The Independent Alliance are demanding more free votes within Government if Leo Varadkar is to secure their votes to become Taoiseach next Tuesday, write Daniel McConnell and Elaine Loughlin of the Irish Examiner.
The group – Ministers Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Kevin Boxer Moran, along with whip Sean Canney – met with the Taoiseach-elect Leo Varadkar in Government Buildings on Tuesday night to discuss their agenda.
The group are also insisting that they are not prepared to depart from the Programme for Government, despite Mr Varadkar's call to merge the Universal Social Charge with PRSI.
They said they would stick to the Programme for Government which commits to the abolition of the much hated Troika tax.
“We want to see where he stands on the USC,” said Mr Moran. “During the hustings the lads were talking about keeping the USC but the Programme for Government talks about phasing it out.”
Mr Halligan added: “The Programme for Government has to be implemented in its entirety. Part of that was the abolition of the USC and we are sticking by that.”
In relation to free votes, Mr Ross said the Government has been strained over arguments around free votes and he said it is the Alliance's policy to have a free hand as much as possible.
“We are certainly going to be looking for more free votes as we found that was a sore point last year. Any issues which are not in the Programme for Government and are not bound by Cabinet responsibility should be free votes,” Mr Ross said.
Mr Ross said the group are also seeking the swift passage of legislation which has become “clogged in the system” which he described as unsatisfactory.
“On next Tuesday we are going to vote for Leo Varadkar for Taoiseach provided we see they get the priority we feel they deserve,” he said.
Tomorrow, the other independent ministers Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone along with Dr Michael Harty of the Rural Alliance will meet with Mr Varadkar and his advisors.
The meeting between Mr Varadkar and the Alliance lasted for more than 90 minutes. The meeting was described by Mr Varadkar as "positive and constructive".
"The wide ranging discussion lasted for an hour-and-a-half and focused on how to make further progress on commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government. Particular issues discussed included legislation to prioritise, matters which will be fast tracked, and where free votes will apply," his spokesman said.
All matters discussed are already contained within the Programme for Government. Minister Varadkar will now discuss particular issues raised with the relevant line Ministers in advance of a subsequent meeting with the Independent Alliance before the weekend, he added.
In a separate statement, the Alliance said the meeting was 'very constructive and very satisfactory'.
"The group stressed the need to accelerate various pieces of recent legislation as negotiated in the Programme for Government. Among the issues discussed included Brexit, rural affairs and infrastructure. The group will hold a second meeting with Mr Varadkar at the weekend," their spokeswoman said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will also be meeting with Mr Varadkar and his team tomorrow.
He too is to say completely insufficient progress has been made in addressing numerous issues contained in the Confidence and Supply arrangement agreed between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil last year.
Among the issues he will raise are the housing crisis, access to health services, the crisis in third level education and broadband.
Mr Martin is also to press for the need to prioritise additional spending on services over tax cuts on a 2:1 basis in October's budget.
“We now need to see a major step change in the energy applied by Government to addressing these issues. The Irish people need to see delivery and a marked improvement in access to and quality of services,” Mr Martin said.