Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agree historic joint framework document for coalition
Priorities include a jobs/recovery plan and implementing a re-evaluated Sláintecare
Richard Bruton: he is chair of Fine Gael’s so-called reference group which aims to advance party policy in government formation talks. Photograph: Getty Images
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have reached agreement on a historic joint framework document which they hope will see them enter into a “full and equal partnership” for five years.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on Tuesday morning to sign off on the policy document that will be given to members of both parliamentary parties on Wednesday.
The document will then be given to smaller parties as government formation talks are expected to enter a new phase.
TDs from both parties, whose views were canvassed about the potential for the ground-breaking coalition agreed that the current crisis had created the conditions for what many might have considered unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
While Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers were reserving their views on the framework agreement until they see the details, most indicated they were favourably disposed to offering their backing for a coalition deal due to the country’s need for a stable government.
“We’re living in unprecedented times” deputies from both parties said as they acknowledged how the global health and economic crisis had shifted mindsets and political goalposts over the past month.
“There really is no other show in town. It’s either a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil or have another election,” said one Fine Gael TD.
One Fianna Fáil TD, who believed alternative coalitions should have been considered by Mr Martin, predicted the proposed government with Fine Gael would cause “huge divisions” among the party’s membership.
“There is no question but there will be a lot of opposition to such a deal up and down the country among Fianna Fáil members. We are a long way off from getting such an agreement through,” the TD added.
Earlier on Tuesday Fine Gael agreed “seven tests” that any future coalition must pass if a government is to be formed, according to a document circulated amongst party members.
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton, who is chair of the party’s so-called reference group which aims to advance Fine Gael policy in government formation talks, devised the seven conditions. The list has been sent to members of the parliamentary party.
The first “test” is that nothing should distract from the “task of protecting our people during the present Covid-19 crisis”.
The second is that any arrangement must “offer the prospect of stable durable government” which has “broad-based legitimacy”.
The third is that a coalition must offer a “new mission and sense of purpose which demonstrates urgency for doing things differently, and reflects our values and our ability to lead change at critical times”.
The rest of the points state that a new administration must put sustainability at the heart of fiscal policy; address key pressure points for the cost of living; implement reforms which will restore a strong role for the parliamentary party and implement a “vibrant policy agenda” which “responds to public needs within the tight constraints likely to prevail”.
The document says 10 key areas will form the bulk of that policy agenda.
The policy priorities include developing a jobs and recovery plan; implementing a “re-evaluated Sláintecare in a systematic way”; strengthening early years supports for children; and developing a new “social contract”. This will include “a clear contract for the young who have borne many burdens in recent years”.
The party will also prioritise developing a “dynamic and reforming public service which focuses on a balanced scorecard of outputs”.
There are also plans to create “a workable strategy to increase climate ambition as a part of the European Green Deal and to deliver net zero emissions by 2050” in what is likely to be a nod to the Green Party.
Other issues include strengthening the role of local government by increasing the power of councillors, and looking at how the planning system can be streamlined.
Mr Bruton has spent the last week holding videocalls with councillors and other members of the party to devise the strategy.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin criticised the “seven tests” document, and said Fine Gael had failed to reference the housing and homelessness crisis.
“It is shocking, even by Fine Gael standards, that housing doesn’t even make the list of policy priorities for the party in government. This clearly illustrates how unimportant tackling the housing crisis was and is to Fine Gael.
“Housing was the single biggest issue for voters in the election last February, and the issues haven’t gone away.”
It is understood that each of the seven priority areas have policy papers, and that the issue of housing is addressed in the Fine Gael plans to bring about a new social contract. However, those policy documents have not yet been published.