When the framework for government document between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael goes to the party leaders for their approval, it will mark another step towards what would be a historic agreement between both parties to enter power, writes Mary Regan.
When the framework for government document between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael goes to the party leaders for their approval, it will mark another step towards what would be a historic agreement between both parties to enter power.
But before any Government can be formed, both want to secure the support of one of the smaller parties – either the Social Democrats, the Labour Party or the Green Party.
The two larger parties have 72 seats between them, eight short of a majority, and both have said they want a third party along with some independents to join them.
It is in mind that the framework document – the finishing touches of which were being added over the weekend – has been framed.
A draft agreed between the negotiating teams of both parties has been characterised as being ambitious enough to draw in those smaller parties, while being open-ended enough to give them plenty of opportunities to fill in the gaps and put their stamp on what would become a programme for government.
So, for example, there are proposals around making childcare more affordable for families. This would not, for example, go as far as proposing a public childcare scheme – something that was in a number of party election manifestos.
But it would leave enough scope to open up a pathway to such an approach with smaller parties. It is understood the document would pave the way for the next government to pilot a community, publicly funded childcare model.
The document also sets a target for a “living wage.” While the document does not mention a figure, both the Labour Party and the Social Democrats – who the bigger parties want to lure in to government talks – have promised to increase the current minimum wage to €12.30 an hour.
This is aimed at ensuring smaller parties would not be able to describe the document as “incompatible” with their own policies.
It also includes a willingness to achieve further reductions of carbon emissions. While it does not specify a target, those involved in the talks hope the language will be enough to “open the door” to the Green Party whose target is a 7% reduction.
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The intention is not just about giving the smaller parties enough to hang their hat on.
The document is also described as acknowledging the results of the 8 February election and the message delivered by the electorate by being far more “radical” as one TD involved in the process put it, marking a significant policy shift for both parties.
To that end, there is reference in the document to a new “social contract” which will bring in areas such as community development and quality of life and which, it is hoped, will be seen as being more responsive to the demands of citizens as articulated in the general election campaign.
There is also a section on younger people. This will include reference to college fees. Again it will not be too prescriptive, it will not talk about a cut to fees but is expected to promise no further increase.
The document will have a mission centred around housing, with a target for more affordable housing schemes for first-time buyers, as well as offering more security for renters and the constriction of more social housing through the Land Development Agency.
The document is also intended to recognise the crisis the country is currently facing.
To that end there will be a big focus on the economy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. It will contain a commitment to develop a National Recovery Plan – something that will be published at a later stage – and outline some of the issues that need to be addressed in that plan, while signalling some of the policies it will contain.
These are likely to include state interventions to help small businesses to get back up and running again as well as commitments around income supports and a “living wage”.
The document will not, however, outline specifics on tax or spending measures such as, for example, a VAT reduction for the hospitality sector. These issues would be addressed in the National Recovery Plan itself.
If the document is given the final nod by party leaders, then it will be sent to their parliamentary parties for approval and then on to smaller parties.
But this is not the end of the government formation process. It remains to be seen if it is the beginning of the end.
It is now 66 days since the general election. In 2016, government formation took 70 days and it is now certain that it will take longer this time around.
This document is just a conversation starter with smaller parties, it remains to be seen how long that conversation will last or how it will end up.