15 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The parliamentary parties of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are to meet this evening to consider the contents of the joint framework for a potential coalition government involving the parties which has been published after intensive negotiations.

If endorsed at parliamentary party level the document is expected to be circulated to the leaders of smaller parties and political groupings in the Dáil in a bid to garner the support necessary for a new government to be formed.

Although the coming together of FF and FG to consider the prospect of serving together in government marks an historic setting aside of the deep and historically rooted divisions between the parties, the process of government formation based on the joint framework document is not expected to be straightforward. There is among both the TDs and grassroots membership of both parties significant reservations about the pact, while the Green Party, Labour and the Social Democrats, as well as the Independent alliances, of the new Dáil elected in February last have all publicly pronounced an unwillingness to provide the support to FF and FG they will need to form a viable administration.

Sinn Féin, despite winning the largest share of first preference votes in General Election 2020 and returning 37 TDs, was rejected as a potential coalition partner by both FF and FG and excluded from their talks process.

The joint framework document for potential coalition outlines ten key missions for the next government, with the economic implications of the current Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed to curb it a key influence on its content and tenor.

The document says the overriding focus of the two parties is to improve the wellbeing of Irish people and society.
“In achieving this, the immediate challenge for us is to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of the Covid-19 emergency, and the havoc that it has brought to the lives of people and to the social and economic security of families,” a joint statement by FF and FG on the publication of the framework said.

“Beyond this, our focus is to respond decisively to the agenda of change in terms of housing, health, climate action and quality of life, which came through so clearly from the general election.

“To assess the performance of a new government, we must look beyond economic indicators. We will create new, credible, quality-of-life measures of individual and societal wellbeing and progress.”

If endorsed at parliamentary party level, it is expected that the document will be presented to the leaders of Labour, the Social Democrats and the Green Party to ascertain if one or other of them is willing to enter into talks on a programme for government.

The content of the framework, which talks of a new “green deal”, is believed to have been tailored to appeal in particular to the policy positions of the Green Party.

The prospect of joining a coalition government is believed to have generated internal tensions in the ranks of the Greens, with some of their TDs voicing deep reservations about the wisdom of such a move.

The Green Party’s Spokesperson on Health Ossian Smyth said that there were “differences of opinion in every party”. He said that a “transformative and revolutionary deal” would need to be struck in order for the Greens to enter government.

Announcing the framework document, FF and FG said that: “To face the crisis of a lifetime, we need a government with a clear majority that is strong enough to develop and deliver a programme of national recovery across its lifetime – one that can channel its collective talents for the greater good.

“Many families have lost loved ones; many more have been affected by illness; and hundreds of thousands of people have either lost their jobs or had their employment thrown into jeopardy. There is fear and anxiety deep in every home, with grave uncertainty about the future.

“The global economy now faces massive challenges, with significant consequences for our small and open economy. Society and the world we once knew has been severely disrupted. However, our State and people have reacted with unity, purpose and determination.

“We know that there is no going back to the old way of doing things. Radical actions have been taken to protect as many people as possible, and new ways of doing things have been found in a time of crisis. The importance of the well-resourced, properly functioning and responsive State has never been clearer.”

The framework document describes climate change as “the most pressing existential crisis”, adding:

“The response domestically and internationally to the Covid-19 emergency illustrates our capacity to react comprehensively and imaginatively to fundamental challenges.

“We must utilise the radicalism of the response to this emergency to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis.”
The document proposes that carbon tax would be increased in line with the agreed cross-party trajectory of €80 per tonne by 2030. There are also plans to plant 440 million trees by 2040.

The framework commits to launching a new National Economic Plan as part of efforts to reboot the economy after the “unprecedented” Covid-19 crisis, prioritising “capital investment by borrowing, if necessary, to stimulate demand domestically; grow employment; respond to social need; and improve our national health, transport, education and housing infrastructure”.

Businesses and the self-employed will also be supported, and the document also says both parties will aspire to progress “to a living wage over the lifetime of the next Government”.

It also says that the deficit built up during the coronavirus crisis will be reduced “as the economy grows”.
The section on the economy states that businesses can prepare for a post Covid-19 environment “which will have a long legacy and be different from previous experience, with greater emphasis on remote and flexible working and the consequences of social distancing”.

Sectors of the economy will also be identified for supports in the National Economic Plan.

FF and FG promise “bold action” on housing, with a new deal for renters focused on providing more long-term security, stable and affordable rents, and greater choice. The parties say they will reduce the cost of land to improve the affordability of housing, employing all measures up to and including referenda.

The document also promises a new national social contract between citizens and the State: “This new deal will provide each citizen with accessible and affordable healthcare, housing, education, childcare and disability services, as well as a living wage, upskilling, and a dignified retirement.”

In order to achieve this both parties say they will introduce “affordable improvements to benefits and protections under the social insurance system; and introduce a pension auto-enrolment system.”

There are also plans to modernise the childcare sector and reduce costs, tackle domestic violence and acknowledge the importance of carers. Parental leave would be increased.

The framework talks of implementing universal healthcare and both parties say this will be done through an expansion in health infrastructure. Universal access will be expanded with a focus initially on paediatrics and women’s health.

Bed capacity will be increased and all new consultant contracts in the public health service will be public only.

The document says that public sector employers, colleges and other public bodies will be encouraged to move to 20 per cent home and remote working in 2021 with incentives for private sector employers to do likewise.

Addressing the traditional divisions between the parties, the framework states:

“Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have each governed Ireland at different times. Both are proud of the part that they and other parties in Government have played in advancing the Irish nation. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have engaged bilaterally to draw up this document, which has at its core 10 missions that all centre on the wellbeing of Ireland’s citizens.

“The ideas behind this document seek to build on ideas from all parties and none. As we emerge from this emergency, we will continue to be guided by, and act on, the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). Our approach will be built on the fundamental values of community and solidarity.

“These are the values which have been central to our shared national response to this emergency and they must be the values that drive the work of the next government. With a view to forming a historic coalition, we now invite other parties and groupings to enter discussions on building a Programme for Government. Our citizens deserve a government that works for the good of Ireland and its people – a government that lasts. Let us build it together.”

Sinn Féin has called on the smaller parties in the Dáil not to lend support to the FF/FG plan for government formation.
The party’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin O’Broin TD urged other parties not to be tempted by the prospect of government so easily and called on them to “think long and hard” before agreeing to any deal.

“I don’t think anybody really believes that FF and FG, who spent the last four years creating a housing and health crisis, are now the right people to try and fix it,” he said.

“And I would urge anybody who is serious about change to walk with those of us who are committed to the type of change the country really needs.”

• FG leader Leo Varadkar

• FF leader Micheál Martin

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