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New Government to be formed in Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jun 16th, 2020 at 11:44:34 AM EST

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Caroline Quinn/Damien Eagers/Leon Farrell/PA Wire

The Fianna Fail (FF), Fine Gael (FG) and Green parties have agreed a 50,000 word, 126 page programme for government which will now be put to the party memberships of FF and the Greens and an electoral college within FG for final approval. Approval is expected in FF and FG, but the two thirds majority of members required by the Green party constitution may prove a more difficult hurdle. Hence the ? in the title.

The document is heavily aspirational in parts, but broadly reflects Green party policy priorities including a commitment to an average 7 per cent per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 to be achieved by a ban on new oil/gas exploration, termination of a plan for an imported fracked gas storage centre, the retrofitting of 500,000 homes to make them more energy efficient, a ban on new petrol or diesel cars from 2030, a focus of resources on public transport, cycle and walkways at the expense of roads, and a renewed focus on renewable energy sources.

Overall, it is remarkable the degree to which the Greens, with 7% electoral support, have managed to set the national policy agenda. FG's contribution seems to be limited to maintaining current tax rates with the promise of some future tax reductions "if circumstances allow", and FF, the party with the most seats, seems to have had hardly any impact on the policy agenda at all. This perhaps reflects the degree to which the traditional conservative parties have run out of ideas, other than perhaps to attempt to return to the status quo ante the Covid-19 pandemic.

FF have been quietly desperate to get into government at almost any cost. Their Leader, Michael Martin is the last survivor of the disastrous FF Greens government which guaranteed junior bank bond holders their money back while the economy crashed all around them. This is his last shot at redemption, and he is due to become Taoiseach until Dec. 15th. 2022 at which point he will hand the role back to Leo Varadkar.

The other reason for FF's desperation is that they have imploded in the polls since the February general election (from 24% to 14%) while FG have soared from 21% to 37% due to a perceived good handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed Leo Varadkar, whose personal approval ratings have soared from 30% to 75%, must be ruing his decision to call a February election, and quite relaxed about the possibility of the Greens membership rejecting this deal, as that would give him the excuse he needs to call another election.

The same opinion poll has Green voters strongly in favour of entering government, with 31 per cent saying they should do the best deal they could, and a further 61 per cent saying they should enter government if their demands on climate action were met. Thus the two thirds majority all depends on whether most Green voters regard the document as meeting their climate action demands.

Green party voters are not the same as Green party members, however, with the party having experienced a large influx of younger, more left leaning new members in recent times, so it will be interesting to see which way they vote. Support for the deal in FF and FG will also not be unanimous, with a significant rump in FF led by traditionalist Éamon Ó Cuív favouring a coalition with Sinn Fein (SF) instead.

Many in FG will also have mixed feeling abut the deal, preferring to take their chances with a more appreciative electorate in August/September should this deal be voted down. However the electoral college in FG which will make the decision is composed of elected TDs, senators, county counsellors and elected party officials who may be more election averse than the general membership, and who may feel they have to show loyalty to their leadership. There is also no guarantee that the post pandemic bounce in FG's ratings will ultimately be reflected in a new general election.

I would not be surprised, however, if there was a groundswell of popular opposition to the deal amongst ordinary members of FF and FG, aggrieved at what they might see as the disproportionate influence of the Greens on the policy programme. In FF's case some have a preference for coalition with SF, and in FG's case a preference to leverage their increased popularity in the polls and improving their seat count in a new general election.

Overall, I expect the new deal to be ratified by all three parties and for the new government to stay the course for the next 4 years, but as ever, nothing is certain in politics. The challenges for the next few years will test the mettle of any new government. To the costs of the Covid-19 pandemic must be added the costs of a hard Brexit, global corporate tax reform, global recession and restrictions on trade which will impact disproportionately on a small open economy like Ireland.

Added to this will be the increased expectations of an electorate who have gotten used to a high level of borrowing and social supports, a universal health care system, and much increased government spending and intervention. There are also a lot of vested interests which will have to be addressed - millionaire meat factory owners, property developers, global corporates with large bases in Ireland, the medical, legal, landlord, and agricultural lobbies who normally support FF and FG and who will not be happy with may of the changes that will be needed to meet public expectations and the promises in the programme for government.

It will not be an easy ride...

Up to recently my main expectation was that FG would try to string out the negotiations as long as possible with a view to the Greens ultimately rejecting the deal and giving FG the excuse they needed to call a new general election in August/September, assuming the lock-down was over by then. It is hard to see FG not improving on its disastrous showing in February, even if they don't quite get the post-pandemic bounce evidenced in recent polls.

