Detailed government formation negotiations got under way this afternoon, with justice issues discussed.

It has been agreed that the talks between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party will be divided into subgroups.

Justice spokespeople from the three parties met to go over policy differences and to try to hammer out an agreed platform.

They were joined by representatives of the core negotiating groups of the three parties.

Last week, the three parties agreed the process for holding the talks and today marked the first day of detailed policy discussions.

It is thought the negotiations could go on until the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael has added Richard Bruton to its negotiating team.

Mr Bruton has responsibility for Climate Action and Environment within his ministerial portfolio and this is expected to form a key part of talks with the Green Party.

The discussions got under way as councillors from all three parties expressed concern about a potential coalition.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael again invited the Labour Party to participate in the next government.

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Many moving parts to coalition puzzle as talks begin

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said at the weekend that a big decision will need to be made soon, which will require a new government to be put in place.

Speaking on RTÉ's The Week in Politics, he said the Fine Gael leadership cannot ignore the fears of the party grassroots - particularly farmers and those on low incomes who he said are worried about the price of coal going up.

Concerns have also been expressed within Fianna Fáil about how concessions to the Greens might impact on people in rural areas.

Fianna Fáil has said that the values of its party will be protected and that the talks will focus on measures needed to rebuild the economy in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin have written to Labour Leader Alan Kelly telling him these are unprecedented times and a functioning, durable government with a clear majority has never been more important.

They said that intense discussions about government formation are taking place within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The two leaders asked Mr Kelly to consider their letter with a view to holding a meeting and then proceeding to formal talks.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin were responding to a letter sent to them by Mr Kelly late last month that sought information about the two parties' joint framework document.

In their response the two leaders committed again not to raise income tax or the USC.

They said: "We also do not believe it wise, at a time when we will be seeking to promote enterprise, attract investment and sustain employment, to increase Corporation Tax."

Today, Mr Kelly issued a statement saying he had received the response from the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which he will discuss with his colleagues in the parliamentary party over the coming days.

However, he said: "It is clear Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are now united on economic policy and have taken a position on taxation which is concerning to us, however I do welcome their commitment that the next government would honour the existing public service pay deal.

"We will respond in more detail to the policy issues in the letter later in the week.

"I welcome the acknowledgement by the leaders, of our view on government formation. There are four parties with more TDs in the Dáil than the Labour Party, and any three of those can form a government with a majority.

"Detailed negotiations are now under way on government formation between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, and if successful would command a majority in the Dáil.

"We respect the mandate of the participants, and for now they should be given the space and time to reach a conclusion."

Yesterday, Sinn Féin said it remains open to talking to other parties if these negotiations collapse.

Additional Reporting: Mary Regan, Mícheál Lehane