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Air bridges, budgets, climate: challenges face new cabinet

Analysis: Covid-19 will be overriding concern for first year of next government

The new Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party government will take office with a series of challenging issues to address from the off.

As well as commitments in the programme for government itself, the new cabinet – expected to be appointed on Saturday – will also have to contend with the ongoing efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ministers will have to decide on a number of issues on that front in the coming weeks: which countries to include in the “air bridges” that will allow travellers entering Ireland avoid the need to quarantine for 14 days; when to launch a new contact tracing app; how to open schools in September; and whether and how to proceed to the fourth and final phase of the plan to lift coronavirus restrictions on July 20th.

Covid-19 will be the overriding concern of the first year of the new government’s term: how to keep the virus suppressed, manage any potential second wave later in the year and rebuild an economy emerging from deep freeze.


Measures expected as part of the July Jobs Initiative include the establishment of taskforces for sectors of the economy to plan for a new national economic plan

One of the expected centrepieces of the new government’s first weeks in office will be the “July Jobs Initiative” which will outline how to support the economy and “restore employment”.

The programme for government says this initiative, which is to be underpinned by a recovery fund – will aim to “help some of the worst-hit sectors such as tourism and hospitality, retail, entertainment and the arts, construction (retrofit), public companies and the third-level sector”.

The new coalition will, at the same time, lay out the future of the wage subsidy scheme that is helping support the hundreds of thousands of workers. It will also have to decide the future of the weekly pandemic unemployment payment, “based on the principles of fairness and equity”.

Other measures expected as part of the July Jobs Initiative include the establishment of taskforces for sectors of the economy to plan for a new national economic plan, which will be unveiled at the time of the October budget.

Enterprise sector

The Minister for Business and the Minister for Finance will also convene a group to help the small and medium enterprise sector cope with economic fallout from Covid-19.

The Department of the Taoiseach will also review the economy to "identify the sectors that have the greatest opportunity to grow and sustain quality employment in light of the continuing public-health crisis, the resulting geopolitical trends, and the long-term challenges of the climate crisis, technological disruption and future public health challenges".

Legislation will also be passed to introduce the €2 billion credit guarantee scheme as well as the warehousing of tax liabilities announced in recent weeks by the outgoing government to help businesses through the current crisis.

With no extension to the post-Brexit transition period – which sees the UK remaining in the EU single market and Customs Union until the end of the year – pressure will also mount in the months ahead for a new trade deal to be struck.

Clarity is also needed on how the Northern Ireland protocol will operate at the end of the transition period, meaning that the issue of Brexit, which dominated the term of the last government, will weigh heavily at the outset of the new administration's term too.

Bitter debate

The Green Party, after an at times bitter debate on whether to enter government at all, will also want to ensure that its priorities are emphasised at the outset.

Among the series of actions the programme for government says will be taken withing the first 100 days is the passage of a new Climate Action Bill through the Oireachtas. The deal commits the State to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and this will be "set in law by the Climate Action Bill".

The Bill will lay out how five-year carbon budgets will be set with every sector of economy expected to contribute. Carbon budgeting will become a legal requirement.

The Bill will also establish a climate action council “on an independent statutory footing” and ban the sale of new diesel cars and the importing of second-hand diesel cars, by 2030. A new climate action fund will also be established within 100 days.