A coalition pact in the Republic awaits wider approval

So the two traditional parties of government in the Republic have struck their coalition deal. They’ve taken their time. Southern government formation now looks more continental than ever. They’ve had the great excuse of tackling something even more important than  creating a new government after an election.  Fianna Fail and Fine Gael profess the need for a national  coalition in response to Covid 19. But in truth the emergency  does no more than give them cover for what would have been  inevitable anyway. Pat Leahy in the Irish Times isn’t sure  how  popular it will be  but at least it’s “historic.”

Neither party likes it much; that is the truth. They can see the electoral pitfalls, like everyone else… To many on the outside, this will appear as a last desperate bid by the old duopoly to keep their grip on power. Inside, it will look very different. It will look like a historic compromise, putting aside of age-old differences in the public interest. Never mind for a moment that those differences are less visible to the outside; to the two parties, those differences matter. Their leaders will present it as a political sacrifice – perhaps of their parties – in the public interest. Take them at their word if you like, or don’t. Either way, my guess is they will be judged on their deeds, and on their results in government.


But this deal doesn’t guarantee a government . With 80 seats needed for a majority, the FF/FG coalition would still be 8 seats short of majority minus the Ceann Comhairle.;  With a   total of 72 seats,  FF has 37 TDs,  35 FG  (and we don’t talk about Sinn Fein’s 37)

Attention now shifts to the minority parties, especially the Greens with 12 seats. Their reluctance to join a government is obvious;  remembering the fate of Labour, they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of  “austerity” once the immediate pandemic crisis lifts.

Does the 24 pages of the would be coalition’s Programme  for Government  offer  them assurances? . Not really. Like all such documents it’s mainly aspirational, although it does try to answer some buttons firmly pressed by the voters in February.

To pick out a few of the more specific:

.No increases in income tax and/or Universal Social Charge (USC) and no cuts to established core social welfare rates.

Expand our health infrastructure and expedite the implementation of a universal healthcare service,

Prioritise the reduction of family homelessness, providing long-term secure accommodation for those in emergency accommodation and preventing new cases of homelessness.

Reduce the cost of land to improve the affordability of housing, employing all measures up to and including referenda.

  1. Empower and fund the Land Development Agency to build homes on public and private land, to deliver new homes for affordable and private purchase, social housing, and cost-rental accommodation.
  2. Prioritise home ownership and affordable purchase schemes, which will enable more people to own their homes and increase the number of new social houses.

Well down the 24 pages of the programme on page 19 comes the North. It’s a careful reiteration of the status quo for both parties

.Mission: A Shared Island

We are committed to working with all traditions on the island, to build

consensus around a shared future. This consensus will be underpinned by the

terms and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and by absolute respect

for the principle of consent enshrined therein. We will establish a Unit within

the Department of An Taoiseach to work towards a consensus on a united


This unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural

considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually



In order to do this, we will:

  1. Prioritise protection of the Peace Process and the all-island economy, in

the context of the future UK-EU Brexit agreement.

  1. Ensure that the Northern Ireland deal, New Decade, New Approach, is

implemented. This will include investing in cross-border infrastructure,

such as the A5, the Narrow Water Bridge, cross-border greenways, the

Ulster Canal, as well as examining high-speed cross-border rail services.

iii. Expand the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental

Conference (BIIGC), to strengthen north-south and east-west links.



  1. Ensure mechanisms are put in place to deal with the legacy of the

Troubles, as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement.


  1. Enhance, develop and deepen all aspects of north-south cooperation

thus strengthening the all-island economy.


  1. COVID-19 has reinforced the need to protect public health for everyone

on the island of Ireland, we will continue to deepen and strengthen

north-south health links as recently outlined in the Memorandum of



vii. Continue to mark the Decade of Centenaries, in an inclusive,

appropriate, and sensitive manner.


viii. Implement the PEACE IV Programme in full and secure PEACE Plus ‘


(“United island” sounds a bit less dramatic than “ united Ireland.” There’s  no mention of unity referendums. All the same, the cautious minimum has been pledged.)



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