The programme for government, agreed upon by both Fine Gael and Independent TDs has been set out. Based on a timeframe of five years, the 150 page document outlines policies in a number of key areas.
This document, ‘A New Partnership Government for a Fairer Ireland’, commits to progressing a strong ‘social economy’ and a fair society, with thriving communities in urban and rural Ireland.
It commits to additional spending on public services of €6.75bn between now and 2021 but spending that is based on sound public finances and a broad tax base.
It commits that budgets will be done on a 2:1 split basis between spending increases and tax cuts.
In terms of tax, the document commits to the continued phasing out of the USC, the removal of PAYE tax credits for high earners, higher excise on cigarettes and a levy on sugary drinks.
The ‘social economy’ will, they say, also be delivered through supporting enterprise, investing in economic, regional and social infrastructure and creating a just and decent society.
The document commits to working with the Central Bank to review its mortgage lending limits and develop a ‘help-to-buy’ scheme to help young couples buy their first home.
The State will not sell more than 25% of its stake in any of the bailed-out banks before 2018, and will cease to appoint public-interest directors to the banks and reform the appointment process.
It commits to the full implementation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement and establish a Public Service Pay Commission and continue to repeal the Financial Emergency legislation.
The document commits to the establishment of a new independent, fully- resourced Budget Office within the Oireachtas available to all members. This is to allow costings to be provided for measures under consideration for an upcoming budget.
The document also lays out a detailed road map for greater pre-budget scrutiny by the Oireachtas in a bid to end the yearly kiteflying associated with the budgetary process.
A series of Dáil reforms are being developed which will see greater speaking time for the Opposition, a fast-track system for urgent bills, and a new process to resolve issues between the Dáil and the Government.
Ministers will, however, still be bound by confidential collective decision-making, as has operated to date.
An overhaul of the judicial appointments system, the reopening of garda stations and a new Public Defender System for citizens will be introduced under draft plans for the new government.
The document commits the Government to reform the judicial appointments system, through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. New legislation will reduce its membership, there will be an independent chairperson and a lay majority, including independent people with specialist qualifications.
The numbers of external candidates for vacancies will be reduced to five. The Government’s discretion to appoint judges from outside the list will also be removed.
A new judicial council and board will also be set up to promote high standards.
The programme commits the government to increasing garda numbers by 15,000, to double the numbers in the garda reserve and to free up more gardaí by putting more citizens in roles.
Under existing capital agreements, intelligence-led policing, an upgrade in information and communications technology, and investment in the garda fleet are all committed to again.
The plan also says there will be “new and refurbished garda stations throughout the country”.
Existing proceeds of crime legislation will be reviewed and resources will be assessed for the Criminal Assets Bureau. A smaller CAB will be set up to target regional criminal assets.
The Government will also examine the potential for a new ‘public defender’ system which will report to the relevant Oireachtas Committee and government within six months.
A review of the boundaries of garda districts and the spread of garda stations is also committed to. Deployment and rostering of gardaí will also be examined.
A pilot scheme will reopen six garda stations, but it does not say where.
Special garda units targeting gangland crime will be fully resourced, the document says. A new dedicated armed unit for the Dublin area is also pledged.
An Oireachtas Committee will consider the introduction of mandatory sentencing for robbery. The deal says there will be co-operation with Britain on cracking down on bogus asylum seekers. It also says new evidence which comes to light about the fire at the Stardust in 1981, in which 48 people died, will be given regard.
A court is to be set up to help mortgage holders, while the Government will establish a ‘help-to-buy’ scheme for those hoping to get on the property ladder.
The document, which features an entire chapter on ending the housing shortage and homelessness, has also committed to establish a national service to help struggling homeowners.
A newly appointed Minister for Housing will publish an action plan for housing within the first 100 days.
The document states that the Government will “protect the family home and introduce additional long-term solutions for mortgage arrears cases”.
This includes establishing the Debt Resolution Scheme to standardise the supports available to borrowers in mortgage arrears.
A dedicated new court will be set up to “sensitively and expeditiously handle mortgage arrears and other personal insolvency cases”.
A ‘help-to-buy’ scheme will be set up within a year to assist first-time buyers get on the property ladder by ensuring “availability of adequate, affordable mortgage finance or mortgage insurance”.
The document also provides details on the provision of social housing. The draft programme promises to accelerate the delivery of the committed €3.8bn Social Housing Strategy, with local authorities now delivering new hosing in two phases.
Under this, an extra 18,000 homes by the end of 2017 and a further 17,000 by the end of 2020 are promised.
In the first year of government, Nama will also be consulted and encouraged to be “more ambitious” in its commitment to deliver 20,000 residential units by 2020.
A new rural resettlement scheme is proposed for the first year of government to “promote the advantages of rural living and ease of housing pressures in high demand areas”.
This will be coupled with a “root-and-branch” review of the planning system to reduce the uncertainty and length of the planning process. As previously outlined in the Fianna Fáil/ Fine Gael agreement water charges will be put on hold pending a commission looking into Irish Water and the controversial charges.
