Government formation: Simon Coveney expects deal to be agreed today but issues still remain

A "very successful conclusion" to government formation talks has added "momentum" to talks between party leaders as a deal nears completion, the Tánaiste has said.
Government formation: Simon Coveney expects deal to be agreed today but issues still remain

By Daniel McConnell and Paul Hosford

A "very successful conclusion" to government formation talks has added "momentum" to talks between party leaders as a deal nears completion, the Tánaiste has said.

Michéal Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan will meet this afternoon after negotiators met

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Arriving at Government Buildings today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that he expects a deal to be reached, but would not be drawn on the outstanding issues which had been passed on to the party leaders.

According to sources, among the issues to have been “kicked up” to the leaders for decision include the rate at which carbon taxes will be increased, the pension age, the Occupied Territories Bill and the protection of core welfare payments.

It is also understood that the leaders will discuss whether tax cuts are viable in the coming years and the structure of the government.

After 19 hours of talks which started on Saturday, the three parties reached agreement on some of the most contentious issues including the National Development Plan and the future of transport provision.

Sources have said that one of the major sticking point was the Green Party demand to prioritise the provision of public transport over funding for roads but it appears Mr Ryan's party have won a big concession here.

It is understood that the Green Party will get "there or thereabouts" the 10% provision for walking and cycling which they had sought.

Agreement has also been reached in relation to the provision of housing with the Greens with a major boost in the delivery of affordable and social housing promised.

It is also believed that the Greens have secured a withdrawal of support for the controversial Shannon LNG project which they had seen as a “red line” issue.

The three parties also agreed that there would be no increase in third-level fees as well as a commitment to review the funding for the sector.

Fianna Fáil has been pushing for a ministry for higher education to be established, but the shape of the Cabinet will not be known until a Taoiseach is elected.

If the agreement is finalised today, it will go to party members this week to be voted on. Sources say they hope to hold a sitting of the Dáil on June 30 to elect a Taoiseach.

Fine Gael lead negotiator Simon Coveney said the draft coalition government deal is “good for the country”.

“We did a lot of good work last night and we effectively have a text for a government with a need for the leaders to finalise a very small number of issues,” he said on his way into a party meeting.

“Negotiating teams have done their job. I think the text that will be going to the leaders today is good for the country and I hope and I am confident that the three leaders will be able to sell it within their parties and to the public.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme it had been “a long intense five weeks of negotiation and it’s been a long 127 days since the general election, so I think it’s getting to a point now where we need to get on with it. It think the public want and need a government”.

WHAT IS AGREED

While the party leaders are yet to agree on the pension age issue, a new “Total Contributions Approach” for pensions is also likely to be included in the Programme for Government.

This will seek to bring into line a person’s contributory pension more closely with the contributions they make, including credited contributions, ensuring consideration for people who take time off work to care.

What is certain is that the Green Party have won some significant concessions from the other two parties in securing a pathway to delivering the 7% reduction in carbon emissions.

It has been agreed that the carbon tax will rise to €100 a tonne by 2030 as demanded by the Greens.

As reported by the Irish Examiner 10 days ago, the Greens have also won a commitment that the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, including the planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant earmarked for the Shannon estuary area, will be stopped.

There will also be a ban on the future exploration of gas in the seas surrounding Ireland.

According to sources, a major bone of contention during the weekend's marathon talks session related to the future allocation of capital spending on transport.

The Greens appear to have secured a deal which will ensure all future capital investment split on a 2:1 basis in favour of public transport over roads.

It is understood that the parties have agreed to an annual spend of €360m on walking and cycling infrastructure.

The parties have also agreed not to increase fees for third-level students and have committed to outlining a funding model for the sector in the coming weeks.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner Fianna Fáil negotiators have said many of their priorities – health, housing and education – are contained in the document.

As Stephen Donnelly confirmed today, there will be a “supercharging” of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, a greater push for affordable and social housing as well as a referendum on the right to housing.

It is also expected to expand the proposed commission on taxation into a tax and social welfare commission.

Sources have confirmed that there will also be a united Ireland division within the Department of the Taoiseach.

There will also be a commitment to include increased homecare hours and a statutory homecare scheme; reduced prescription charges; a new carer’s strategy; an expansion of respite services; continued extension of free GP care for children and “more flexible childcare options”.

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