There was a time in Irish politics when Fianna Fáil was described as the vodka of coalition - the far more potent ingredient that would take on the taste of whoever it was mixed with (Labour or the Progressive Democrats, as the case used to be).

Now Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are the separate ingredients that are being blended into a coalition cocktail. The process of mixology is far more complicated than the spirit-and-split combination in coalitions that once involved one big and one small party.

In a multi-party arrangement, the need to compromise is even greater. And the Programme for Government published earlier this week is designed to reflect those compromises, that were hammered out over weeks of tense negotiations. 

There are many reasons that such documents are published before a government begins its term. But with coalitions, these programmes are intended to solve policy disagreements in advance so that disputes are limited when it finally takes office.

Experience in other countries has shown us that the more complex a coalition, the stronger the need to sort out policy differences in advance of it taking office. 

So what exactly from each of the party's manifestos has made it into the Programme for Government?

And are the policies specific enough to ensure most flash points are dealt with before the new government is sworn in, or is there enough vagueness there to run the risk of disputes erupting when hard decisions have to be made down the line?

Climate change

Just like in the Green Party’s manifesto - actions around climate change are not just confined to one section, but are peppered throughout every part of the programme for government document, which some experts have described as the most environmentally progressive in the history of the State. 

It borrows heavily from the Green Party’s election manifesto, which had the most ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions of 7% a year. That manifesto specifically promised "at least" a 55% reduction by 2030 which it said "will require at least a 7% per annum reduction in annual emissions for the next decade".

Fine Gael’s pre-election ambition on emission reductions was at the 3.5% per year cut that the party had committed to in the Climate Action Plan.

Fianna Fáil did not show any greater ambition on emission reductions, committing in its manifesto to "establish a national infrastructure commission for 30 year decarbonisation planning".

On this benchmark, the programme for government is strongly Green in flavour, with its commitment to "an average" 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 and an overall 51% reduction by 2030.

The pathway for achieving this reduction is to be set out in two five-year carbon budgets outlining caps on emissions, one running from 2021 - 2021 and the other from 2026 - 2030. This has caused some anxiety among Green Party councillors that the heavy lifting will be done in the second half of the decade and therefore not in this government’s term.

Some of the harder decisions around the specifics will have to be made during the lifetime of the government, meaning they could prove a potential flashpoint.

The parties have made a big play on the retrofitting plans in the programme. But how do they compare to promises? In its manifesto, Fianna Fáil promised to establish an agency to offer low cost financing for retrofitting homes, although did not set a target. Fine Gael promised to increase ten time the level of home retrofitting while the Green Party promised 75,000 homes per year.

The programme for government falls short of all of these, promising to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030. It is also no more ambitious than what was promised by the outgoing government in June 2019 when it launched a plan to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030.

Health

While health was one of the big battlegrounds in the election, it was also an area where there was a degree of unanimity between party manifestos. When it came to health, the debate during the election was more about competence than policy.

All three parties in this potential coalition had backed a single tier health system in the run-up to the election and the Covid crisis left no doubts over what needs to be done in the short term.

All parties had previously agreed that the 10-year plan for change is Sláintecare - that is a universal healthcare and a single system. The Sláintecare Report was published over three years ago, so it’s already well delayed.

In their manifestos, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael did not differ in any significant way on the need for extra staff and beds, or extending free GP care.

Fianna Fáil said it would recruit 1,000 extra consultants over five years at a cost of €223m, and 4,000 more nurses over the next five years. It said it would double the National Treatment Purchase Fund to €200m.

Fine Gael promised to provide 2,600 extra hospital beds and 4,500 community beds. The party said, if returned to government, it would recruit 3,840 primary care workers - hiring 1,000 of these by the end of the year.

The programme for government is far less specific, it promises to "recruit additional frontline community staff, including public health nurses and allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dementia advisers and speech and language therapists."

No figures were given for frontline staff or, indeed, the number of hospital beds that will be put in place.

Free GP care - already available to under sixes and over 70s - has been a cornerstone of Fine Gael health policy in recent years. In its manifesto, the party promised to extend free GP care to children under 18.

Fianna Fáil said it wanted to expand GP care "on the basis of means" while the Green Party manifesto promised to invest more in GP services as a way of reducing hospital waiting lists.

The programme for government commits to extending free GP care to carers - as was promised by Fine Gael. It also promises to extend it to include "more children" but does not specify how that will be done.

