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FF-FG framework doc for the next government is out, here's what's in it

The document will soon be given to smaller parties in a bid to convince them to join a coalition government.

Image: Niall Carson

Updated Apr 15th 2020, 6:15 PM

THE POLICY FRAMEWORK document signed off by Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar yesterday has been circulated to TDs, senators and MEPs ahead of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings this evening. 

The document will be given to smaller parties in a bid to convince them to join a coalition government made up of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The document outlines how the next government will navigate the post-Covid-19 crisis, with a concentration on improving Ireland’s health services, a new Green Deal, and a promise to tackle the insurance industry. 

In terms of taxes, some of the measures in the document detail a series of  measures to support businesses, such as those in the worst affected sectors, such as tourism and hospitality. 

What the document says

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 14.18.06

The detail of the document states that it has “10 missions that all centre on the wellbeing of Ireland’s citizens”.

These 10 missions are: “reigniting and renewing the economy, universal healthcare [this would be the implementation of the Sláintecare plan], housing for all, a new social contract, a new Green Deal, a better quality of life for all, supporting young Ireland, opportunities through education and research, a shared island, at the heart of Europe: global citizenship”. 

On healthcare, the document pledges to:

  • Expand universal access with a focus in the first instance on paediatrics and women’s health
  • Increase bed capacity, diagnostics and staff numbers to provide community and hospital care more quickly
  • Prioritise primary care, so that patients can be diagnosed and receive care in the community, including mental healt
  • Promote healthy living, good mental health, and better diet; and enable people to be physically active across their lifespan.

The document also says:

  • There will be  no increases in income tax or USC
  • There will be no cuts to “established” social welfare rates
  • There will be a focus on more longterm security, stable and affordable rents
  • Parental leave will be increased
  • The carbon tax will be increased, in line with the agreed cross-party trajectory of €80 per tonne by 2030.
  • 440 million trees will be planted by 2040
  • To contribute more to the EU’s budget post-Brexit, and to double Ireland’s “global footprint”.

The document also references supports for industries such as tourism, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing, and construction, as well as the SME sector in general.

This document, while described as “vague” by some from the smaller parties, is Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s attempt to woo those parties into government. 

It is no surprise that a new Green Deal is mentioned. It states that government actions must align with this New Green Deal and carbon neutrality by 2050.

It gives commitments to set new carbon reduction targets, take immediate action in response to the biodiversity crisis and protect ecosystems on land and at sea and also convene a Citizens’ Assembly to further inform that work.

Ireland should become a European leader in offshore wind energy,and a strong Just Transition will ensures that no citizen or region is left behind, states the document.

Whether it is enough convince the Green Party to join forces with the two larger parties remains to be seen. The Greens want to increase emissions targets from 2% to 7% per year over the next decade. 

Speaking about that possibility today, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said his party is “open” at looking at that, but said if that is proposed, there would need to be clarity on how that can be achieved.

Higher emission reductions to be achieved, there would have to be an agreement on “how it can happen, how it can be achieved and how it can be funded”, said Donohoe.

If one of the smaller parties demanded that, clarity on how it can be economically and socially achievable for the country, said the minister. 

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 14.18.24

Other notable talking points include the inclusion of a unit within the Department of An Taoiseach to work towards a consensus on a united island. This element has Fianna Fáil’s fingerprints on it as it has been lifted directly from their election manifesto.

This unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.

On the housing, there have been criticisms that there are not targets or timelines, but only mentions of ramping up social and affordable housing through the Land Development Agency.

For renters, the document states the new government will launch a new deal for renters, which is focused on providing more long-term security, stable and affordable rents, and greater choice. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said over the weekend that he didn’t envisage t he current rent freeze to continue, stating that he believes rents will fall in the months ahead.

There’s also a mention of re-balancing development between urban and regional areas. This can be seen as a play for some of the regional Independents that might be convinced to come on board, but it is also something that aims to appeal to rural members of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. 

Minister Donohoe said there will be a focus on returning the jobs that have been lost in rural towns. 

