Simon Coveney says the first job of any new government will be to build trust as there are challenges we have never faced before coming down the tracks
On Thursday, the Fine Gael negotiation team will go into our opening session with Fianna Fail and the Green Party on coalition government talks.
I am excited at what the process we are beginning could lead to. I’ve been in national politics for more than two decades representing Cork and Ireland, but the challenges, expectations and demands awaiting the next government make this process and its outcome pivotal to the future direction of our country.
Nothing is guaranteed and the membership of all three of our parties will have the ultimate call on whether a new coalition is agreed.
What I am certain of though, is that Ireland needs a government with authority and a strong majority to give the political leadership demanded by our current emergency. The challenges that face the next administration are vast, but they are surmountable.
Rebuilding our society and economy after the trauma of Covid-19, a fundamental shift in pace and ambition on climate action and delivering more for our citizens on health and housing are just a few of the major issues awaiting attention.
Fine Gael and outgoing independent ministers have worked incredibly hard to protect the country during this emergency but a government that can plan for the next five years is essential now.
People need an injection of confidence and direction from the political system as they plan for the future.
In the next few weeks we will attempt to produce a program for government, with our negotiating partners, than can deliver on all of the challenges above, and more.
However our first job will be to build trust. Without strong relationships governments don’t come together.
As each of the three parties consider their “red lines” and the understandable demands of their membership and supporters, the truth is that a robust program for government needs to be based on consensus and agreeing to work together for a collective ambition, not individual victories and loses in different policy areas.
Other parties and independents may choose to join the process too. I’d welcome that, but from now this process moves ahead as time is short.
Creating an atmosphere of trust shouldn’t be difficult. I know my colleagues on the other negotiating teams and I have been able to trust both Fianna Fail and the Green Party during all of the crunch moments on Brexit over the last three years.
Before coalition talks I will meet with all political parties, unions, employers and major state agencies at the Brexit Stakeholders Forum.
Unfortunately Brexit has not gone away and the UK says it will not extend the transition period beyond the end of this year.
Therefore, as we all try to safely navigate our countries out of the coronavirus emergency, we also have to face up the reality that we have 239 days to negotiate a new trading relationship between the UK and the EU and prevent a no deal Brexit on trade.
The last thing the UK or EU economies need is the second shock of crippling tariffs and more job losses. However, that will be the legal default if we do not get a trade deal.
On Monday, I spoke with Michel Barnier for over an hour about the negotiating rounds ahead in May and June and Ireland’s priorities around agriculture, fisheries, transport and trade.
EU unity remains strong and a close and prosperous deal with the UK is still the goal.
We are also in regular and close contact with our British colleagues and work has begun at joint committee level to oversee full delivery from both the EU and the UK on the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which guarantees no return to a hard border on the island.
Whilst Brexit did not feature heavily in our general election, the threat it presents will very much need to be present in the coalition talks.
The histrionics of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party forming a government, if we can reach agreement, will be minor compared to the work we have ahead.
However a Green, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael coalition can be one that is greater than the sum of its parts.