by Frank Schnittger
Sat Jun 27th, 2020 at 02:39:09 PM EST
One of the elemental proprieties of democracy has been enacted in Ireland today with the handing over of the office of Taoiseach from Leo Varadker, leader of Fine Gael, to Michael Martin, Leader of Fine Fail. The two civil war parties of Ireland are coalescing for the first time in tandem with the Greens.
Bitter personal rivalries and some policy differences have been set aside after the three parties agreed to coalesce on the basis of a 129 page programme for government endorsed by large majorities of their party memberships in the case of Fianna Fail, and the Greens, and an electoral college within Fine Gael.
The formation of the Government brings to an end an unprecedented 15 week hiatus since the General Election last February when no government could be formed for lack of an agreement between parties representing a majority in the Dail. Failure to agree would, most probably, have resulted in a second general election to resolve the impasse.
The run up to the agreement being ratified was not without some controversy with some opposition in each party, but chiefly the Greens where a two thirds majority of members was required to ratify the deal. Many people outside the Green party objected to N. Ireland based Greens having a say on whether a government could be formed here.
I entered the controversy with a Letter, variants of which were published in the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Belfast Telegraph:
The letter was written in response to numerous letters published in the Irish Times objecting to Northern Greens having a vote, including one by Senator David Norris, former Presidential candidate, who is himself elected on a panel for Trinity College graduates many of which reside in northern Ireland.
Most of those who objected where pro-government party supporters worried that Northern Greens, rumoured to be younger and more radical, might de-rail the government formation process by voting against the deal, resulting in a failure of the Greens reaching the two thirds majority required.
But it is difficult to overlook the hypocrisy of allowing Sinn Féin to organise on an all Ireland basis and then objecting when N. Green party members have a say. The Greens are one of the few non-sectarian parties in the north, drawing their membership from people of both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, and who may or may not support the current union with Britain or a united Ireland.
As it turned out, supporters of forming a government need not have worried. The deal was ratified by large 75-80% majorities in all three parties, and Fianna Fail leader, Micheál Martin was elected Taoiseach by a large 93-63 majority in the Dail sitting in the National Convention centre to facilitate social distancing.
Under the deal he remains Taoiseach until the 15th. December 2022 when he hands the role back to Leo Varadker, who remains on as Leader of Fine Gael and Tanaiste, or deputy Prime Minister, much to the disappointment, no doubt, of the Pro-Brexit British Daily Express.
Good news for the Express. Varadkar is gone, at last having received his just desserts for "meddling" in Brexit. The Irish people have said "no more!". And Britain is once again free from the naive, upstart Taoiseach, snapping at its ankles as it embarks on its future - out of the EU, away from the shadowy lawmakers in Brussels, with its oldest and closest neighbour back in its rightful box.
To mark such an occasion the newspaper ran with the jubilant headline: "End of Varadkar! Irish PM removed in coalition deal after years of Brexit meddling."
The new government faces some unprecedented challenges:
- Managing the end of lockdown without a resurgence of infection
- Economic recovery after the pandemic
- Radically revamping the health service to overcome endemic delays in accessing services
- Overcoming a crisis in the availability of affordable public housing
- Developing an affordable national childcare service
- Overcoming the effects of a hard Brexit
- Global and European corporate tax reform resulting in significant loss of tax revenues
- A decline in world trade, and
- An ambitious and expensive Green New Deal, including an average 7% p.a. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
There is not much optimism around that all these challenges will be met, but the electorate is unlikely to be forgiving if they fail. Sinn Féin are waiting in the wings, ideally placed to mop up any resentment at any failure to deliver.