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Ireland's Programme for Government

18 June 2020

Public Affairs Director Christine Quigley looks at the proposed Programme for Government and what it means for the Republic of Ireland, and the UK

Following the Republic of Ireland’s historic election in February this year, resulting in a three-way tie between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, and the understandable distraction of a global pandemic, this week three parties outlined an agreed Programme for Government. The new agreement would see Leo Varadkar ​replaced as Taoiseach by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin until December 2022, with Varadkar retaking the role for the second half of the 3​3rd Dáil.

The Programme for Government, while agreed by the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, is not yet a done deal. All three parties are balloting their members and politicians, with the results to be announced on 26 June. However, the draft Programme gives a strong indication of the direction of travel of this new Government.

Coalitions and minority governments have been the norm in Irish politics since the early 1980s, but a grand coalition of the two historically largest parties is unprecedented. However, the three parties have reached agreement on a range of issues that were key in the election campaign, particularly healthcare and housing. On the former, the parties are committing to extending universal access to healthcare, particularly extending free GP and dental care to more children and reducing prescription charges and the cost of medicines to the public purse, as well as expanding digital health services and legislating for an opt-out system of organ donation. On housing, the parties are pledging to increase the social housing stock by 50,000 homes and address the supply, affordability and security of tenure in the private rented sector.

The influence of the Green Party is also evident, with an entire section on a Green New Deal, including a  ​commitment to introduce a Climate Action Bill within the first 100 days of government enshrining the 2050 net zero emission target in law. This accompanies commitments to publish Ireland’s first clean air strategy and to deliver a "fundamental change" in transport, prioritising active travel and public transport.

Despite reports in UK media to the contrary, Brexit was neither the defining issue of the February election or of the new Government. However, the programme outlines a number of specific areas where the new government will engage with Westminster, including:

  • Defending the interests of Irish agriculture, fisheries and export businesses in negotiations on a future trade deal, in which the Irish Government intends to prioritise tariff- and quota-free trade, strong level playing field provisions and robust environmental and labour standards;
  • Active participation in the Special Committee overseeing the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, with particular emphasis on ensuring the protection of the Single Electricity Market across the island of Ireland;
  • Working with both the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive to address the legacy of the Troubles, including as an immediate priority ensuring access by an independent judicial figure to all documents relating to a number of terrorist incidents in the Republic in the 1970s;

The Programme for Government also includes a promise to undertake a strategic review of the British-Irish relationship in 2020/21, as well as deepening engagement with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales and a new consulate in the north of England. At the same time, the Programme also outlines a series of areas where Ireland plans to collaborate and integrate further with the European Union, including on the European Green Deal, the Digital Single Market and completion of the Single Market for services.

While it is by no means certain that all three parties will vote to adopt this draft Programme for Government next week, the broad direction of travel that it indicates on the future of British - Irish relations and trade should be a focus for UK politicians and officials. With Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council this week, the country will be increasingly looking to its broader international relationships with Europe and beyond. As one of the UK's biggest trading partners and the only country with which it shares a land border, working with the new Irish government to ensure that it is an ally in future trade talks is critical.