This is essentially a blueprint for the next few years and the ‘rules of play’, as agreed between Fine Gael, who will run the country, and Fianna Fáil, who will watch owl-eyed from the opposition benches.
Any dereliction from this deal between the rival parties would likely collapse a government and cause fresh elections. So, here’s a quick digest of the rules of engagement between Enda Kenny’s team and Micheál Martin’s for the next three years, plus an idea about what is planned for water charges. Expect the rules to be referred to religiously by both leaders during the lifetime of this Dáil.
The eight-page, 2,000 word, document includes a three-part deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The first focuses on the mechanics of the minority government deal between the two rival parties.
It includes a commitment by Fianna Fáil to abstain in the election of Taoiseach, nomination of ministers and any reshuffles.
Fianna Fáil will also facilitate budgets in line with the policies it wants. It has also committed to voting against or abstaining on any motions of no confidence in the government, ministers or money bills. Crucially, the deal allows for both leaders to personally resolve differences arising between both parties if an event arises that could “undermine” the deal.
The document also shows that Fine Gael will publish all agreements with Independent TDs or other parties “in full”. This compares to secrete sweetheart deals made by previous Fianna Fáil governments with Independents over the years which were never published. The deal also allows Fine Gael to seek separate policy commitments from other parties for a programme for government. The later could prove useful for Fine Gael if its support fell mid-way through the minority government, and it was forced to turn to others, such as Labour or the Greens, to be propped up.
Another section outlines the changes agreed to water charges. Charges will now be suspended within six weeks of a government being formed, which means bills may be halted from mid-June.
The incoming Fine Gael Government, though, have committed to possibly “abolishing” water charges if the Oireachtas recommends so after the whole system is reviewed by a special commission. This is the first written commitment of this option.
Changes under the deal will also see the €100 water conservation grant scrapped and more funds instead injected into group water schemes and the refurbishment of wells.
The document says that the Oireachtas will — six weeks after the government is formed — introduce legislation to suspend charges for a period of nine months.
The suspension period can be extended, the document adds, by the incoming government.
The expert commission will be set up within eight weeks of the new government and report within five months.
Crucially, the document states commission recommendations will go to a committee and then be voted upon by the Oireachtas.
It adds: “The Government will facilitate the passage of legislation (whether it be a money bill or otherwise) the implementation of the recommendations in relation to domestic water charges supported by the Oireachtas including abolition, a reformed charging regime or other options.”
However, on the contentious issue of the near million customers who are thought to have paid their water bills so far and whether any refunds will be made, the deal between the two is vague.
It says: “We affirm that those who have paid their water bills to date will be treated no less favourably than those who have not.”
This seems to suggest that those who paid will be no less-off than those who have not, but the agreement does not suggest that non-payers will be pursued or refunds provided.
Fine Gael sources last night said this left the option open for the party to continue to insist that non-payers will still be pursued, but that refunds could be granted down the line, if charges are abolished.
The next move will be for Independent TDs to agree to the ‘Trinity Treaty’ document, especially the points on policy. If not, the decision of a new government will be postponed again.
While TDs own concerns were listened to by Fine Gael during 70 hours of talks, it is likely Independents will want their moment, and are sure to stall an end to the talks until their own demands are well voiced.