On the issue of employment, the framework also seeks to mandate public sector employers, colleges and other public bodies to move to 20% home and remote working in 2021. The next government will also provide incentives for private sector employers to do likewise.

“We now commit to rebuilding for the future and ensuring a fair recovery for Ireland, socially and economically,” the document states.

“We must work together to achieve a stronger, more inclusive Ireland – an Ireland that gives meaning to our belief that our best days are still ahead.”

Dissenting voices

Members of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will discuss the document at their parliamentary party meetings this evening. 

While dissenting voices in both parties are expected to raise concerns about the two parties joining forces, the party leaders are understood to think the document will be accepted by the parliamentary party members. 

Earlier today, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton said he has concerns about the risk of Fine Gael forming a government with Fianna Fáil.

“I have expressed concerns about the risks, that it [a government] wouldn’t be durable, that it wouldn’t deliver,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show.

Bruton said it would be “doing no one any favour” if a government “was formed in haste and did not survive the pace”.

“Only as the process evolves will we see if it can last the pace,” he said.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is a “no brainer” but that a lot more work needs to be done in order to form a stable coalition.

“We need to move on and see if we can form a government. It has been over two months since the election. I believe it is a no brainer. I very much welcome the proposed deal between the two historic foes.

“There will be an equality of authority between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There will be an equality of ministers because parties will be entering this historic agreement and doing so on the basis of equality,” he said.

Speaking to Newstalk FM, he said: “There is a lot of work to be done here. All we have is a framework and a handshake. We have to ensure flesh is put on the bones of the deal.”

A new Cabinet

When asked about who could potentially lose their seat at Cabinet, Bruton said:

“These issues have not been the subject of discussion and I don’t think it is appropriate to get into the personalities of it.

“In fact the idea that any particular party leader might go first or second – these issues have not been discussed. They are just the subject of speculation at this stage.”

Sources have confirmed that no such discussions have taken place, but on the issue of who will be Taoiseach in the first rotation, it is understood that Martin will get the first shot at the job due to Fianna Fáil having two more seats than Fine Gael. 

One Fine Gael source said that acceptance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government together “is not a given” at this stage, but said there would be a push to get the deal over the line in light of the coronavirus outbreak and the need for a stable government. 

There has been some speculation about who would be in and who would be out in terms of who gets a seat around the Cabinet table. 

When asked if he was likely to lose his ministerial position in a new coalition, Bruton said that there had not been any discussion yet on who might make up the government.

He said he recognised that “the road ahead is tricky.”

The document, which Tánaiste Simon Coveney has stated might surprise some of the smaller parties, in terms of shift in policy towards a more state-led approach in a number of areas such as health and childcare, aims to convince those parties that they will be the third pillar in government. 

One source said they hoped the document would convince the smaller parties that they would be “treated equally” with the two larger parties. They stated that this document can be changed, that elements of it can be modified, subtracted, or multiplied, if that was needed to get them to sign on the dotted line.

While the Green Party, Labour and Social Democrats have all ruled out going into government, however, the door has been left open to talks. 

It is understood that there are divisions in the Green Party about whether they should go into government, and also concerns in the Social Democrats. It is believed that the Green Party and the Social Democrats will be the first to engage with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

One Fine Gael TD said this is risky for the Labour Party, as if both the Greens and the Soc Dems rule out going into coalition, pressure would mount on the Labour Party to step up.

One source close to the talks said no one knows how it will play out, as all parties might consider the document and decide it is no enough.

Even if a third party does agree to go into coalition, the process does not stop there.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and other parties also have to get a programme for government document passed by their party.

Fianna Fáil operates a one member one vote system, meaning that a grassroots member or councillor has the same vote as TD.

Fine Gael operates an electoral college system, which is weighted, whereby the Parliamentary Party makes up 50% of the vote, constituency members represent 25%, councillors account for 15% of the vote and the party’s Executive Council accounts for 10%.

The Green Party also has to get two-thirds of the party to sign-off on any programme for government.

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