There is one caveat to be applied to the election promises on healthcare versus what can be delivered. Because of Covid-19, an extra €2billion may be required for the health service this year.

So the room for any extra spending on health policies will be very limited.

The programme for government plan is not costed and delivery of any promises will depend not only on the virus, but on our economic performance. This is most likely why many of the policies remain so vague.

Whoever takes on what could prove a poison chalice of the health portfolio, could end up taking a lot of criticism not just from the opposition but from their own coalition partners.

Childcare

There were already huge pressures to reform childcare and early years education before the virus struck, but the need to do so was made all the more acute during the pandemic when crèches closed their doors and parents were left having to juggle work without any formal help looking after their children.

As the programme for government was published, crèches were preparing to reopen. But there is huge uncertainty around the sector both in the short term - because of concerns over how they will be staffed and funded - and in the long term, because there could be a move towards more care for children at home.

In their election manifestos, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael focused largely on the costs to parents of formal childcare - mostly crèches - which are often described as a "second mortgage".

Both promised to increase the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) – which  funds 15 hours a week per child for the two years before they start school.

The programme for government moves the overall childcare policy in the direction of a public model, saying the new government will "reform the childcare system to create one that brings together the best of community and private childcare provision". This too, if implemented, would be a significant policy development. But in the short term, not a lot is likely to change. 

Fianna Fáil promised to increase it from its current 38 weeks a year to 40; Fine Gael to 42 weeks. The programme for government does not go nearly as far as these promises. It commits to supporting the scheme and "if resources allow, to increase the scope of the scheme".

In its manifesto, Fianna Fáil promised to consider introducing fee caps on childcare services and, in the meantime, increase the universal childcare subsidy from the current rate of €20 a week to €80 - meaning parents would save €320 a month. Fine Gael said it would increase the threshold and the subsidy rates, but it did not specify by how much. 

The programme for government, in this regard, is closer to what Fianna Fáil promised. It says the new coalition will "examine the approach of other European countries to set a cap on parental fees irrespective of income. A policy, legal and economic analysis will be concluded and published in 2020."

If such a cap is introduced, it would mark a significant policy departure in the area of childcare. 

The Green Party manifesto was quite different to the others when it came to childcare. Its focus was not just on the financial, but on the logistical burdens on parents when it came to managing work and family life. It said the state had "penalised non formal childcare" and said it would invest in developing "publicly run State creches delivered predominantly by local authorities".

The programme for government moves the overall childcare policy in the direction of a public model, saying the new government will "reform the childcare system to create one that brings together the best of community and private childcare provision." This too, if implemented, would be a significant policy development. But in the short term, not a lot is likely to change. 

In its manifesto, the Green Party manifesto promised to extend paid maternity and paternity leave to one year, Fianna Fáil promised to extend paid maternity leave from 26 to 30 weeks, allowing both parents to share leave, while Fine Gael had promised to to extend parental leave by seven weeks by 2025.

The programme for government makes similar promises but is far more vague, saying the next government will "extend paid parental leave for parents to allow them spend more time with their baby in their first year".

Housing

This was a central issue to the election campaign.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made the building of more social affordable housing central to his election bid and his party’s manifesto promised 50,000 social homes and 50,000 affordable homes for purchase below €250,000. For its part, Fine Gael promised to build 10,000 new homes,.

The programme for government appears closest to the Fianna Fáil policy, with its promise to increase the social housing stock by 50,000 over the next five years. It also borrows a Fine Gael proposed policy for a "social housing passport" which will allow families on the housing waiting list to move from one local authority to another (for example, from a long list in Dublin to a shorter one in a more rural area).

The Green Party’s solution was a cost-rental model – where the price paid is based on construction and maintenance costs, not market rent and home ownership at a cost equal to no more than 30% of net income.

The programme for government adopts this approach, promising to "develop a cost rental model for the delivery of housing that creates affordability for tenants and a sustainable model for the construction and management of homes".

In doing this, it will be "informed by international experience of the delivery of cost rental, such as the 'Vienna Model’ and others". In Vienna, Austria, two thirds of its 1.9 million residents live in public housing at an average rent cost of €600 a month.

The Green Party manifesto also promised a referendum on the right to housing. The programme for government promises referendums on housing and other issues, under constitutional reform, but it does not specify what this referendum would be about.