Coalition deal finalised
Tradition decrees that, assuming the government deal is endorsed, in the coming time, 23-year-old East Cork TD James O’Connor will, as the youngest member of the house, be asked to nominate his party leader, Micheál Martin, as Taoiseach.
He will be watched by Bernard Durkan, the oldest member and Fine Gael TD for Kildare North. Durkan was born in 1945 when Éamon de Valera led Fianna Fáil and Richard Mulcahy led his own party.
Even the most excitable optimist could not dare argue that those leaders, or even more so their parties, might have come together in a coalition. When O’Connor was born in June 1997, Bertie Ahern and John Bruton led those parties but the prospect of a FG/FF partnership was almost as remote then as it was in 1945.
Yet today those parties are hand-in-hand, more than halfway across a Rubicon their predecessors imagined uncrossable. This is a seismic moment in this Republic, certainly unprecedented and, in domestic terms at least, unsurpassed.
That it took the electoral decimation of those old, smug parties to force this union is significant too. The ballot box forced once unimaginable but rational compromise — and change.
Despite that context, the challenges facing any government are so great that this partnership, until recently almost a taboo proposal, has been agreed without controversy, certainly no controversy proportionate to the shift it represents.
That augurs well. If dog-eared, visceral divisions can be overcome then agreement on almost any subject must be possible.
The earliest meetings of the next cabinet will be dominated by the pandemic and its impact, particularly on jobs and the economy.
This will test resources and political philosophies robustly, even if the EU has agreed, unlike the last crisis, that borrowing to sustain and develop is a prudent response. Survive now, pay later, as it were.
There will be another difference this time too. The Greens will, rightly, insist that all spending is measured against its impact on climate and environment.
There is indeed a new sheriff in town, and the long-term fate of the two lead parties is more dependent on how that sheriff’s priorities are treated than they might imagine. As an earlier, probably more entertaining trio offered: “One for all, all for one.”
Delivering an annual 7% reduction in carbon emissions will be one of the most difficult promises to deliver. It means impositions on every sector.
That capital spending on transport infrastructure will favour public transport over roads, and that €360m will go to cycling or walking feeds into that ambition but those proposals are the low-hanging fruit.
What happens when efforts are made to curtail powerful interests? Will the lead parties stand by their commitments or will the old capacity to disappoint and dodge prevail?
That the Land Development Agency will develop cost-rental housing, affordable-purchase homes, affordable rental homes, and social housing on State land recognises the great homemade crisis of the day.
The agreement suggests 50,000 social homes over five years, with an emphasis on new builds. Those who might derail this plan should remember how influential the housing crisis rightly was in February.
The promise that direct provision system will be replaced “with a new international protection accommodation policy centred on a not-for-profit approach” is welcome and, if extended to the nursing home sector, would be even more so.
So too would delivery of election promises to reform media laws, especially as traditional media is so very challenged today.
Like all manifestoes, the deal accentuates the positive but only time can tell how much will be delivered. Should this
coalition succeed and renew a half-forgotten but vital commitment to fairness and social justice then O’Connor can begin his political career on a positive note and Durkan can look on his with a degree of satisfaction.
It is all to play for, but it will be a hard, relentless challenge.