Irish coalition talks set to conclude on Saturday

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:10 PM
Irish coalition talks set to conclude on Saturday

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's two largest parties are likely to conclude coalition talks on Saturday in time to meet a weekend deadline to form a new government, the Labour party said on Friday.

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

Labour has organized a meeting of party members to approve a program for government on Sunday and rowed back on a warning earlier on Friday that the tight timetable for negotiations might force the meeting to be postponed.

"The plan is still to proceed with the conference on Sunday but that is all dependent on everything being done and dusted tomorrow. We think that is probably likely," a Labour Party spokesman told Reuters.

"As of the moment we are operating on the assumption that the conference will be held on Sunday, but that really won't be confirmed until sometime tomorrow afternoon."

A Labour lawmaker and member of the party's negotiating team told the national broadcaster RTE that progress was being made but significant issues still had to be resolved.

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

Ireland's prime minister-in-waiting, Fine Gael's Enda Kenny, pleaded with fellow European conservative leaders in Helsinki for easier terms, but was told there would be "no free lunches."

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was meeting socialist leaders in Athens on Friday, but both he and Kenny were due to rejoin the talks in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

Fine Gael was also making plans for its parliamentary party to meet on Sunday to approve the deal, Michael Noonan, the party's lead negotiator and favorite to become the next finance minister, told RTE.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Kevin Liffey)