The eight deal-makers or deal-breakers in talks on government

These are the issues that will matter in any government arrangement

No government will survive without a thought-out strategy on what to do with Irish Water and water charges.  Photograph: Caroline Quinn/AFP/Getty Images

No government will survive without a thought-out strategy on what to do with Irish Water and water charges. Photograph: Caroline Quinn/AFP/Getty Images

 

Policy issues, one might have thought, would have been at the heart of the negotiations over government formation between all the political players, big and small.

However, while both big parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have put forward policy proposals documents, no substantive discussion on detailed policy matters has yet taken place.

The Fianna Fáil paper is the biggest: a 56-page document which is a condensed version of its election manifesto. It also sets out timelines on what the party will do during the first 12 months in government.

Likewise, the Fine Gael document abridges many of its big manifesto priorities but it is a much shorter document. Both documents take cognisance of the positions adopted by other parties but still lack the granular detail that would be necessary to achieve an operable programme for government.

The Independent Alliance and the Green Party have put forward position papers. The Alliance has set out 10 priority issues, ranging from political reform to rural affairs. The Greens have, unsurprisingly, focused on climate change and the environment. The group of five rural Independents led by Denis Naughten is also believed to be working on a detailed paper setting out its policy priorities.

Here are some of the issues that are shaping up to be deal- makers or deal-breakers in any government arrangement.

1 The Economy

If it is a minority administration, it is unlikely to last the full five years. It will be trammelled in its discretion on spending. The net additional spending in next October’s budget for 2017 will be only €500 million. It does rise in subsequent years but not very much until 2020 and 2021. By that time an election will have taken place. That will mean tense negotiations on spending priorities against a background of a comparatively paltry budget. The abolition of USC is a priority for the two biggest parties and expect to see that feature largely in any discussions.

2 Housing and Homelessness

It is unlikely any programme will be agreed without concrete proposals to resolve this crisis. There is the immediate problem of homelessness and the related, but longer-term, issue of housing supply, both social and private. The most substantive policies will take some years to implement. However, the incoming government will be expected to come up with real, detailed and concrete policies that can have an immediate impact on the acute homelessness crisis.

3 Health

There are always acute problems with health, but all are outfalls of long-term system issues. It is an unfortunate reality that a minority administration with a limited time span will more likely focus on easy wins rather than long-term goals. One source involved in talks has argued the all-party health committee should be charged with devising a long-term policy for the health services, to be implemented by successive governments.

4 Irish Water

No government will survive without a thought-out strategy on what to do with the beleaguered water services utility. Fine Gael and the Greens are the the only parties who favour water charges in the near term, although Fianna Fáil agrees with them in principle (but in the future). A solution will have to be found that can accommodate diverse views to avoid vulnerability to an inevitable no-confidence motion.

5 Haddington Road

The next 12 months promise to be more turbulent from an industrial relations perspective. Public sector unions in particular will be clamouring for pay restoration with the prospect of industrial action higher in 2016 than in any year during the recession.

6 Rural Affairs

Rural affairs was not a big issue until the shape of the 32nd Dáil became apparent. Many of the Independent TDs who might be power-breakers are rural. Their issues include agriculture but also rural broadband, rural crime, and the regeneration of smaller country towns which have suffered from depopulation. It is a running cert there will be a full cabinet minister for rural affairs.

7 Climate Change

The main priority of the Green Party will have to be considered by any prospective government. The party has only two TDs but it looks likely to play a part in any minority administration that may be formed.

8 Political Reform

This will assume an increasing importance in the years ahead as Ireland grapples with increasingly complicated problems when it comes to government formation. Parliament will need increased powers to allow more partnership and deal-brokering for big policy decisions. The Oireachtas itself will take charge of some of this but much of the responsibility will lie with the new government.

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