Dissent as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agree historic deal

Concerns raised at the "highly aspirational" joint framework document.
Dissent as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agree historic deal
Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin: Securing support for the deal.

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin have won the backing of their parties to proceed with their historic agreement towards forming a government, despite dissent from senior colleagues.

At separate meetings of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary parties, both leaders presented their “highly aspirational” joint framework document, running to 22 pages, to their parties for approval but concerns have been raised about how realistic it is.

Fianna Fáil Kilkenny TD John McGuinness reportedly told his party colleagues that the only thing missing from the document was “free wifi and Netflix for everyone”.

At the Fine Gael meeting, three ministers, Michael Ring, Michael Creed, and John Paul Phelan, voiced either opposition or grave reservations about entering into a deal with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Ring is believed to have voiced concerns about Fine Gael’s ability to make a partnership with Fianna Fáil last long-term.

Mr Phelan expressed fears that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil may cannibalise each other electorally.

Agriculture Minister Mr Creed articulated concerns about the difficulty that Fine Gael will face to carve out an identity in government with Fianna Fáil, particularly with Sinn Féin on the opposition benches.

Doubts were also raised by Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell, Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan, and senator Jerry Buttimer, though these are described as being “muted” concerns.

It is understood that while members expressed wishes for additions to and deletions from the document, no red-line issues were raised and there was no discussion on Cabinet posts.

Mr Varadkar is believed to have told the meeting that in an equal partnership with Fianna Fáil, every member of Cabinet, himself included, was “up for a demotion”.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Martin talked up the possibility of progress presented by the deal.

“There is a lot in it, it is a document worth engaging with,” said Mr Martin.

However, behind the scenes, some members of Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party said the possible coalition with Fine Gael could well spell the end of the party for good.

Reports of a difference in opinion in the party have been rife since the February election, with many grassroots and elected members disagreeing with the party’s stance on working with Fine Gael and rejecting Sinn Féin after it won the popular vote.

The policy document seems to have widened that gap, with one elected representative telling the Irish Examiner: “This is the fucking end of Fianna Fáil.”

Many flagged concerns over how the economy would look post-Covid-19 and cautioned against making promises they would not be able to keep, including a promise not to raise taxes.

One source said: “No one could complain about what’s in it, but it’s all aspirational.

“Many people queried how it could be paid for given the commitment on not raising income taxes, or reducing payment levels in the civil service.”

Éamon Ó Cuív, TD for Galway West, reportedly raised the possibility of a “national government” during the meeting, as a possible alternative to a coalition with Fine Gael, which he believes will not be accepted by the party membership.

Limerick TD Niall Collins asked: “How it’s going to paid for is a concern, but a starting point of no austerity is absolutely the way to go, and allow for the EU stimulus to restart the economy.”

The document committed to 10 missions aimed at rescuing the economy: Reigniting and renewing the economy; Universal healthcare; Housing for all; A new social contract; A new green deal; A better quality of life for all; Supporting young Ireland; Opportunities through education and research; A Shared island; and At the heart of Europe: Global citizenship.

The smaller parties poured cold water on the deal.

Labour leader Alan Kelly described it as an “uncosted and purely aspirational” document that will require detailed scrutiny.

A spokeswoman for the Social Democrats said: “The document is portrayed as some kind of radical change of direction but on first reading, it appears disappointing.”

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