November 16, 2018 / 9:11 PM / 23 days ago

Irish government extension talks need few more weeks: Deputy PM

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, speaks at a 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' workshop at the Convention Centre in Dublin, Ireland October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s Fine Gael party and the main opposition backing its minority government will need to negotiate for a few more weeks before they decide whether to extend their expiring cooperation deal, Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said on Friday.

Fine Gael has ruled since 2016 through a “confidence and supply” deal with its main rival, Fianna Fail, which agreed to abstain from opposition-driven votes over the course of three annual budgets, the last of which was presented last month.

“We have an understanding with Fianna Fail that the discussions are confidential. They are making reasonably good progress but I think there’s a few weeks in it yet,” Coveney, who is leading the talks for Fine Gael, told reporters at the party’s annual conference.

The talks began three weeks ago but have so far moved slowly as the government grapples with Brexit negotiations that hinge on the future management of the land border between EU-member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said he wants to extend the government deal until mid-2020, and capitalizing on Fine Gael’s increased popularity by instead calling a snap election appears to be off the table until there is greater clarity on how neighboring Britain will leave the EU.

Fianna Fail, many of whose members are unwilling to hand Fine Gael an extension of more than a year, should they agree one, told Varadkar last month to remove the threat of an election until the British parliament ratifies a Brexit deal.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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