Humble deal but with something for everybody in the audience

The statements of the new programme for government outline a humble approach being taken by the new administration, while the detail offers something for everybody in the audience.

Scant in detail in places, the 166-page draft document does reveal the deals secured by Independents and some measures flagged during the general election campaign.

If Enda Kenny gets his minority government over the line today during the fourth vote for taoiseach, the document will be scrutinised in the days to come, not only by politicians and the media, but by campaign groups, departments, and citizens who voted for Fine Gael and Independents in February’s election.

Will proposals live up to people’s expectations? It’s doubtful, especially given the fraught nature of the government formation talks and therefore the limited agreement.

Of particular interest is the commitment to set up a dedicated court for mortgage arrears and insolvency cases. This will help any backlog in cases and hopefully lead to a speedier conclusion for families trapped in a spiral of debt.

Crucially, the document reveals that Mr Kenny will appoint a dedicated senior minister for housing. An action plan for housing will also be published. Other measures are flagged to help home buyers and protect struggling borrowers.

These commitments will target specific blockages or gaps in the housing sector. A massive home-building programme is needed and will likely be the first demand the housing minister faces.

The document covers many areas, from jobs and rural development, to mental health, disabilities, education, crime prevention, agriculture, and climate change, to name just a few.

Some key demands of Independents have also been answered.

Dublin Bay North’s Finian McGrath will likely get the dedicated cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital, while John Halligan’s demand for a second cardiac cath facility at Universal Hospital Waterford looks hopeful.

Dublin Bay North’s Finian McGrath
Dublin Bay North’s Finian McGrath

The appointment of judges will also be changed, following strong lobbying by the Independent Alliance’s Shane Ross. This will lessen the government’s role in related decisions and allow more lay people on an appointments board.

While voters may look back at Fine Gael’s previous term and recall its dominant position in the Dáil and the way it did business when it came to legislation, this deal is far from dictatorial and leaves scope for debate and possible adaption.

One of the closing paragraphs of the executive summary is insightful, reflecting the nature of how this minority government is going to have to work in the new fractured political landscape.

“We recognise that we do not have a monopoly on good ideas. We are open to good ideas from any quarter,” it states

This speaks volumes. The document adds: “We will listen, we will learn, and we will act.”

The document says the government can help build a new fairer Ireland, a phrase much trumpeted by Fianna Fáil during the election — but which now, of course, is in opposition.

The document is also long on generalities, of course, but it does commit to basic demands debated during the general election.

These include a commitment to raise the minimum wage, to increase the state pension and the living alone allowance, and to reduce prescription charges for medical card holders.

Humble deal but with something for everybody in the audience

On public services, there is a pledge to spend at least €6.75bn more on public services by 2021, while personal taxes will also be reduced. The latter will be partially supplemented by a tax on sugar drinks and increases in the price of cigarettes.

There is also a commitment to review farming payments, as well as examining the liberalising of Ireland’s abortion laws. Given the government will be supported by several TDs who have rural Ireland at the centre of concerns, the programme commits to ensuring all premises have broadband connectivity in two years. There is also a pledge to create 135,000 jobs by 2020.

Expect more debate about and scrutiny of the document after the government is formed today.


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