From debating chamber to the student bar it’s a rare occasion that James and I are not debating and evaluating various governments Ireland has seen since her incarnation as a free state in 1921. Its interesting to see the rural Kerry man’s opinion juxtaposed to that of an urban south dub, and naturally we don’t always see eye to eye over what would be considered “Pressing Issues” in society. The same could be said for the programme for government, where the viewpoints of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party differ on many issues, including the agricultural industry and decentralisation of Dublin. In this article James and I will attempt to explain one of the most ambitious cross over since Marvel’s “Infinity War”. This Article is divided into two parts; In Part One, I explain some of the policies in the government programme, whilst in Part Two James gives his analysis from a rural perspective. The question remains, will the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green coalition flop at the box office, or will it take home an Oscar?
Part One – "Dr. Varadkar" (Drummond McGinn)
There are eight major areas of focus within the programme for government. These being the Rotating Taoiseach, Direct Provision, Public Finances post COVID 19, Commitments to the environment, Cycling infrastructure, Housing supply, and finally Cyber Security. There are many concerns within the various parties about the programme, with some stating that this programme doesn’t go far enough for the environment, others wondering how we can we guarantee that the rotating Taoiseach will work.
In terms of the rotating Taoiseach, Michael Martin will take the first shift until 2022, with Leo Varadkar to replace him that year. It has not yet been formally announced who the cabinet will consist of, however it would have to be in agreement with both Varadkar and Ryan. It is the first time in Irish history a rotating Taoiseach has been proposed, so there is no way to compare how this novel idea will pan out over the next five years.
The Direct Provision system is Irelands Asylum Seeker programme, which was proposed 20 years ago as a temporary system. It is a contentious programme that has seen little attention until recently. Under the programme for government it is set to be abolished and replaced with a non-for-profit accommodation style programme, with the aim of avoiding problems in communities where asylum seekers are housed. Legislation has been promised to be drafted by the end of the year to outline how this new system will work; with the government programme stating “new models of community engagement to ensure that the establishment of new accommodation is done in an inclusive and welcoming fashion”
Going into government with what is projected to be a 30-billion-euro deficit, in the post COVID 19 era isn’t for the faint hearted. Not wanting to go back to years of Austerity, it seems that this programme for government is taking a Keynesian approach to kick starting this economy and reducing the budget surplus. However, we can’t be too sure yet, as we have to wait until Budget 2021 until we see the “roadmap” to return to broadly balancing the books.
Naturally going into coalition with the Green Party will yield many environmental promises, most notably in this government programme, a commitment to ban the sale of new and importation of second-hand petrol and diesel cars by 2030. In addition to this there is a lot of proposals for cyclists, including 10% of the total transport budget will be set aside for cycling projects and infrastructure. A further 10% will be allocated for pedestrian infrastructure. Local Councils will have to appoint a cycling officer to oversee improvements to cycling infrastructure, as well as the bike to work scheme no incorporating both e-bikes and cargo bikes.
Housing has been a contentious issue over the last few years with a lack of supply for both private and social houses. This Programme claims to be committed to increase the supply of houses by 35,000 per year. The programme has also promised to build over 50,000 social houses over a five-year period. A State backed affordable home scheme is also included in the programme. There is also a commitment for to maintain the right for tenants in social housing to purchase the property, however they must be in situ for ten years, reduce the discount to the market value to a maximum of 25% and provide the local authorities first call on purchase.
There are additional commitments to reform the insurance sector. The Personal Injuries and Assessment Board is also set to be updated and reformed. The New government will also expand the Garda national Economic Crime Bureau to further tackle insurance fraud.
Finally, the government programme promises to take actions to protect Ireland against hackers, cybercrime, cyber espionage etc. A new National Cyber Security Centre is also outlined in the programme so as to protect both private and public sectors.
