The Irish Times view on government formation: As if the election never happened

The present Cabinet does not have a mandate to take the important decisions that lie ahead

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin last week agreed a framework on which coalition talks with the smaller parties could begin but it was a vague and aspirational document which did not take account of the dire economic outlook arising from Covid-19. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

There is a lot of merit in the call by the largest group of Independent TDs in the Dáil for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to set a deadline for a decision by the smaller parties on whether or not they are willing to enter government. It will soon be three months since the general election and the current anomaly of a government without a mandate running the country at a time of grave crisis cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin last week agreed a framework on which coalition talks with the smaller parties could begin but it was a vague and aspirational document which did not take account of the dire economic outlook arising from Covid-19.

The Greens have now put the ball back in the court of the two big parties, listing 17 demands that must be met before talks can even start. The Labour Party and the Social Democrats have avoided serious engagement to date and there must be a suspicion that they are seeking excuses to avoid participating in government. But the Green Party's publication of its negotiating requirements yesterday seems significant. Tellingly, while many of the Greens' demands will be difficult to agree and even more difficult to deliver, there was nothing that either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil will reject outright. The way seems clear to the next phase; it cannot happen quickly enough.

There must be a far greater degree of urgency from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil than they have shown to date. The comment by Tánaiste Simon Coveney earlier this week that there may not be a government until mid-June does not indicate a serious resolve to get the matter sorted any time soon.

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The acting Government has had to make hugely important decisions about how to deal with the Covid-19 crisis and it will soon have to make a series of equally important ones about how and when the lockdown can be eased and what measures will be required to deal with the appalling economic outlook for the year ahead.

At present it simply does not have a mandate to take important decisions, some of which will inevitably provoke strong opposition from a variety of groups who will fight to protect their own interests. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his cabinet have done well in very difficult circumstances but they cannot continue as if the general election never happened.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael need to establish quickly whether or not one of the smaller three parties wants to join them in government and, if not, they will have no option but to seek support from Independents. The three Independent groupings have to date not shown any more urgency than the smaller parties but they too have a responsibility to play their part in ensuring that a new government can be put in place.