Plan focuses on electoral reform, education spend


KEY ISSUES:ELECTORAL REFORM and education spending feature prominently in the renewed Programme for Government negotiated by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

The 40-page document, approved by an overwhelming 84 per cent majority at the Green Party’s special convention in the RDS at the weekend, proposes significant changes in the political system.

An independent electoral commission is to be established, incorporating the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission. Its mandate will include “recommending revised guidelines on the declaration of donations for political purposes”.

Among other issues for its consideration are: extending the franchise for presidential elections to “the Irish abroad”; changes in the number of Dáil deputies and the method of their election (possibly mixing proportional representation with a list system); one State-wide constituency for European Parliament elections; votes in local government elections for 16-year-olds and setting “minimum standards for the taking and publication of political polls within the State to ensure fairness and accuracy”.

Legal changes are proposed whereby only individual Irish citizens or residents could make donations to political parties or candidates. In addition, “donations from private bodies, including businesses and corporations, can be made to a political fund which will be distributed to political parties in accordance with their electoral performance in the previous Dáil election”.

Thus, corporations could only make contributions to the political system, as such, rather than individual parties or candidates.

Further reforms are planned to ensure expenses for TDs and Senators will be “transparent, vouched and open to scrutiny”. The two parties will take “further action” on pay rates for Oireachtas members and office holders as well as reviewing travel and expense guidelines for Ministers.

On higher education, it states: “Conscious of the economic pressures on parents today, this Government will not proceed with any new scheme of student contribution for third-level education.”

At primary and second-level “this Government commits itself to no further increase in the pupil -teacher ratio in primary and second-level schools for the lifetime of this Government. We will provide 500 teaching posts between primary and second levels over the next three years”.

In the Revenue area, the Government will, “eliminate unnecessary tax reliefs” and change the rules to secure a greater return from so-called tax exiles. The ceiling for employees’ PRSI is to be abolished and there will be a single 30 per cent rate for tax relief on private pension provision.

Residential property owners will face a site valuation tax on non-agricultural land: “This system will provide a fair and stable basis for offsetting stamp duty on residential property.”

Local authorities will set rates for water usage: “It will be based on a system where households are allocated a free basic allowance, with charging only for water use in excess of this allowance.”

In the equality area, there is to be “legal recognition of the acquired gender of transsexuals” and there are plans for a constitutional referendum, “broadening the reference to the role of women in the home to one which recognises the role of the parent in the home”.

Under animal welfare, the parties are pledged to: “Replace the culling of badgers with more effective and humane methods of control; phase out fur farming over three years; end stag hunting.”

The document states there will be a significant shift in emphasis in transport policy from 2011, whereby “the ratio of expenditure on new Transport 21 projects between public transport and the national roads programme will be two to one in favour of public transport”.

Under public service reform, the Government will “ensure that all promotions within the public service are on the basis of merit, eliminating seniority as a determining factor”.

The Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC) is to be reconstituted “so that in future, it will be chaired by a suitable, independent representative from outside the Civil Service on each occasion that it meets to nominate a candidate for appointment by a Minister or Government”. In addition, “TLAC should be constituted equally by Civil Service members and non-Civil Service members”.

In the arts, the Government, “will undertake a detailed assessment of the GPO complex with a view to locating the Abbey Theatre there in time for the centenary of [the] 1916 Rising”.

On overseas development aid, the document undertakes to set out clear targets showing how Ireland will meet its commitments.

On the issue of extraordinary rendition, the document states: “We will review and change if necessary the legislation affecting civilian aircraft in the context of the existing and ongoing work of the Cabinet Subcommittee on Human Rights and will, as is appropriate, strengthen the powers of inspection of such aircraft and the collection of flight information.”

On Northern Ireland, the parties state: “The Government will continue to build on the achievements of the peace process and to take the further steps forward for peace and unity in our country.”