John Bruton: already suggested

CONSIDERATION has been given at a senior level to the appointment of an independent 'facilitator' or chairman to oversee any all-party discussions on a four-year plan to tackle the state's budgetary crisis.

The names of Peter Sutherland and John Bruton have already been floated, while Garret FitzGerald and Dick Spring are also likely to be considered.

However, senior government sources stressed there was a long way to go before that level of interaction by the parties and spoke of a "step by step approach" to the issue.

There remains some scepticism on both the government and opposition sides as to whether the concept of all-party agreement on the plan will get off the ground. However, others are convinced that because of the depth of the crisis – and the likelihood that a Fine Gael-Labour government will soon be in power – some form of consensus will be reached.

The first "step" of the process will begin this week when opposition finance spokespersons will be briefed by senior Department of Finance officials on the budgetary numbers. Labour's Joan Burton has already had a "preliminary meeting" with officials on Friday evening. Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan is scheduled to meet the Department on Wednesday and Enda Kenny said last night he recognised "the need for a four-year fiscal planning horizon".

Government sources said the opposition parties would need time to analyse the figures and formulate proposals before it could be established if the two sides could find a "common analysis". They stressed the Taoiseach was not opposed to the concept of an all-party agreement but that it had to be done "in steps".

The Green Party, which first came up with the idea, remains enthusiastic, believing that, at the very least, it will help focus debate on the fiscal crisis.

Speaking about reports of the Taoiseach's reluctance for an all-party deal, a senior Green party figure said: "We have been here before. This is just part of the process where we come up with an idea and there is initial reluctance and then the others come around... [It] happened with our plan for the reduction of junior ministers and our calls for a banking enquiry."