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Varadkar hopes the Green Party will soon decide to enter into formal talks on government formation

Roscommon TD Denis Naughten has been critical of some of the Green Party’s environmental policies.

Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Apr 24th 2020, 5:00 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he hopes the Green Party makes a decision to enter into formal government formation talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

 

Yesterday, the party set out 17 key questions and demands it wants clarity on before it will consider entering into government.

Speaking about the letter from Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, which set out the party’s priorities, Varadkar said the questions asked were “reasonable” and “relevant”.

He said both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are now conferring on the letter with the hope to respond to the party’s queries “as soon as possible, certainly within the next couple of days”.

“If the Green Party is satisfied with our replies, we’d hope to follow that up with a meeting at leader level perhaps early next week, and should things go to plan I hope the the Green Party might make the decision to enter formal negotiations with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael so that we can establish a coalition government with a majority, one that can bring the country through this emergency and also the aftermath,” said Varadkar.

 

It’s over two months since the general election, and the wheels of government formation are moving slowly. 

However, one issue is surfacing as a bone of contention between parties and groupings. 

Leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan has indicated that ensuring there is a yearly 7% reduction in carbon emissions is a must if his party is to enter government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. 

But other politicians have today said it is impossible to achieve.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ryan spoke about the 17 commitments he is looking for from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael before entering any formal negotiations.

A pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 7% and addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis was “a red line” for the party, he said.

“In terms of that broad biggest project that we think needs to be taken on, is absolutely a broad red line.”

The Green Party have long been the party Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been attempting to woo ever since count day.

Both parties have said a third pillar is needed in government, with both Varadkar and Micheál Martin keen to highlight that any smaller party that signs up with them will have an equal stake in decision-making.

Both have been quick to add that smaller parties won’t be squeezed out when it comes to creating a programme for government and it is noteworthy that the policy framework document released last week speaks about a new Green Deal for the country.

Varadkar has also indicated that other groupings could help make up the numbers, citing that the stronger the majority government that can be achieved the better.

With both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael anxious about isolating their rural base by opening their arms to the Green Party, there is speculation that the Regional Group of TDs might balance out any green climate demands.

However, Roscommon TD Denis Naughten, of the Regional Group of TDs, who is a former government minister for climate action, was today critical of some of the Green Party’s environmental policies.

“The target that is being set of a 7% annual reduction in carbon emissions is going to be virtually impossible to achieve,” he said.

“I think it can only get carbon reductions in large incremental steps… it is not possible to achieve in a short period of time,” he said.

He said his group is still willing to negotiate a programme for government in a three-legged government. A programme for government could be put together within a fortnight, he added.

It is not just the Regional Independents that have concerns about the emissions target. The Rural Independents, other Independent TDs, and even those in Fine Gael have questioned how it might be achieved.

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Previously asked about the possibility of increasing emissions targets, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said this week that 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.

The government’s Climate Action Plan sets out to reduce emissions by 35% by 2030 (or 3.5% per year on average). If the Green Party get their way, it would be a doubling of the efforts set out in the plan.

A government source states that the plan as it currently exists “represents a decisive shift in policy, and sets out clearly for the first time how Ireland can meet it’s legally binding EU 2030 targets”. 

Yesterday, the Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin described the Green document as a “comprehensive and constructive and substantive response” which could provide “the foundations for meaningful discussions”.

Varadkar and Martin will be seeking a meeting with Ryan next week, it is understood.

There are still other parties in the mix.

The Social Democrats are expected to hold a parliamentary party meeting today, though a formal response to the framework document is not expected today.

The Labour Party is also due to hold a parliamentary party meeting today, but it too has not yet responded to the joint paper. 

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