks are going badly, Heffernan said.

Talks should still be completed in time for a new government to be voted in on the first session of the new parliament on Wednesday, he said.

The Irish Times on Friday cited sources as saying that the two parties had strongly divergent views on the time frame for getting the public finances back on track and serious tension over which party would be given control of the finance ministry.

Both party leaders were in Europe for talks with EU leaders on Friday.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was in Helsinki for a meeting of the European People's Party including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore was in Athens for a meeting of the Party of European Socialists.

(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Jon Hemming)