The Minister of Finance, Brian Cowen, has said the Government's policy on stamp duty was agreed between the coalition partners at the time of the Budget last December and will remain unchanged.

Speaking in Co Roscommon, Mr Cowen said that Ireland had now entered the party conference season and the Tánaiste Michael McDowell's comments at the weekend should be seen in that light.

Mr Cowen said issues such as taxation and stamp duty would be a matter for decision by the parties who will form the next Government.

He refused to state whether or not he supported Mr McDowell's proposals on stamp duty and tax cuts, and said suggestions like these were part and parcel of the party conference before an election.

Mr Cowen said he hoped that speculation about the abolition of stamp duty will not effect the stability of the housing market.

Responding to comments from the Tánaiste on the St Andrews Agreement this weekend, Mr Cowen said Mr McDowell had played an important part in the negotiations alongside the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and this had been acknowledged by all parties on many occasions.

He rejected the suggestion that his own Fianna Fáil had even been seen as soft on law and order in Northern Ireland and he said he looked forward to more progress after the Stormont elections next month.