The Irish Times view on government formation: Covid-19 requires real urgency

Politics must recognise that coronavirus has transformed rules of engagement and respond accordingly

Announcing the first phase of his Government’s emergency measures to deal with cornoavirus threat Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was possible that we were facing events that are unprecedented in modern times. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Announcing the first phase of his Government’s emergency measures to deal with cornoavirus threat Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was possible that we were facing events that are unprecedented in modern times. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The public health emergency arising from the coronavirus epidemic has transformed the nature of the challenge facing our politicians. The time for posturing in advance of the formation of a new government is over. It is therefore welcome that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have confirmed they are to begin “in-depth detailed” talks while remaining in contact with the Green Party.

Announcing the first phase of his Government’s emergency measures to deal with the cornoavirus threat, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was possible that we were facing events that were unprecedented in modern times. It is hard to envisage a more serious scenario being presented by a taoiseach. And it placed an imperative on Varadkar and other political leaders to begin serious discussions about a programme for government.

Coalition Builder

Can you form a government?

Following a disappointing election result, there has been a reluctance on the part of Fine Gael to return to office. Varadkar has repeatedly spoken about going into opposition although there was a suspicion this was a political manoeuvre to bring his party members along with him rather than a sign of serious intent. Wherever the truth lies, the circumstances have changed and meetings between the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over the past two days were a sign that some urgency had crept into the process. Hopefully that will result in an agreement sooner rather than later because a prolonged political vacuum is untenable.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have to be given some time to thrash out their policy priorities. They need to come up with imaginative ways of dealing with the housing crisis. But the Covid-19 emergency should spur them on. In particular, it should neutralise reservations among their respective grassroots as well as the traditional political equation that requires one to triumph at the expense of the other. The two are closer to each other on major policy issues than they are to any of the other parties in the Dáil. The question of a rotating taoiseach is something that would have to be agreed to the mutual satisfaction of both but it should not be a stumbling block to a deal.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not have the numbers between them to form a stable government so an agreement with the Green Party and/or a group of Independents would also be required. Some in the Greens have been scarred by their previous experience of government and leader Eamon Ryan will have to tread carefully if he wants to lead his party into government again. There is also a responsibility on the Labour Party and the Social Democrats not to reject a role in government formation without serious consideration. Coronavirus has transformed the rules of engagement. Politics must recognise that reality and respond to it.

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