Juno McEnroe: Green Party and Fine Gael tussle over cows and roads as crunchtime looms in coalition talks

The timeline to agree a coalition deal is slipping and there is a bottleneck of political discord building up in negotiations over the next government.
Juno McEnroe: Green Party and Fine Gael tussle over cows and roads as crunchtime looms in coalition talks

The timeline to agree a coalition deal is slipping and there is a bottleneck of political discord building up in negotiations over the next government.

It is becoming ever clearer that Fine Gael and the Greens are at cross purposes over greenhouse gas emission cuts and transport spending, two contentious subjects for their respective parties. Negotiators on both sides are digging in their heels. And all the while days keep mounting without a new government, moving towards four months this weekend since the general election.

The Covid-19 pandemic has obliterated grand election promises. There is no fully functioning parliament, no new government and the country is in uncharted territory sailing into a recession where the next administration's strength will no doubt be tested.

Amid the turmoil, both Fine Gael and the Greens are now threatening to collapse the programme for government negotiations (and both have privately said so to their own teams) with their respective demands, while Fianna Fail also has its core needs.

Fine Gael won't sacrifice beef farmers and cull the national herd in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Greens want an annual 7% drop in emissions over the lifetime of the next government, a 'red line' demand say negotiators, in line with UN and EU targets.

“There's no value in going to the membership with any proposed programme for government without that,” explained one informed Green figure.

A third of Ireland's heat-trapping greenhouse gases come from agriculture, a high level attributed to our cattle herd, estimated at 7 million. Cattle release methane which worsens climate gases.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed two points on Fine Gael's position for agriculture and emissions during a private parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday. The Irish Examiner learnt that he talked of massive payments for farmers, a 'Reps plus', an expansion of the rural environment protection scheme. The second, more assuring for rural Fine Gael figures, is a push by party negotiators to have cattle methane counted separately from emissions data.

This is done in New Zealand, where methane in agriculture is deemed a temporary gas, lasting only a decade. A Fine Gael party figure explained: “It dissipates over time. If they get it off the agenda [the 7% emissions target], it saves the herd.”

Essentially, Fine Gael believe omitting agriculture methane will prevent a cut to cattle numbers. Mr Varadkar, on Tuesday, made this aim clear. But Green negotiators are less optimistic.

“That 'New Zealand loophole' isn't credible with scientists,” said a Greens source.

A second troubling debate between both parties is transport and the Greens demand for a 2:1 split in favour of spending on public transport over roads. Mr Varadkar talked about creating jobs through road building to his party on Tuesday. A coalition deal without huge public transport spending and funds for walking and cycling routes will be rejected, say sources close to Ryan. “It [the programme for government document] won't get off the ground without these, but straight into the recycle bin,” explained a party figure.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney, lead negotiator for Fine Gael, was said to be pessimistic this week. The next few days could make or break the coalition agreement.

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