Independent Alliance demands increase in free votes

Shane Ross
Shane Ross

The Independent Alliance is demanding more free votes within Government if Leo Varadkar is to secure its members’ votes to become taoiseach next Tuesday.

The group consists of ministers Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, John Halligan, and Kevin Boxer Moran, along with whip Sean Canney. They met with Mr Varadkar in Government Buildings last night to discuss their agenda.

The group is insisting it is not prepared to depart from the programme for government, despite Mr Varadkar’s call to merge the universal social charge with PRSI.

“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 said: “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,” he said.

Mr Ross said the group is also seeking the swift passage of legislation that has become “clogged in the system”, which he described as unsatisfactory.

“On Tuesday we are going to vote for Leo Varadkar for taoiseach provided we see they get the priority we feel they deserve,” he said.

The meeting between Mr Varadkar and the Alliance lasted for over 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.

Today, the other Independent ministers, Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone, along with Michael Harty of the Rural Alliance, will meet with Mr Varadkar.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will also be meeting with Mr Varadkar and his team today.

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