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Programme for government: What are the main points in the five-year plan?

‘Green new deal’ and ‘well-being indices’ are promised among other measures

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar holds his first press conference following the announcement that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens have agreed a draft for government with Martin set to become the next taoiseach. Video: RTÉ News Now

A new scheme will seek to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030 on a ‘aggregated’ model – meaning that certain towns or areas will be retrofitted at the same time to achieve economies of scale. File photograph: Frank Miller

The draft programme for government “Our Shared Future” runs to nearly 50,000 words. It contains commitments under a variety of policy headings for the next five years.

Economy

The first section of the draft programme for government says that a new system of measuring national progress is needed to supplement, but not replace, the existing economic measures.

It promises “a set of well-being indices to create a well-rounded, holistic view of how our society is faring” and “a balanced scorecard for each area of public policy focused on outcomes and the impact that those policies have on individuals and communities. Initially this will be focused on housing, education and health”.

The new measurements will be drawn up in the Department of the Taoiseach in consultation with “a group of experts from the public service, academia, NGOs and the private sector to guide this work”.

The new government also promises to “prioritise town centres”, providing funding for bringing derelict buildings back into use.

It will publish the first “clean air strategy”, and also extend the ban on smoky coal to new towns and “move towards a full nationwide ban”.

Major changes are on the way in transport, and there will be a 2:1 split in capital spending on public transport and roads.

Some 10 per cent of the total transport capital budget will be spent on cycling and a further 10 per cent on walking infrastructure, amounting to €360 million per year. Every local authority will be required to introduce a plan to promote cycling. All children will be offered cycling training in school.

Public transport fares will be reviewed and a rural public transport service which connects localities to the public transport system will be developed.

The registration of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned after 2030 and they will be “phased out” in cities. All new buses are to be electric or hybrid and after 2025, public sector bodies will only be allowed to buy low or no-emission cars. Financial assistance will be offered to taxi drivers switching to electric cars.

On the economy, the document pledges to create 200,000 new jobs by 2025.

There will be a “July stimulus”, financed by a Recovery Fund, followed by a national economic plan published in the autumn in conjunction with the Budget. There will be continued support for SMEs, and special support for the hospitality, retail, entertainment and arts sectors.

The National Economic Plan will focus heavily on retraining and upskilling, and will include a plan to retrofit half a million homes by 2030.

The document promises to reduce the deficit once the impact of Covid-19 has passed, through tax and expenditure measures if necessary.

The government will retain the 12.5 corporation tax rate.

The document says the government will seek to negotiate a new public sector pay deal, but does not make any mention of pay rises due to public servants in the autumn.

Any “windfall” gains for the State from Nama or the sale of bank stakes will be used to reduce debt. A commission on welfare and taxation will be established. Most homeowners will face no increases in the local property tax, it promises, but new homes which are current exempt will be brought into the net.

The document also promises to tackle insurance costs and develop a new national digital strategy.

Green new deal

The draft programme contains a lengthy mission statement in favour of a “Green New Deal.” The parties commit Ireland to an average 7 per cent per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, which is a 51 per cent reduction over the decade, with the aim of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

The 2050 target will be set in law by the Climate Action Bill which will be introduced in the Dáil within the first 100 days of government alongside a newly established Climate Action Council.

“The Bill will define how five-year carbon budgets will be set,” the document says.

The deal promises the delivery of a “National Aggregated Model of Retrofitting” reaching over 500,000 homes by 2030 and pledges an accelerated electrification of the transport system including electric bikes, electric vehicles and electric public transport alongside a ban on new registrations of petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

It promises a strategy for remote working and remote service delivery as well as an unprecedented modal shift in all areas by a re-orientation of investment to walking, cycling and public transport.

There will also be a “major drive to realise the immense potential of Ireland’s offshore renewables.”

The parties have agreed on a new strategy to expand afforestation and plan to “transform organic farming with delivery of a fair price for farmers at its heart.”

Every minister will be asked to make climate action a “core pillar” of their new departmental strategies, which must be produced within six months of the Government taking office.

The Government will propose that the Oireachtas establishes a standing Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, with powers similar to the Public Accounts Committee.