However, they seem to have made a genuine attempt to reach a deal the other parties could support and so the odds must be on the programme being ratified and the FF/FG/Green coalition governing for the next 4 years. This means many FG ministers will lose their jobs and Varadkar will lose the premiership for 18 months - to the great joy of British Daily Express which exclaimed that the Brexit Meddling PM had been removed, without mentioning that he will be back in that job by the end of 2022.

However it also means that FF's Michael Martin will be in the hot seat for what promises to be a tough next 18 months. Éamon Ó Cuív is not alone in fearing that there will be only one major conservative party in Ireland after the next election, and that it will not be FF.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 16th, 2020 at 01:46:50 PM EST
Where agreement was possible, it was done. But a huge number of issues were parked for future resolution:
Coalition deal may see Irish politics change forever (Subscriber only).
The 7 per cent will be difficult and few Fine Gaelers and Fianna Fáilers believe it will achieved in full, every year. But they also know it will be underpinned by law, and can't be ignored, long-fingered, pushed off the agenda. They know the Greens will be on their case about it every day. It will be by some distance the most radical environmental measure an Irish government has ever adopted.

There are kicks to touch aplenty, of course. Observers delighted in counting them up: seven commissions, six taskforces, four committees, 73 (!) reviews, two working groups, two forums, two councils, three citizens' assemblies, two agencies, a court and an expert group, according to one count. But that is the nature of these things. Problems that can be solved, or have to be solved, are; others are postponed.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 16th, 2020 at 03:21:59 PM EST
Feelings ramp up in Fianna Fáil in debate about coalition
Canvassing to persuade Fianna Fáil members in the west of Ireland to back the three-party coalition deal has begun in earnest, with feelings already running high on both sides of the debate.

A battle royal lies ahead judging by the position taken by the treasurer of Fianna Fáil's Ballina Comhairle Ceantar, Noel Mullen, who says coalition with Fine Gael will "finish the party".

Mr Mullen, a FF member since 1966, says Dara Calleary, "who I've supported and voted for all my life, and his father before him, told us at a party meeting that a vote for Sinn Féin was a vote for Leo".

"But he forgot to tell us that a vote for Dara Calleary is a vote for Leo," said Mr Mullen. "I feel let down by that, very badly let down. If I wanted to vote for Fine Gael couldn't I have voted for their candidate here myself?

"I think there is a disconnect between the leadership and the people on the ground. I will be voting against this, and I don't mind saying it," said Mr Mullen, whose grandfather was a founding member of Fianna Fáil.

Life-long Fianna Fáil member Tony Flaherty (73) says that the party's membership in Galway is not supportive of the proposed coalition, but may vote for it to avoid another general election.

Located in Moycullen, he went on: "I don't know what way I will vote yet, but the only reason I'd vote for it is to avoid another election. An election wouldn't make much difference, we'd be back in the same place again."

However, he worries about the Greens. "I think their policy is crazy for rural Ireland. They put up as much smoke in China or India in a minute as we would do over here in a year. But they want all of us to go around on bicycles."

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 16th, 2020 at 06:18:27 PM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 17th, 2020 at 09:10:44 AM EST
It looks like the Greens vote could be a close run thing...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 18th, 2020 at 12:05:14 PM EST
While the recent opinion poll seems to show overwhelming public, and Green party voter support for a coalition deal with FF and FG, that may cut little ice with the Green party's c. 2,400 members most of whom are recent, younger, and more left-leaning than the party leadership.

The fact that a third of them live in N. Ireland and have less direct "skin in the game" complicates matters further. Many are policy wonks, most operate outside any established consensus, and not a few are idealists and zealots in the Green cause. The vague fuzzy compromises contained in the programme for government will be anathema to many of them. It only takes 33.4% of the membership who actually vote to block the deal, and this may very well end up happening.

So what happens then? A belated attempt to stitch together a deal with a ragbag of independents? Whatever chance an 85 TD government has of lasting the course, the chance of a 73 member FF/FG coalition with a few independents tagged on lasting for 4 years must be minimal given the scale of problems the government is likely to face. Leo will probably switch to plan B and call a general election in August based on much the same policy platform and, if current polls are even half-way accurate, clean up on FF if not the Greens. Independents and the smaller parties of the left will also suffer.

