FINE Gael is preparing to sign up to the broad outline of the government's four-year fiscal plan as part of a strategy of putting "clear blue water" between it and Labour.
The programme will involve "eye-popping" savings of at least €12bn-€13bn, including up to €5bn in December's budget, the Sunday Tribune understands.
The main opposition party will not agree to the detail of the government plan and will particularly oppose the coalition's proposals to raise taxes. But it is likely to "buy into it at a macro level" and endorse the massive year-on-year figures for savings in the plan designed to rein in the soaring budget deficit.
Fine Gael is currently putting the finishing touches on a radical new policy document that will advocate "100 ideas" for reform of the public sector and propose cuts of billions of euro in current spending.
The plan, allied to what they claim is a more "responsible" approach to the consensus talks, signals a serious divergence in strategy by the two biggest opposition parties.
Although it has agreed to take part in the talks, which could happen as early as this week, Labour has reacted with hostility to the consensus proposal which it has described as "phoney". In a speech in the Dáil last week, Pat Rabbitte said what was needed was a "not some behind-closed doors formula for paralysis".
There are figures in Fine Gael arguing it should adopt a similar approach to Labour and let the government take the flak for a tough budget. But the majority view is that this will not wash with Fine Gael's potential support and that the talks "represent an opportunity to get back to being a responsible opposition party".
They acknowledge privately that Labour has been better at tapping into the public mood and that they "won't win on personality issues". They will avoid any open confrontation with Labour – stressing the "real enemy is Fianna Fáil" – but will seek to highlight what they claim is the lack of credibility in comments from Eamon Gilmore. They believe Gilmore's recent interview endorsing the 2014 target for reducing the budget deficit, but promising not to cut child benefit or social welfare rates, introduce a property tax or raise income taxes for middle income workers – was damaging for Labour.
"The government see the four-year plan and the proposal for consensus as an opportunity to flush out the opposition. But we're quite prepared to be flushed out. We see the four-year plan as the chance to flush out Labour," one front bench figure told the Sunday Tribune.
Fine Gael and Labour will produce their own budgetary plans and Fine Gael figures claim its version will be more credible. "It's easy to come up with €2-3bn in alternative cuts and taxes but you can't just tax the rich and close quangos and get to the €12bn required," one said.