On energy, there will be a new National Energy Efficiency Action Plan to reduce energy use while there are also plans to complete the Celtic Interconnector to connect Ireland’s electricity grid to France.

The parties will end the issuing of new licenses for exploration and extraction of gas “on the same basis as the recent decision in relation to oil exploration and extraction.”

The three parties say that they do not believe it makes sense to develop the LNG gas import terminals importing fracked gas and accordingly they will withdraw the Shannon LNG terminal from the EU Projects of Common Interest list in 2021.

There will be a policy statement to back up the Government position that it does not support the importation of fracked gas.

The Government will also phase out the use of singe use plastics and introduce a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans.

At least 500,000 homes will be retrofitted to a B2 energy rating by 2030 starting in the midlands and people will be given the option to repay retrofitting costs through their utility bills.

The parties plan to commence a targeted programme to install heat pumps in homes as part of an overall plan to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2030.

There will also be a public sector decarbonisation target of at least 50 per cent.

The new Government will also establish the “Just Transition Commissioner” as a statutory office with appropriate staffing and resources.

It promises to progress the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity and retain Irish Water in public ownership as a national, standalone, regulated utility. It will continue to provide a generous free allowance of water to every citizen and conduct a feasibility study examining how further assistance can be given to low income households for the installation of water efficient appliances.

New social contract

The new Government has undertaken to provide a “safety net” to those most severely impacted by Covid-19 as the special unemployment payments and income protection payments come to an end.

There is a commitment to protect social welfare rates in addition to other benefits which vulnerable groups are currently entitled to.

There is also a promise to progress to a living wage over the lifetime of the government, although there are no details on what figure that might be.

In terms of pensions - one of the big sticking points of negotiations - those who each the retirement age of 65 will no longer have to sign on and be actively seeking work.

In tandem with that there will be a Total Contributions Approach aligning the contributory pension closer to the contribution that has been made.

Free travel will remain for those aged 66 and over.

In addition, a new auto-enrolment scheme will be introduced for pensions, to encourage more people to have a separate pension scheme to the State pension.

This will be an opt-out scheme and will be phased in over a decade.

A Low Pay Commission is also being retained to determine the appropriate level for the minimum wage. he Commission will also look at another Green ask, that of introducing Universal Basis Income.

In the area of equality, there is a commitment to give long-term undocumented immigrants a pathway to regularise the status. This will happen within 18 months of the formation of the Government.

On direct provision the document commits to ensure a move away from the current centres to “accommodation for asylum seekers that has the protection and promotion of human rights at its core”.

The new system will be not-for-profit and an expert group will produce recommendations for how it will work by the end of this year. In the meantime, the Government will work to improve conditions for those currently in the system.

LGBT1+ policy will include legislation to allow adoptive leave and benefit for same-sex male couples, a ban on conversion therapy, and the expunging of criminal records for gay men convicted of historical offences.

Final Draft Programme For Government

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Those aged 16 and 17 will not longer have to acquire two specialist reports to apply for gender recognition.

On disability, there is a promise to prioritise early diagnosis interventions, an awareness-campaign, with a special emphasis in the short term on helping those who were most impacted by Covid-19.

The programme recognises that cost of, and access to, childcare remains a problem. The three parties promise to reduce the cost of childcare for parents. In terms of Covid-19, there will be cost reductions for parents through the National Childcare Scheme.

Parental leave will be extended to allow parents have more time with the child in the first year. There is also a pledge to increase remote working, more flexible hours and hub working arrangements to support families.

Health

The capacity of the public health service will be built up to protect against further surges of Covid-19.

Extra beds will be provided, children’s services will be extended and a range of patient charges will be cut, the document promises.

While promising to ensure there is capacity for future surges of Covid-19, the document says we need to learn from and build on some responses during the pandemic, particularly in electronic health and prescribing.

It promises to accelerate the implementation of Sláintecare, the 10-year programmes for the future of the health services agreed on an all-party basis in 2017.

Other specific promises include an increase in home-care hours and the introduction of a statutory home-care scheme; the extension of free GP care to “more” children and to carers; and the abolition of inpatient hospital charges for children.

Free dental care for children is to be extended and prescription charges and the drug payment scheme threshold will be reduced.

Carparking charges at hospitals will be capped “where possible” and the income threshold for medical cards for over-70s will be increased.

Talks will also begin with pharmacists on a new contract and an extension of their role in providing services.

The document promises the new national children’s hospital will be opened and building of the new maternity hospital at St Vincent’s Hospital will start once governance arrangements have been “concluded”.

The programme for government says the way claims for medical negligence are handled will be “re-assessed” so the Irish regime is brought into line with other OECD countries. There are plans to increase excise duty on tobacco, use taxation to discourage vaping and introduce planning restrictions on outlets selling junk food and drinks adjacent to schools.

The document also promises to “work to end” the admission of children to adult psychiatric units through an increase in inpatient beds and new ways of assigning these beds.

Housing

More than 50,000 additional social homes within the next five years, rental reform and home ownership “within reach of all” is included in the programme for government.

While social housing provision has previously relied heavily on the private sector, the new government will “ensure local authorities are central to delivering housing”.

However, the document remains vague on just how much will be provided by State or voluntary organisations, or how much will be “built” as opposed to bought or leased, with the document stating “the majority” of the 50,000 social homes would be built by local authorities, Approved Housing Bodies and State agencies.

An affordable house purchase scheme, promised several times in the life of the last Government but which never got out of starting blocks, will be “a matter of priority”.

The numbers to be provided aren’t stated but the proposed methods of provision are more explicit, with affordable homes requirements for developers, a State-backed affordable purchase scheme, and the use of the Land Development Agency (LDA) all in the mix .

In 2000, under part V of a new planning Act, developers were required to provide 20 per cent of their estates for social and affordable housing. Just over a decade later, the affordable housing element was abolished with developers having to provide 10 per cent social housing only.

Details of the percentage of affordable housing a developer will have to set aside are not in the document and it is listed as a measure the Government will “explore” rather than definitely implement. Other housing measures a requirement for local authorities to complete a housing demand assessment to avoid an “over-concentration of particular housing types” a measure likely aimed at the growth of the build-to-rent, co-living and student sectors.

Funding for homeless services will be increased, including funding for drug-free hostels. A commission on housing will be established and an unspecified referendum on housing will be held.

Other housing measures a requirement for local authorities to complete a housing demand assessment to avoid an “over-concentration of particular housing types” a measure likely aimed at the growth of the build-to-rent, co-living and student sectors.

Funding for homeless services will be increased, including funding for drug-free hostels. A commission on housing will be established and an unspecified referendum on housing will be held.

Establishing the LDA on a statutory basis will be done as a “matter of urgency”, the programme states. The point of the organisation remains the same – to work with government departments, local authorities, State agencies and other stakeholders to assemble strategic sites. However, there appears to be a marked change in its principles, with all mention of it having a role in the provision of private housing eliminated.

The document states it will provide homes “for affordable purchase, cost rental and social housing”, though no proportions are indicated. The agency will also have compulsory purchase powers.

The new programme for government also states it will develop a cost rental model.

It will also “examine” the creation of a system of holding rental deposits; reform the Fair Deal scheme to incentivise renting out vacant properties; legislate for tenancies of indefinite duration; strengthen the regulatory and enforcement mechanisms for short-term lettings; and ensure “equity and fairness for landlords and tenants”.

‘Building stronger and safer communities’

In terms of the Garda Síochána the programme commits to continue recruitment, to encourage more community policing, relieve gardaí from non-core duties an to encourage more diversity within the force.

There is a pledge to extend powers for use of CCTV and and automated number plate recognition to help prevent crime.

The Dublin North-East Inner City model to tackle crime and address disadvantage will be extended to other areas.

There is a promise also to bolster powers against white-collar crime including amending legislation to ensure prosecutions happen more quickly. Legislation will be published on family courts designed to have a less adversarial court to family law cases. That will include a new family law court building. There is also a commitment to establish a new planning and environmental law court.

A gambling regulator is also being established within the lifetime of the government, a body that has been promised for many successive governments.

Hate crime will also be legislated for with specific offences to ensure those who target victims over identity will be prosecuted for hate crime. The Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 will also be updated.

The programme notes there is an epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in Ireland and commits to an audit within nine months to see how Government Departments individually, and as a whole, deal with these crimes.

Education and research

The programme for government commits to establishing a Citizens’ Assembly on the future of education at primary and secondary level and also promises a new digital education strategy.

The primary curriculum will be reviewed and reformed as will the post primary curriculum prioritising critical thinking, problem solving and continuous assessment.

In primary schools there will also be a new healthy eating education programme, a new modern languages programme and a strategy to support gifted and talented students at both primary and post primacy.

The parties will also seek to increase the capitation grant with a view to reducing the reliance on voluntary contributions made to schools. They also plan to to further reduce teacher ratios in primary schools although a specific number is not mentioned in the document. A free schoolbooks scheme would also pilot in September 2020 and if successful this would be expanded nationwide “if resources allow.”

There are plans for additional supports for students who are homeless, resident in family hubs, or in direct provision. The parties also want to achieve the target of at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030 to improve parental choice.

In terms of higher education, the draft document also pledges to develop a long-term sustainable funding model for Higher Level education in collaboration with the sector. Student contributions will be maintained at the current level. The new Government will conduct a review of the SUSI scheme in 2020 following the impact of Covid-19.

There is a commitment to provide a range of free, adequate, safe and suitable period products in all educational publicly-funded settings.

On research, the parties will examine solutions for extensions for researchers who cannot access facilities to complete projects as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Childcare

The new government will examine setting a cap on childcare fees parents pay regardless of their income, with a report analysing the legal and economic ramifications of such a move to be published later this year.

Under the programme a new agency called Childcare Ireland will be set up to lead reforms in the sector. The agency will be responsible for the development of a high quality childcare sector, and will be tasked with mapping out long-term career paths for childcare staff.

A potential cap on creche fees will be considered based on similar caps in other European countries, with an analysis to be completed into the proposal this year.

Other policies include examining subsidies for childminders, with a report on that proposal to be published by the end of the year.

The three parties agreed to determine a minimum rate of pay and employment terms and conditions for childcare workers through a Joint Labour Committee and employment regulation order. A new apprenticeship model for childcare and other early-years careers will also be drawn up.

Tax changes for the sector include a new home carer tax credit to support couples who opt for one parent to remain at home rather than working and availing of childcare subsidies.

The programme for government also promises to ensure the system of inspecting and reporting on standards in childcare facilities is transparent.

A shared island

A new unit will be established in the Department of Taoiseach “to work towards a consensus on a shared island”. “This unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.”

The parties also plan to work with the Executive and the UK Government to “deepen multi-agency cross-border co-operation on crime, including information sharing between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána.”

They will also seek to develop an all-island strategy to tackle climate breakdown and the biodiversity crisis.

The document also says the new Government will work with the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver key cross-border infrastructure initiatives, including the A5, the Ulster Canal connection from Clones to Upper Lough Erne, the Narrow Water Bridge, and cross-border greenways, in particular the Sligo-Enniskillen greenway

They will also “ensure the Decade of Centenaries is marked in an inclusive, appropriate and sensitive manner.”

The parties will engage with the British Government with a view to ensuring access by “an independent, international judicial figure” to all original documents relating to the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, as well as the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1971, the bombing of Kay’s Tavern and the murder of Seamus Ludlow – in accordance with the all-party Dáil motions on these matters.

Defence and international issues

The proposed new government will establish an independent Commission on the Defence Forces looking at arrangements for the effective defence of the country at land and sea.

The commission will consider a number of areas including allowances and composition of the force as well as recruitment and retention. It will also look at the role of the Reserve Defence Forces. It will be established by the end of the year and report within 12 months.

A pledge is also made to develop a new Institute for Peace Support and Leadership Training in the Curragh.

The new government commits to holding a referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside the State.

It will also publish a new diaspora policy in 2020. The document also aims to develop a new strategy to increase the presence of Irish people in the senior ranks of the EU institutions.

The draft document references the Occupied Territories Bill but the only specific pledge is to honour commitment to recognise the State of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict “or in advance of that, when we believe doing so will progress efforts to reach a two-state solution or protect Palestinian territories.

A new government would continue to oppose any annexation or plans to oppose any annexation or plans to apply Israeli sovereignty over territory in the West Bank, which is part of the occupied territories but re-asserts policy commitment to a two-state solution.

Ireland will reach its 50th anniversary during the lifetime of the proposed government. On EU issues the document expresses “clear support for free trade while insisting on high environmental and labour standards and fair trading practices”.

Government policy will remain pro-enlargement and support the Western Balkan countries in particular to progress along the accession path.

The Government will develop the ‘Ireland House’ model, bringing all State agencies and government departments based abroad together under one roof to encourage joined-up thinking.

It aims to reach UN overseas aid donation target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income by 2030.

It will work to restore the Single Market’s integrity, learning lessons from the response to Covid-19 and ensure Ireland’s position on trade deals is “strongly informed by the need to ensure that all international trade deals support the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement”.

Plebiscites

A number of plebiscites are planned with a pledge to pass legislation to allow the first directly elected mayor in Limerick to be elected in 2021.It will allow for plebiscites to be held in 2024 in any local authority that wishes to have a directly elected mayor.

Where directly elected mayors are being established, “we will transfer powers from the city and county managers to mayors directly elected by the people for a five-year term”.

Next year it will establish a Citizens’ Assembly to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin.

On media it will “bring together all policy functions relating to broadcast media, print media and online media into a single media division within a government department”.

It will also “review and reform defamation laws to ensure a balanced approach to the right to freedom of expression, the right to protection of good name and reputation, and the right of access to justice”

It will establish a future of media commission to consider the future of print, broadcast and online media and to report within nine months.

Agriculture

There will be a national review of how land such as forests, farms, and peat bogs are being used under the programme for government, which will consider rewetting bogs and planting forests to reduce flooding risks in certain areas.

The next government would commit to ensuring greater transparency in the beef industry supply chain.

The parties agreed to carry out an “economic and sustainability assessment” of the Mercosur trade deal between the EU and four South American countries which was opposed by some Irish farmers.

Agriculture policy proposals in the programme include exploring the potential market for crops such as hemp, and to review the potential domestic and international markets for wool-based products such as insulation.

The next government would establish a National Food Ombudsman to act as a watchdog against unfair trading practices in the food supply chain.

There would be a national “land use review” to look at peatlands, forests and farmland across the country. The review would feed into future government decisions on “optimal land use,” and consider carbon sequestration, rewetting bogs, and planting forests in areas near rivers prone to flooding.

The would also be a national State-sponsored tree planting day where communities would be provided with trees to plant.

An Energy Efficient Farming scheme would be established to offer subsidies to farmers who invest in renewable energy and other energy efficient technologies.

A baseline biodiversity survey would be conducted on every farm in the country, as well as a national hedgerow survey.

The next government would set out an “ambitious new target” for organic farming, and provide incentives to farmers to plant woodland on their farms to act as carbon stores.

Pensions

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agreed to defer the increase in the State pension age to 67 years for a year at least.

Fine Gael had expressed reservations about this reverse, given the sharply rising cost of the State pension to the exchequer in the coming years because of an ageing population, who will also live longer in the future.

The issue will be examined by the newly-established commission on pensions which will report back on the issue by June 2021, with any action it recommends occurring within six months of the completion of the report.

The programme provides that those who reach the age of 65will not to have to apply for jobseeker’s benefit or sign on, or have to show they are seeking work.

Instead, they will receive an “Early Retirement Allowance or Pension” which will be paid at the same rate as jobseeker’s allowance.

The pension provisions also attempt to address the so-called pension time bomb, where a significant proportion of the working population have no non-State pension plan.

The new government will introduce a new auto-enrolment model. It will allow matching contributions to be made by both workers and employers and offer workers a range of retirement savings products.

The scheme will not be mandatory but will require the worker to opt out if they choose not to participate in it. It envisages a phased roll-out over a decade.

There is also a new departure planned for the State pension regime. Named the Total Contributions approach, it proposes to align a person’s contributory pension more closely with the contributions they make.

It will also allow people to increase their pension provision by making PRSI payments beyond pensionable age.

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