Aoife Moore looks at the issues on the table at the government formation negotiations
Formal government formation negotiations got under way today with justice issues first on the agenda.
The talks will see party spokespeople from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Greens on each topic divided into subgroups to search for "agreement" on the issue at hand, joined by other negotiators from their respective parties.
Justice may prove one of the most contentious topics for the three parties, with the Green Party holding vastly different views from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on issues like the Special Criminal Court, which the Greens have previously spoken out against due to human rights concerns. Another area of difference concerns the direct provision system - the Greens called for a commitment to end it in their 17 priorities for government.
Also up this week for negotiations is climate, with Fine Gael bringing Environment Minister Richard Bruton into the negotiating team in an effort to advance talks which are sure to hit major bumps in the road, due to highly different views on the subject.
The Greens, along with a 7% climate emissions reduction target, want to see the end of exploration licences for offshore gas and a cease to the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly liquefied natural gas import terminals.
The Shannon LNG terminal will be a major bone of contention as both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have come under pressure from their own TDs and councillors to protect the project in the next government, due to the employment benefits for the surrounding area.
The Greens also want to see a rebalancing of transport infrastructure, dedicating at least 20% of expenditure in transport to improving cycling and walking paths, a tall order for Fine Gael which has dedicated time, energy, and millions of euro on motorways and infrastructure. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan once referred to the €250m Castlebar to Westport route as “the Michael Ring road”, and not something he was in favour of.
Meanwhile, housing is on the agenda for tomorrow, with all parties said to be in "broad agreement" that much more needs to be done in the sector.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's policy document committed to "reducing the cost of land to improve the affordability, up to and including referenda, and empower the Land Development Agency to build homes on
public and private land". However, sources within the Green Party say the further clarity given by the larger parties that a new housing plan "should benefit all the public, not just those who qualify for social housing" highlights that they will be unwilling to commit to more progressive housing policy, which is a high priority for the party, especially among its newer TDs.
In the early days of these talks, differences will appear more common than agreement, with each party aware they have a sceptical membership who will need convincing that any compromises they come to will be worth the pain, as well as a guarantee they will be implemented.
Personalities will also clash, with the old guard in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael "well used to each other at this stage", as one TD put it, but the Green Party reflecting a much newer force in the Dáil, headed by Catherine Martin, who voted against going into talks in the first place.
Eamon Ryan says he believes the talks should be completed by the end of the month, and seemed optimistic last week that a government can be formed, but what's that old saying about a week in politics?