Defence Forces places will be made available for secondary school pupils, no small school will be closed against the wishes of parents, and the use of prefabs will be phased out under the next government’s education plans.
The deal drawn up between Fine Gael and some Independents outlines the new policies as part of measures attempting to reform the education system.
Under the plans, the next government will ringfence 30 to 40 Defence Forces places every year for pupils who will otherwise be unable to “break out of a cycle of disadvantage”.
The plan will also commit to ensuring no small school is closed without the express permission of parents while a review of the needs of schools with four or less teachers will be implemented within three months of government formation.
The controversial use of prefabs will also be “eliminated” under the Fine Gael-led minority government, the deal claims, in addition to a new school-excellence fund being set up to help improve achievement levels in the education system.
The plan has also set a target of 400 multi-denominational and non-denominational schools by 2030 to help “strengthen and promote choice and diversity”, while still “safeguarding the right of parents to denominational schools”.
Under the programme for government deal, school management boards are also due to be told any extra funding will be tied to usage of the buildings outside normal hours for groups trying to help the local community.
This is understood to relate to after-school clubs and creches, a move it is hoped will lower the costs of the latter.
The long-stated second free pre-school year will be introduced alongside plans to increase the mandatory schooling age to 17 and the creation of a new school completion strategy.
By 2021, the plan will also invest an extra €500m in school-support services such as speech and language therapy, psychologists and guidance counsellors.
Class sizes will be reduced under previously stated plans, while there will be additional investment in third level education..
A new cabinet minister, promises on broadband, protection of small schools, the reopening of six garda stations, and a review of post offices are among the commitments made on rural Ireland. Agriculture and rural affairs were major issues for many of the Independents and this is reflected in the amount of space given up to them in the document.
The delays in the provision of rural broadband had been a major sticking point for many involved in negotiations and the document now promises that: “No town, village or parish will be left behind under the National Broadband Plan”.
The draft programme states that 85% of premises will have access to high- speed broadband within two years, with 100% access in “at most five years”. The Government aims to create 200,000 jobs by 2020, with 135,000 outside Dublin.
Turf-cutting was a major issue for a number of Independents, including Michael Fitzmaurice. There issue was still being debated last night as the Government only committed to draft legislation on ‘dedesignating’ 46 Natural Heritage Areas in the first 100 days.
In a bid to help smaller farmers, the Government will fight at EU level to lower the cap on basic farm payments from €150,000 to €100,000.
They will also carry out a review of the Farm Assist Scheme, recognising the challenges facing farmers on low incomes.
Fishing will also be promoted and, through the development of the ‘blue economy’, it is planned to deliver 29,000 extra jobs by 2020.
Money will be allocated to road and rail networks to ensure “communities isolated by inadequate national primary roads, have direct access to ports and airports”.
There will be a review into the cost benefit analysis and review of the Western Rail corridor between Athenry and Claremorris. All of these commitments will be implemented by the new cabinet minister for Regional Development and Rural Affairs.
When it comes to supporting the rural economy a three-year tax relief for certain start-up companies will be kept until the end of 2018 and €100m will be set aside to take the Wild Atlantic Way to the “next level”.
A new model of “community banking” will be introduced via post offices and credit unions.
All Dáil parties will be asked to sign up to an agreed decade-long funding model for health by the next government in a bid to end the perennial crisis in the system.
The Fine Gael and Independents draft programme for government has earmarked the move as an essential way to ensure repeated hospital crises can finally be tackled.
Throughout Ireland’s non-stop health problems in recent years, doctors and nurses have repeatedly said the constant U-turns on policies from politicians has damaged the long-term reform of the system.
However, under the proposed decision to set up an Oireachtas all-party committee to agree a “single long- term vision for healthcare over a 10-year period”, with “consensus on healthcare planning”.
The draft document also includes controversial plans for a new performance management unit for hospitals, which will have a ring-fenced budget and be asked to “assist” hospitals with bringing their budgets under control.
Should the facilities fail to do so, the document states they will have to cut funds in their own budgets or seek the financial help of ‘private- sector providers’.
The plan also includes a commitment to immediately proceed to the design phase for a cystic fibrosis unit at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, with building starting next year. A cath-lab heart diagnostics system for Waterford University Hospital has also been included, while an extra €50m will be set aside to address chronic waiting lists.
In addition, the emergency department trolley crisis will be addressed by unspecified increases in GP and hospital bed funding.
Long-stated plans of a review of ambulance services, including calls to potentially treated patients outside hospitals; an independent Patient Advocacy Service; and a tax on sugary drinks are also stated.
A review on how to ensure cancer patients can readily access medical cards and a commitment to give 10,000 of the supports to children in receipt of domiciliary care is also outlined. Fine Gael’s hopes to introduce free GP care for under 18s and over 70sand to create 100 GP places by 2021 and open 80 more primary care centres.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved