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Still some 'heavy lifting' to be done in government formation talks, as teams work towards weekend deal

It is understood some progress was made in relation to agriculture and emissions, with parties signing off on the 7% target.

Image: RollingNews.ie

GOVERNMENT FORMATION TALKS continued late into the evening last night as negotiating teams work towards securing a deal by this weekend.

All sides said progress was made yesterday on issues such as climate, agriculture and emissions, with the 7% target in reducing greenhouse gas emissions agreed to.

However, some sources state the matter is not yet “closed”.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said there is still some “heavy lifting” to be done, stating that some aspects dealing with the economy, climate, pensions, and housing are not yet signed off on.

He told the meeting that a deal was likely to be reached over the weekend, but it was not a certainty.

Varadkar told his Fine Gael colleagues that unresolved issues in a programme for government negotiation could cause problems later on down the line. 

He cited the Fine Gael-Labour government between 2011 and 2016 as an example.

The Fine Gael leader said he wanted a good plan for economic recovery in terms of work and business along with strong commitments on income tax and USC. He said a new care deal “from cradle to grave” was needed, as are measures for improving work life balances, reducing childcare costs and a statutory home care scheme for older people.

He said a well funded Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) package for farmers to encourage sustainable use of the land and protection of Ireland’s natural heritage is also a priority for his party.

Fianna Fáil sources have also pointed out that these talks involve a lot of detail, stating that in the last programme for government document there was a lot of “vague” commitments made that ultimately got set aside.

They stated that the Greens were getting a good deal, but they were pushing for a high-level of detail – detail that would usually be hammered out in Budget negotiations later on in the year.

Last night, a plenary meeting of the government negotiation teams got underway, with deputy leaders also meeting to sign-off on many of the key issues, which sources state are “narrowing down”.

Party leaders will now play a key role as all teams work towards getting a deal agreed by the weekend. Varadkar, Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan are due to meet again in the next day or two.

The main sticking point dominating discussions since February is achieving an average 7% cut annually in greenhouse gas emissions.

It is believed that the Green Party team met last night due to a compromise being reached on the 7% emissions cut, however, it is understood some in the Green Party are not satisfied.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were pushing for any emissions deal to exclude agriculture and farming, which the Greens opposed. It is understood progress was made on the matter, with the 7% agreed upon.

The ten-year plan includes measures such as ramping up the roll out of electric vehicles, retrofitting of homes, energy efficiency, and the rewetting of Ireland’s bogs.

During the talks, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have maintained that rural Ireland should not be adversely impacted by the target. Green party leader Eamon Ryan has denied claims that his party in government would be bad for the rural economy.

The deadlines for getting a deal done have been successfully pushed back in recent days.

The first deadline missed was last weekend. Another date was set for yesterday, but was missed. Finally, a deadline of this weekend has been marked – and it is understood to be the final deadline.

While the focus is very much on when a new government might get off the ground, questions about the Green Party leadership were in the spotlight yesterday when Eamon Ryan mentioned the n-word in the Dáil during a debate on racism. He later apologised for using the word.

It should be noted that Ryan was quoting an Irish Times article written by Sean Gallen, in which the author used asterisks to self-censor the word. 

Criticisms were levelled at the Green Party leader from within his own party, though many that publicly criticised him, by and large, are also members who have committed to backing Catherine Martin in the leadership contest. 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan came to Ryan’s defence yesterday, stating:

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“There is not a milligram of racism or prejudice in Eamon Ryan’s blood. We need an informed sense of perspective here.”

Other politicians across all parties have also defended Ryan.

There is some speculation that this incident might bury Ryan’s chance of holding onto the leadership, and therefore places a big question mark over the sustainability and future of the next government if Catherine Martin is at the helm.

While Martin is leading Green Party negotiations sources state that she is not as enthusiastic about striking a deal with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as Ryan is. However, the leadership contest within the party does not get underway until July, some time after a government formation deal needs to be agreed. 

All eyes will be on Catherine Martin and whether she backs the programme for government.

“If she backs it, it’ll pass. If she doesn’t, it won’t. So she’s really the key,” said one government source.

Housing was also up for discussion yesterday, with sources stating there is some work to do on the issues. Fianna Fáil is pushing for an affordable housing package, and the Greens looking for a substantial cost-rental scheme. It is understood the Help-to-Buy scheme is here to stay, but matters relating to Fine Gael’s flagship Land Development Agency still need to be ironed out.

While most are optimistic that a deal will be done by the weekend, the next step will be giving TDs and senators a chance to set their eyes on the draft proposed programme for government.

Fianna Fáil politicians have said they are on standby for a parliamentary party meeting to be held to discuss the document, if and when it is agreed.

If the deal gets the green light, the next hurdle is getting each of the each party’s membership to sign-off on the deal. This weekend’s deadline is important for a reason – at least ten to 12 days will be needed so the parties can consult with their members before votes are taken. 

The biggest concern is getting two-thirds of the Greens to sign off on the deal, though some Fianna Fáil TDs have said it is by no means a certainty that the grassroots members of the party will sign off on going into government with Fine Gael.

It’s nearly 125 days since the general election. Can Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party work together to get an government off the ground, or are the Irish people going back to the polls? We’ll know very shortly. 

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