It is unclear, in that scenario, if the FF/FG coalition deal will survive or if both parties would campaign as separate entities. FG currently stand at 37% and FF at 13%. Why would they still agree to rotate the Taoiseach if the actual result were even close to that? But who would agree to coalesce with them if they reneged on their deal with FF? Would the prospect of a FF/SF coalition under a different FF leader re-surface?

the choice to have another election is in Leo's hands (subject to Presidential approval) and he and his party might take the view that they have an opportunity to:

  1. Steel the Green's clothes
  2. Relegate FF to the minor league
  3. Retain the Taoiseach and most cabinet roles for themselves, and
  4. an outside chance of a near majority in their own right if they can achieve the 37% of the first preference vote as indicated by the polls. After all, they can hardly do worse than last February.

All they have to do is blame the "unrealistic" Greens for having forced their hand. They can claim they have waited 6 months for an alternative government to be formed, have negotiated in good faith with FF and the Greens, and don't see a prospect of a secure and stable government with the independents (which wasn't what the electorate voted for in any case).

According to the opinion poll, a second general election is what a third of the electorate want now in any case - almost as many as those who support this coalition. Add in a few more weeks of frustration with the Greens, a little more opening up of the economy, and that number could be over 50%. It's a new world, post Covid-19, and there is a lot of pent up frustration in the electorate. Any new election will be a binary choice between FG and SF, with everyone else an also ran. What's not to like from an FG and SF perspective?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 18th, 2020 at 01:00:30 PM EST
Ireland wins seat on UN Security Council - BBC
The Republic of Ireland has won a seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2021/22.

It secured the 128 votes needed in the 191-nation General Assembly in New York to win a two year non-permanent seat.

Norway has also secured a seat after a vote by the UN General Assembly.

The 15-member council has five permanent members - the US, UK, France, Russia and China - and 10 non-permanent seats, filled on a rotating basis.

Taoiseach (Irish prime minster) Leo Varadkar said Ireland's return to the council "is a recognition of our work on the world stage over many decades".

Canada was a contender too, but lost its bid.
by Bernard on Thu Jun 18th, 2020 at 02:54:05 PM EST
Sadly, Ireland won its seat just as the Occupied Territories Bill was dropped from the programme for government.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 18th, 2020 at 06:48:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Phil Hogan comes under pressure to declare intent on WTO role - Irish Times
The position of Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan is increasingly awkward in Brussels as he weighs whether to run to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation.

Hogan is expected to announce his decision on whether to run next week, after floating the idea of being a candidate following the sudden resignation of Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo from the post.

In the meantime, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has restricted his public appearances and activities to stop speculation about his run from becoming a distraction.

To guard against any potential conflicts of interest, Hogan's boss, EC vice president Valdis Dombrovskis, has been brought in to supervise decisions on policy proposals or trade negotiating positions that the former Fine Gael minister is responsible for, under a so-called "four-eyes-principle".

Conflicts of interest? What conflicts of interest?
Simple: As trade commissioner, Hogan is overseeing the EU trade negotiations with other countries, including the United Sates. To get the WTO post, one needs the full support of the main stakeholders, including the US.

EU stumbles to brink of tariff war with weakened trade chief - Politico

But the U.S. move comes at a moment when Brussels is particularly weak in its ability to counter the threat. Its trade chief, Phil Hogan, has just publicly announced his interest in running for the post of chief of the World Trade Organization, a position for which he would require the support of the United States.

Three EU diplomats and several industry officials told POLITICO they were worried about Hogan's apparent weakness at a moment when the EU needs to show strength.

"It's an ill-conceived and ill-thought-through plan. The EU needs a strong commissioner on trade and not one that has inflicted self harm on himself and therefore our trade instruments," said one EU diplomat.

by Bernard on Sun Jun 21st, 2020 at 08:26:00 PM EST
While it might be nice to be numero uno in an organisation, I' not sure I would regard the job of WTO Chief as much of a promotion these days. Rather it is something of a poisoned chalice, with Trump tearing up trade agreements for fun.

The EU Commissioner for trade job is also going to be a tough job in the next few years, with EU/UK trade talks likely to break down, and a war of words to ensue. Anybody in that job is not going to be popular in the UK, or popular in Ireland if the application of WTO rules ruins Ireland's beef and food trade with the UK.

So I would prefer a cussed Frenchman in either role, someone not afraid to play the bad cop as tensions rise.

I suggest Hogan gets off the fence and makes a decision either way. One phone call to the US should clear up whether he has their support for the WTO role. If not, he has another reason to give them a hard time in any future EU/US negotiations.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jun 21st, 2020 at 08:42:34 PM EST
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