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Dublin: 18 °C Friday 3 July, 2020

Leo and Micheál agree to enter government with 'full and equal partnership' between two parties

Fine Gael has a task on its hands to convince grassroots members to sign up to coaltion government.

Image: Leah Farrell

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have signed off on the agreed policy framework document that could form the basis for a programme for government.

TDs were told today that both party leaders reaffirmed their commitment to forming a majority government of three or more parties or groups and that the government must last five years. 

“Full and equal partnership between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil” is at the “centre” of the agreement.

The finalised framework document, which would form the basis of any future talks, will be circulated to the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting ‪at 2pm tomorrow where the document and the next steps will be discussed. 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil teams completed the draft document for a future government last week, which both parties plan to present to smaller parties and Independent TDs in a bid convince them to join them in government. 

The document outlines greater state-led intervention in areas like child care, moving towards a single-tier health system, public and affordable housing, as well as tax cuts in the form of VAT provisions for some businesses. 

Martin said last week that the document is “robust” and will “engage other parties”.

“I would ask for the parties to at least assess the document, have a look at the document, read the document, and engage,” he said.

That document is not set to be published until both parties parliamentary party members have been consulted and the document has been presented to other political parties this week.

The news of the agreement between the two leaders comes as Fine Gael has also set out “seven tests” that have to be passed for any future coalition government to be acceptable to the party. 

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton, who is chair of the party’s so-called reference group, which is charged with ensuring that Fine Gael policy is reflected in the government formation talks, drew up the seven conditions.

Seven ‘tests’

In relation to Fine Gael’s decision as a party to enter into a future coalition, Bruton sent a letter to TDs, senators and MEPs, Bruton stating that seven tests have been agreed by the group if the party is going to enter into any future government. 

These will be discussed by the Fine Gael parliamentary party which is due to meet tomorrow.

The first condition is that “nothing distracts from the central task of protecting our people during the present Covid 19 crisis”.

This is followed by the suggestion that any future government the party enters into “offers the prospect of stable durable government which has broad based legitimacy”.

The third is that a coalition must offer a “new mission and sense of purpose which demonstrates urgency for doing things differently, and reflects our values and our ability to lead change at critical times.”

The following points state that “sustainability” must be at the heart of any fiscal, enterprise, innovation and environment policy and the key pressure points for the cost of living must be addressed.

It agrees to reforms to restore “a strong role for the parliamentary party to ensure the government is responding to emerging concerns across the country and develops new arrangements so that the party has a distinct character within government”.

A “vibrant policy agenda” must be established, with Bruton stating that the group has identified ten areas, which the party feels will respond to the public needs “within the tight constraints likely to prevail”. 

The key priority areas are developing an innovative jobs and recovery plan “to get hundreds of thousands of lives back on track across the country after the Covid crisis subsides”.

Fine Gael wants to roll out a “re-evaluated Slaintecare in a systematic way that demonstrates the gains that are being progressively achieved, and retaining positive changes implemented in the crisis in so far as possible”.

The party also want to deliver balanced development that would match areas of rapid growth in areas around Dublin and major cities.

Strengthening the early years support to children by combining better early intervention, development of skills and leadership in the sector is also mentioned, as is ensuring high standards and affordability.

Another priority is developing “a new social contract” for all sectors and communities to respond to the new risks and costs of living, “which are creating concern in people’s lives and which embeds fairness and equality of opportunity so everyone is given a chance to fulfil their potential, particularly those with disabilities to overcome”.

It adds:

In particular it will include a clear contract for the young who have borne many burdens in recent years.

There is a commitment to the reforming of the public service which will have a scorecard of outputs, inputs, and on internal organisational reform and targets.

It pledges to recognise the wider role enterprise in society and commits to tackling “endemic sources of disadvantages in communities and developing solutions which break the cycle”.

The priorities also list delivering net zero emissions by 2050 as well as strengthening the role of local government including by increasing the power of councillors.

No mention of housing

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said he was “shocked” to see there was no mention of housing or the homelessness crisis on Fine Gael’s ten key policy priorities, despite it being the most important issue during February’s general election. 

He told that it was also “astonishing” to see housing emitted from the list because the situation will only become worse in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis when rent and mortage arrears will have to be dealt with. 

“Even if it is an oversight, it speaks volumes to Fine Gael’s failure to get a handle of the housing crisis while in government,” said Ó Broin

A sign that convincing Fine Gael party members to agree entering into any coalition with Fianna Fáil and other parties is no easy feat, Bruton states in his letter that “engagement” with the wider party is one of their key terms of reference.

He has asked councillors to give their input, with group conference calls with councillors due to take place this week. Constituency executives have also been asked nominate groups of members, who are not local representatives, so that the reference group can also consult with the grass-roots members. 

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