Independents being courted by Government parties want rural concerns addressed

Key Independents who are needed to bolster the three-way coalition have concerns about a lack of supports for rural areas but are still being lined up to back the new government.
Independents being courted by Government parties want rural concerns addressed
TD Denis Naughten, of the nine-member Regional Independents, said: “We're in no rush and they (the parties) have two weeks to get it passed. We will be talking to them. We need clarification on issues."

Key Independents who are needed to bolster the three-way coalition have concerns about a lack of supports for rural areas but are still being lined up to back the new government.

The leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens have sent a joint letter to independent groups along with their proposed programme for government.

While the three-way coalition Dail seats hold a slight majority - numbering 84 - the leaders have spoken about needing to have a stable coalition to survive five years.

Rural independents told the Irish Examiner of their concern about gaps in the document, their need for clarification and of planned meetings this week.

TD Denis Naughten, of the nine-member Regional Independents, said: “We're in no rush and they [the parties] have two weeks to get it passed. We will be talking to them. We need clarification on issues.”

Fellow member and TD Sean Canney, an outgoing junior minister, said he has reservations: “What about rural planning and one-off housing going into the future? Or fracked gas? We have to have security of supply, of energy. Five years from now the Corrib will run dry.”

Mr Canney also queried what was meant by “enhanced rural regeneration funds” in the government document.

“It could also be a bit late in the day to be asking for our assistance now,” he added.

He queried what funds there will be for damaged rural roads. "Some of these aren't fit for bikes, let alone cars,” he said.

The separate Independent group also expects to meet the parties. Member TD Marian Harkin said there are issued around technical universities and support for development north of the Dublin to Galway line is "thin in the document".

The parties reached out to independents in previous weeks, with the offer of supporting an administration from the outside, with no ministerial posts or committee chairs offered.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says that he would like to see over 90 TDs supporting the new government.

"If you think about the rural economy in the future, it's really going to be based on four things, tourism, which we need to get going again, sustainable commercial agriculture, renewable energy, for example, wind - particularly offshore wind, and also people working from home.

"The National Broadband Plan, far from being scrapped is being committed to and will be accelerated. We're also going to see a REPs II programme for farmers worth about €1.5 billion over the next 10 years, and continue to invest in our roads, roughly a third of the new transport budget should be ring-fenced for roads. It's our job now to turn those words into actions.

"We look forward to discussing whether some of them are willing to support the government on the programme for government, because we would like to get that figure of 84 people supporting the government, a little bit higher maybe closer to 90 which gives us the security that will help us ensure that the government can go to full term."

Sources in the parties expect that a 'gentleman's agreement' may be sufficient to get the backing of several independents. Names suggested include TDs Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Mr Canney as well as Richard O'Donoghue.

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