Part 2 – "From Kerry with Love" (James Knoblauch)
If the programme for government had been written by practically anybody else, I would have called it naïve or overly optimistic. Knowing that it was written by seasoned politicians, with Fine Gael just finishing off nearly a decade in power and most of Fianna Fail’s negotiators previously having experience in government, I can’t help feeling that the programme for government is quite deceitful. The lengthy and un-costed document presents many ideas and projects, as though this was the first time any of these parties would be entering into power. The promised end to Direct Provision in the lifetime of the next government is heralded as a ground-breaking, progressive development, ignoring the fact that it was only supposed to be an emergency, temporary measure introduced in 1999. I can’t help seeing a promise like this and wondering why in the previous 20 years neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael felt compelled to deliver on the “temporary” nature of direct provision. It is with this degree of scepticism that I set about reading the programme for government from the perspective of rural Ireland.
Rural Ireland has long grown accustomed to being abandoned by the major parties in pursuit of a “Dublin first” approach of governance. Failures in the delivery of the national broadband plan, the abolition of the town councils and a general lack of assistance for struggling farmers have all contributed to a narrative that Ireland’s governing parties care only for those who live within the confines of the M50. Even though time after time, rural Ireland is let down by Dublin-centric politicians, when I set off reading the programme, I was innocent enough to hope that this time things might be different. I was wrong.
Fianna Fail’s policies include a referendum on the right to housing and improved health services. Promises for funding in agriculture might be received as welcome assistance for farmers in rural Ireland, while the party’s aspirational desire to see more regional development could help towns suffering from depopulation. However, in both cases, there is an absence of substance on how they would be achieved. What does regional development actually mean in terms of policy? How will this be accomplished? How do you turn the tide of young people leaving rural? All these questions were left unanswered by the meaningless and vague commitments listed.
Fine Gael similarly lack any vision on reducing the imbalance between rural and urban Ireland. Pension reform, a jobs and stimulus package and a package to encourage sustainable farming are some of their main policies, but when it comes to addressing regional inequality or rural depopulation, Fine Gael are found wanting. Although a movement to sustainable farming is essential if agriculture is going to survive in rural Ireland while the country cuts emissions, the details on this are also scant.
Promises to help rural Ireland sound appealing in a party manifesto. When those promises lack any action or policy, they become nothing more than empty rhetoric, simple gimmicks to woo rural voters. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael go through the motions of appealing to rural Ireland, but I find myself thinking that practically nothing will change for the better because of this programme.
The Greens are frequently accused of being no friends of rural Ireland and they often play into this accusation. Increases in the carbon tax may be viewed as an unfair burden on rural Ireland and their policy triumph of an average carbon emissions reduction of 7% a year to 2030 could hit rural Ireland hard if those reductions are focused on farming. Meanwhile, the promised tripling of local link bus services in rural Ireland is a policy that addresses the scarcity of public transport in rural Ireland in a way that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael overlook.
Despite any positive green policies, I do not believe the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is a popular figure in rural Ireland. Past comments suggesting that a village of 300 only needed 30 cars to get by and his prior assertion that the national broadband plan unfairly benefited rural Ireland all contribute to an image of Mr Ryan as a politician oblivious to the problems facing the rest of the country. I wonder how Mr Ryan’s constituents in Dublin Bay South would react if Michael Healy-Rae suggested that Dubliners should have to carpool to get around? Condescending and arrogant views of rural Ireland serve only to reinforce the idea of the Greens as the party of liberal, wealthy, South Dubliners. The Greens may play an important role in raising awareness of environmental issues, but through their patronising view of life outside of Dublin, they subvert this work.
Reading through the draft programme for government, I can’t help feeling uninspired. Following one of Ireland’s most historical elections, the coalition proposes a remedy of more of the same in addressing Ireland’s problems. Margaret Thatcher once said, “if you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything – and you would achieve nothing”. Any coalition is a compromise. Whether this coalition will be able to achieve anything for rural Ireland, or the country, only time will tell.