Focus switches to smaller parties after Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil pact

Green Party, Labour and Social Democrats are now key to viable administration

Green Part leader Eamon Ryan TD with fellow party members at Leinster House. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Green Part leader Eamon Ryan TD with fellow party members at Leinster House. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

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Now that the seal of approval has been given by the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to a historic joint policy venture, the focus will turn to the response of the smaller parties.

The Greens, Labour and the Social Democrats have all displayed a reluctance to entering government with the two Civil War parties but there are factions in each party that are agitating for exploratory discussions and an open mind on the issue at the very least.

The participation of at least one other party will be important if the next government is to command a workable majority in the Dáil.

The Green Party, with 12 seats, is the obvious target. And while TDs have spent the last few weeks calling for a national unity government to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, this does not mean they have closed their minds to talks on Government formation, Dublin TD Neasa Hourigan has said.

“Over the last few weeks there has been a narrative that we don’t want to be in government but that is not the case. We realised that it would be difficult to talk about policies in a pandemic. It was about giving people breathing room.

“A five-year government term is worthy of serious policy agreements. We don’t want a government that is not fully agreed on the big issues in housing and health. This does not require a statement of principles, it requires timelines and actual agreements around legislation and when that will happen. That is serious work,” she said on Tuesday.

The Labour Party’s new leader Alan Kelly has said that, although he will engage with other parties, it is up to them to form a stable government. One party source said the overall position could soften over time.

“There is a view that we went into government in 2011, we pulled on the green jersey and we were forced to wear the sackcloth and ashes and so we are not in that space now. But there is a growing minority amongst the membership who believe that this is actually a good time to go into government. The longer this process lasts, the more likely it is that we will see that softening.”

Even so, the majority view prevails that Labour belong on the opposition benches.

Historic agreement

Some in Labour say that it is up to a party like the Social Democrats to, in effect, “do their bit” for the country.

A source within the Soc Dems said that they are not ruling out meetings or discussions with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil but it will take more than a “vague document” to get them around the table.

“We hear about these promises in the document for implementing Sláintecare and that is fantastic but the fact remains that Ireland is facing into a recession, if not a depression, and cuts may have to be made. It is where those cuts come from and that difference in political approach that matters here.

“Also, the two main parties believe the solutions to our problems can come from a market-led approach. That is not the belief of the Social Democrats. We want to think about what Ireland will look like in between five and ten years, not five and ten weeks.”

It is expected that the policy document will be circulated amongst members of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary parties on Wednesday afternoon, and then to these smaller parties. All eyes will be on their reaction which, in turn, will tell us whether this historic agreement is in fact feasible.

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