Vulcan Insight

7 Fateful Days Ahead for Irish Government Formation

19 June 2020

The parliamentary parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party this week endorsed a historic programme for government. The document, entitled Our Shared Future, is the lengthiest programme for government in the history of the state and is anchored in ambitious climate action and sustainability policy commitments. The Green Party secured most of its key asks including a commitment to an average reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least seven per cent per annum. Fianna Fáil will be pleased to secure deferment, if at least temporarily, of the planned increase in the pension age while its longstanding pledge for an affordable housing scheme is at the centre of proposals on rebooting the housing sector. For Fine Gael, it will hope its reputation for fiscal prudence still holds with commitments secured of no increases in income tax and a promise to move to a balanced budget in the second half of a new administration.

This programme for government is, by some stretch, one of the most radical in Irish political history. However, with many proposals yet to be costed, its actual implementation will be a true test of political will.

Bar a few expected dissenting voices from some councillors and a handful of TDs, the tone so far from the Greens has been largely positive. Its parliamentary party endorsed the programme for government with 13 votes in favour and four abstentions. Catherine Martin’s support for the deal and her acknowledgement that it is probably the best they could have gotten has certainly taken the sting out of any immediate opposition to it. Interestingly, over 2,600 of the party’s 3,000+ members registered to vote prior to Wednesday’s deadline.  Many of their members are young and one concern for Eamon Ryan will be how many of those fall into the wing of the party who don’t accept a government with FF or FG – no matter how Green the policy commitments may be. The demographic of today’s Green Party is quite different from the party who voted 86 per cent in favour of entering government with Fianna Fáil in 2007. The Greens held a day-long virtual meeting for grassroots members on Thursday in which both Ryan and Martin launched strong defences of the deal.

Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party also overwhelmingly supported the programme earlier this week and there is significant pressure from the leadership to ensure TDs and Senators deliver their local grassroots into the yes camp. Fine Gael certainly has the easiest route to ratification with its TDs, Senators and MEPs holding 50 per cent of the weighted vote

Next Friday all three parties will announce the results of their respective ballots. If participation in government is ratified by all three, the Dáil is expected to meet the following day to elect Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. That will leave the new Taoiseach less than 48 hours to appoint 11 Senators so that the new Seanad can meet to renew the Offences Against the State Act, which is due to expire at the close of business on Monday, June 29th. 
The failure to elect a new government would plunge the country into a deep political crisis and at a time when many would argue, it can least afford it.