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Explainer: What's in the FF-FG-Green programme for government?

The details of the programme for government negotiated by the three parties.

There'll be a new government soon - but what will its priorities be?
There'll be a new government soon - but what will its priorities be?
Image: Shutterstock/BrianPIrwin

FIANNA FÁIL, FINE Gael and the Green Party will go into government together, following ratification of the programme for government painstakingly negotiated between the three parties over days and weeks. 

The result is historic and brings Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael into government together for the first time in the history of the State. 

Members all of three parties voted overwhelming to back to the deal – Fianna Fáil (74%), Fine Gael (80%), Green Party (76%). 

But for many people, the real question is simple – what is the new government actually going to do, as the country faces the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic?

The programme for government, published last week, has been the subject of much debate among the memberships of the three parties – with the content proving particularly divisive for the Green Party. 

So what’s in it and what can we expect from the new coalition government in the months and possibly years to come?

Climate

One issue that attracted considerable attention in the run up to the party ballots was the commitment to an average 7% annual reduction in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions up to 2030. Hailed as a major achievement for the Green Party, it ruffled feathers among some in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the impact on farmers. 

Among other measures that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan promoted to party members in recent days was commitment that the carbon tax would be increased to €100 per tonne by 2030, while there’s also a pledge to introduce a Climate Action (Amendment) Bill within the first 100 days of the new Dáil. 

There is also a commitment to ban the importation of fracked gas. 

Transport

Radical improvements on public transport and cycling infrastructure have long been key aims for the Green Party. In the programme for government, the party secured a 2:1 funding for public transport versus roads, with cycling infrastructure and pedestrian infrastructure each getting 10% of the capital budget, respectively.

The document also pledges that the government will work with local councils to improve cycling infrastructure, while plans for a Metrolink in Dublin and the Bus Connects scheme in cities across the country will be prioritised. 

Healthcare

The Covid-19 crisis brought unprecedented pressures to bear on Ireland’s already-fragile healthcare system. 

Sláintecare – the ambitious cross-party plan to reform the Irish health system – remains a central plank of healthcare policy in the programme for government. 

“Many of the healthcare responses to Covid-19 are important elements of Sláintecare, and we will identify how to keep the gains,” the document states. 

The new government has promised to accelerate the implementation of Sláintecare, open the National Children’s Hospital and to increase the capacity of the health system. 

The plan would also see the government extending free GP care to more children, increase the income threshold on medical cards for people over 70 and reform the country’s approach to mental health treatment – with an update of the 2001 Mental Health Act name-checked. 

There are also plans to examine the possibility of creating a national immunisation register, while BreastCheck will be extended to women aged 69 and BowelScreen to all aged 55-74. 

Economy

The pandemic could spell disaster for the Irish economy, even as the full extent of the economic shock from the outbreak remains to be seen. 

For many people, avoiding the economic hardship of the past will be a priority. This was a key point of contention in the Green Party, with some members labelling the coalition’s plans “one of the most fiscally conservative arrangements in a generation”. 

So what is the new government proposing?

The programme for governments says that it will try and get as many people back to work as quickly as possible, while a recovery will depend “on our ability to secure markets for our goods and services and attract investment into Ireland”. 

Determining what exactly happens with the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme is going to be a key consideration, as well as the fate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. 

A “high-level review” of the economy, led by the Department of the Taoiseach, is promised in a bid to focus the country on the challenges of the years to come, while a Recovery Fund should soon be in the works that will run from 202o to 2022 to support investment. 

On the same day as Budget 2021 in the autumn, the government will also set out a National Economic Plan that will take a longer-term view of the pandemic and the possibilities of a full UK exit from the EU without a trade deal in place. 

Tax

The new government, according to the document agreed between the three parties, will not raise income tax or USC rates in response to the Covid-19 crisis. 

The parties also commit that in Budget 2021, there will be no change to income tax credits or bands. From Budget 2022, if incomes are rising, credits and bands will be indexed linked to earnings. 

The parties also say that the 3% USC surcharge applied to self-employed incomes is “unfair” – “proposals will be considered to ameliorate this over time as resources allow”. 

On the ever-thorny issue of corporation tax, no change is planned. In the Green Party’s manifesto back in the election, it largely backed the 12.5% corporation tax and the rate remains unchanged in the programme for government. 

A new public pay deal will also be negotiated, while the new government says it will work with banks to increase the availability of long-term fixed-rate mortgages. 

Housing

A new housing minister will come under serious pressure to introduce drastic improvements in house-building. All parties at the last election promised to radically deliver on new homes. 

The programme for government pledges “housing for all” and says that the parties will increase the stock of social housing by more than 50,000. Funding for homelessness will increase, the parties pledge, while they promise to move away from dormitory-style accommodation on a long-term basis. 

On home ownership, the parties in government will “progress a state-backed affordable home purchase scheme“, while the new minister will bring forward a target for the delivery of affordable homes – no figure is given in the document on how many exactly will be built over the lifetime of the government. 

The Help to Buy scheme – criticised for driving up house prices – is set to be expanded, as is the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. 

For renters, the government will look at what measures might be needed to support people in the wake of the pandemic and there’s a promise too to extend the moratorium on the termination of tenancies if the requirements of Section 4 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 are met – basically, if the emergency period is extended. 

The much-cited Vienna Model, the parties say, will inform the development of a cost-rental model to deliver houses and affordable rents. 

Pensions

A surprise issue in the election,  pensions proved a divisive issue among the parties. The programme for government states that pending the report from a Commission on Pensions, the State Pension age will remain at 66 and the increase to 67 will be deferred. 

65-year-olds who have retired early will be able to receive an ‘early retirement allowance or pension’ at the same rate as jobseekers benefit without the need to sign on. 

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The Commission on Pensions will have to report by June 2021

Agriculture

While the Green Party is often painted as a threat to farmers – particularly in the beef industry – the programme for government stresses that the agri-food sector is “our most important indigenous industry”.

Beef farmers are promised that the government will ensure that the Beef Market Taskforce does its job, while a well-funded Common Agricultural Policy transition period is pledged. 

A new Pollinator Plan is also promised alongside a host of biodiversity measures, while a review on the use of pesticides is also flagged. 

Direct Provision

Change is promised in the system of much-criticised Direct Provision centres. The system, the parties say, will end and it will be replaced with a new policy centred on a not-for-profit approach. 

By the end of 2020, a White Paper on the replacement system will be published.  

United Ireland 

The parties have agreed to establish a unit within the Department of the Taoiseach that would “work towards consensus on a shared island”.

An all-island approach to national planning frameworks could be adopted, while the new government will explore how Good Friday Agreement bodies can ensure that there is an all-island approach to environmental issues. 

Border communities might also benefit, with a promise to work with the NI Executive and the UK government on investing in the north west and creating more opportunities at the Ulster University campus in Derry. 

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