Greens and PDs to make Ahern taoiseach again


The first Fianna Fáil-led three-party coalition will take office today, following the decision of the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats to approve a programme for government hammered out in more than a week of talks.

The new coalition will also be supported by at least three Independents who have concluded their own separate deals with Fianna Fáil.

The multi-stranded deal means that Bertie Ahern will be comfortably elected as taoiseach when the Dáil meets this afternoon. The Greens will get two cabinet posts and the Progressive Democrats will have one, with the remaining 12 positions being filled by Fianna Fáil.

It is expected that the Green cabinet posts will involve responsibility for the environment and energy but it appears that the party will not have any role in transport.

The Greens will also get two junior ministerial posts, which means that four of the party's six TDs will get office under the deal.

Trevor Sargent, who announced last night that he would honour his earlier pledge to step down as party leader rather than lead the Greens into government with Fianna Fáil, said he would not take up a cabinet position but would accept a junior ministry if offered one. Mr Sargent received a standing ovation before he made his announcement at the special Green Party conference in the Mansion House in Dublin, from which the media were excluded.

After intense and sometimes tearful debate, 86 per cent of the delegates voted in favour of the programme for government, considerably more than the two-thirds majority required by party rules.

At least one of the current 13 Fianna Fáil Cabinet Ministers will have to be dropped to make way for the entry of the Green Party into government. If there are any promotions from the junior ministerial ranks, more than one of the serving Ministers will have to be dropped.

One of the current senior Ministers may be accommodated in the prestigious position of ceann comhairle, which carries the salary and perks of a minister. It has the added attraction of providing automatic return to Dáil Éireann at the next election.

The election of taoiseach will take place this afternoon but the cabinet will not be announced until early evening, after Mr Ahern has returned from receiving his seal of office at Áras an Uachtaráin.

There was intense debate at the Green Party conference on the 86-page programme for government, which contains a wide range of commitments on issues of concern to the Green Party. Among those emphasised by the party leadership at yesterday's conference were:

o A carbon tax and targets for the reduction of 3 per cent a year in greenhouse gas emissions.

o The establishment of a climate change commission.

o Setting up a commission on taxation.

o New building standards to reduce the energy demands of houses.

o Accelerate growth in renewable energy sources like wind, wave and tidal power.

o Reform of local government with a directly elected mayor for Dublin by 2011.

o Establishment of an independent electoral reform commission which will examine the financing of the political system.

Among the major Green objectives not achieved in the programme were:

o An end to the use of Shannon airport by the US military.

o The abandonment of plans to build the M3 motorway near the Hill of Tara.

o A ban on corporate donations.

o An end to the plan to build co-located private hospitals on public land.

Fianna Fáil yesterday finalised deals valued at hundreds of millions of euro with Independent TDs Finian McGrath and Michael Lowry in exchange for their support. This brings to three the number of Independents who have so far signed up to support the coalition, with Kerry South deputy, Jackie Healy-Rae, striking a deal on Monday.

It is understood talks were ongoing late last night with a fourth Independent, former Fianna Fáil deputy for Mayo Beverley Flynn.