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FF meeting told policy doc missing promises of 'free Wifi and Netflix' while FG worry about future 'death struggle'

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both gave the green light to proceed with talks.

Image: Niall Carson

TDS AND SENATORS from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been giving their views on the policy framework document at their respective parliamentary party meetings this evening.

The document was signed off by Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar yesterday, and will be given to smaller parties this week in a bid to convince them to join a coalition government made up of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

While Fine Gael’s meeting was described as “fairly supportive” of moving forward with the process, there were words of caution from some.

Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring, Minister of Agriculture Michael Creed, and Minister of State John Paul Phelan raised some reservations tonight.

Ring spoke against a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, while Creed is understood to have said he has concerns, but can see no alternative but to move forward. 

Phelan is believed to have told the party that he has deep reservations that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could end up in a “death struggle” after this government.

Two members are also understood to have raised concerns about a possible referendum on property which is mentioned in the document.

It states that the next government will commit to reduce the cost of land to improve the affordability of housing, “employing all measures up to and including referenda”. This relates to possibly capping the value.

While many reservations were voiced, overall members gave the green light to proceed, though reluctantly, to the next stage.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the meeting that Fine Gael would make every effort in good faith to form a strong, majority Government which will last five years, to lead the country through the Covid emergency, restart the economy and renew our society.

The meeting lasted for more than three and a half hours and had 43 contributions from TDs, Senators and MEPs. Party members were encouraged to consult with all other members about the next steps taken by the party in a bid to form a government.

Getting off to a late start this evening due to technical difficulties with the teleconference, Fianna Fáil party members reacted positively to the policy document.

Martin listened to contributions for over 90 minutes, where no TD, senator or MEP opposed continuing with the process.

The only criticisms from the Fianna Fáil camp was that there is not enough detail around targets and and how all the things were going to be paid for.

TD John McGuinness told the meeting the only thing the document is missing is free Wifi and Netflix for everyone, telling members that no party in the Dáil would say no to the policy framework due to the wide breadth of the comittments.

His sentiment was echoed by others who said that they accepted that it was a “aspirational document” but it needed more “meat on the bones”.

One party member said it was “pie in the sky” stuff, that aims to entice others into a conversation around forming a government. 

Another described the meeting as “surreal” stating that there was no discussion about where the money was going to come from, particularly at a time when we are being warned of a global depression.

There were concerns raised that the document was “wholly irresponsible” and is an  “irrational starting point” to kick off government formation talks, as Martin and Varadkar are promising to give out sweets, only to take them back later on.

Concerns about other parties, if they sign up, making more costly additions, were also highlighted.

If Sinn Féin had published the document, they would be made a laughing stock by other parties, said one party member.

Kerry TD Norma Foley raised the prospect of the framework document being sent to Sinn Féin to which Martin replied that Fianna Fáil is not seeking to form a unity government.

While the two parties battled with the idea of drawing a close to civil war politics, the smaller parties were also reacting to the document. 

Labour Party Leader, Alan Kelly said today:

“It is clear from first reading that this is an un-costed, purely aspirational document, that will require detailed scrutiny. It fails to mention any concrete timelines or when any of the mooted ideas would be delivered.

“I welcome that in both parties coming together to draft this document, that they have come around to a different way of thinking on a new social contract and other social democratic policies.

“The Labour Parliamentary Party will appraise this document over the coming days.”

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said the document was “vague” and had no specific targets or timelines in relation to issues such as housing.

While previously Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the document might surprise the smaller parties in terms of mentions of the state playing a larger role, Gannon said the policy document “isn’t radical”.

One source close to the negotiation teams that drafted the document said neither Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil know whether it will be enough to convince the smaller parties to enter into government.

A Fine Gael TD said if no progress is made by the the summer, and none of the smaller parties sign up, then Fianna Fáil might be forced to go back and talk to Sinn Féin. 

The Covid-19 crisis and that fact that social distancing and other restrictions might prevent another election being held might provide cover for Micheál Martin to go back on his word about opening discussions with Sinn Féin, the TD said. 

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