It is now 47 days since the election and 32 days since the Dáil first met on March 10. Given the failure to elect a Taoiseach on that day and again on April 6, tomorrow’s vote will mark the third attempt by the political parties to form a Government.
While the last government has remained in situ on an acting basis, it has been precluded from tackling many of the main issues which are affecting the country.
With talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil now heading into their third day, it is unlikely that a full programme for government will be agreed upon, but there are a number of key issues which will need to be agreed for a deal to succeed.
Sources yesterday said the process could flounder at several stages and is most likely to collapse on an issue of policy. Here are some of the main issues.
Irish Water: The most contentious issue between the two parties is the future of Irish Water and water charges. Fine Gael has set its stall out in defence of the utility whereas Fianna Fáil has called for its abolition and suspension of water charges until 2021.
Sources say a deal on water is likely which could see charges deferred for a time, maybe three years, and a slimmed-down renamed water utility staying in place.
Both parties are committed to the principle of water charges and believe some agency or utility will have to remain to oversee the future of the water supply, so the only major sticking point appears to be the timing and level of charges.
Budget: If there is to be a Fine Gael minority government, what it will need is a commitment from Fianna Fáil to abstain or support the Budget votes in the Dáil. Such an arrangement is likely to see heavy input from Fianna Fáil into the Budget make-up.
Health: With Ireland no longer on the emergency ward in terms of EU supervision, new rules apply which rule out any end-of-year bailouts for health, as has happened every year so far. The over-run in health has been estimated to top €360m by the end of year, which means it will be closer to €500m by the time October comes. Such an over-run will have to be met from cutting elsewhere in health or in other departments. Such painful measures will require cross- party support.
Housing/homelessness: The parties will have to agree the broad parameters of how to tackle the housing and homelessness crises. On housing, they will have to agree on how to help young families currently priced out of the market to get on the property ladder. They will have to agree on how to address the supply crisis which has driven sale and rent prices through the roof.
Industrial unrest: With a ‘summer of discontent’ promised by unions, a new industrial relations strategy will be needed to avoid the country being shut down. With train drivers, nurses, gardaí, and teachers all signalling further disruption, this crisis cannot be avoided.
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