The Irish Times view on historic coalition: A profound shift in our politics

Programme for government

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin, and outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photographs: Caroline Quinn/Damien Eagers/Leon Farrell/PA Wire

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin, and outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photographs: Caroline Quinn/Damien Eagers/Leon Farrell/PA Wire

 

The lengthy process required to get agreement between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party on a programme for government has obscured the fact that what is being proposed represents a fundamental change in Irish politics. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was certainly justified in saying that it is a historic moment.

For a start, the decision of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to come together marks the end of close to a century of division which began with the Civil War. That on its own is a sea change which would have been inconceivable to successive generations of politicians from both parties. Going on the initial reaction, it is still a bridge too far for some in Fianna Fáil. As well as going into government together the two parties have agreed to rotate the post of taoiseach. That is another first in Irish politics and making it work smoothly will pose a challenge for both parties.

The third and critical element in the coalition is the involvement of the Green Party. The Greens are not merely there to make up the numbers but have had a huge influence on the programme for government, far beyond what might have been expected given the party’s numbers in the Dáil. The party negotiators showed admirable political skill in using their leverage to the maximum extent in the negotiations.

Final Draft Programme For Government

The major challenge

The influence of the Greens over the Government’s policy direction is welcome, as it is becoming ever clearer that climate change is the major challenge facing the globe. Given that the European Union is developing an ambitious green agenda, it is a timely move by Ireland to tryto position itself in the forefront of the effort to save the planet. Many of the green ambitions in the programme will have to be fleshed out during the lifetime of the government, but if leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil live up to the goodwill they have expressed to date that should not be a problem.

Sinn Féin will now take over the role of leading opposition party. Whether it will be able to move on from its standard reflex of stridently attacking every government decision to developing realistic alternative policies will be the real test of its mettle in the years ahead.

The Labour Party and the Social Democrats may come to rue their refusal to engage realistically in the government formation process as they risk appearing irrelevant in the contest between the new coalition and Sinn Féin for the hearts and minds of voters.

Of course, the formation of the three-party coalition now depends on the members of the parties involved and it is far from a given that they will endorse the deal. Some vocal opposition has emerged in the Greens and Fianna Fáil, but it would be a terrible pity if such a worthwhile effort to chart a positive future for the country was to end in failure.

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