The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary parties have tonight given the green light to the joint policy document that could pave the way for the formation of a government.
Some concern was expressed at both meetings about how the pledges in the document would be funded.
There were also worries around what such a government would mean for the identity of each party in the long term.
Overall though there was little dissent at either meeting with both agreeing to support the document.
At the Fine Gael meeting, Minister Michael Ring expressed his opposition to a coalition with Fianna Fáil while the Minister for Agriculture was described as voicing worry about the move.
Leo Varadkar told the meeting that Fine Gael would make every effort in good faith to form a strong, majority government which will last five years, to lead the country through the Covid-19 Emergency, restart the economy and renew our society.
Fine Gael Party Chairman Martin Heydon said the meeting lasted for more than three and a half hours and had 43 contributions from TDs, Senators and MEPs.
He said party colleagues were encouraged to ensure that all of Fine Gael's public representatives and members are consulted in the next steps taken by the party in a bid to form a Government.
At the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this evening, there was little objection to the plan from TDs, Senators and MEPs and no vote was required.
Party leader Micheál Martin said tonight's party meeting was constructive and positive.
He maintained the joint document represents a "significant shift in approach" which was required to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Martin told RTÉ News it would leading to a greater State-led approach which would transform the lives of citizens through the provision of public services.
He urged smaller parties to engage with the document, arguing "there is a lot in it".
FG Parliamentary Party gives its leader the green light to proceed to next stage on government formation after backing FG/FF policy document tonight @rtenews— Mícheál Lehane (@MichealLehane) April 15, 2020
The 24-page policy plan was published earlier today, which both parties say is aimed at charting a course for economic recovery in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.
The plan, which was agreed by Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin yesterday, will endeavour to give the State a greater role in the areas of health, childcare and the building of homes.
It says the country will again have a significant deficit as a result of the health emergency.
To face this crisis of "a lifetime" it calls for a government with a clear majority that is strong enough to deliver a programme for national recovery.
It is also focused on improving "the wellbeing of the Irish people and society."
To achieve this it has set ten aims which it calls missions.
They are: reigniting and renewing the economy, universal healthcare, housing for all, a new social contract, a new green deal, a better quality of life for all, supporting young Ireland, opportunities through education and research, a shared island, at the heart of Europe: Global citizenship.
The joint Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil document says that the new government will not increase income tax or the universal social charge.
It also says there will be no reduction in "core social welfare rates".
On the public finances it says it will reduce the deficit as the economy grows and comply with the EU fiscal rules and the Stability and Growth Pact which set borrowing limits.
The paper says the parties are committed to borrowing, if necessary, to fund capital expenditure.
It says: "This would aim to stimulate demand domestically, grow employment while improving health, housing, education and transport infrastructure."
FF & FG document on economy: Borrow for capital expenditure. Reduce deficit as economy grows. Won't break EU fiscal rules. Progress to a unspecified living living wage. Won't hike taxes or cut welfare. No figures for: deficit, borrowing requirement or expected decline in GDP.— David Murphy (@davidmurphyRTE) April 15, 2020
It says it will launch a National Economic Plan, with input from employer and employee representative bodies.
The document says there will be support for businesses and self-employed people to resume trading and employment.
It says a new government would "value those who are in low-paid employment, by progressing to a living wage over the lifetime of the next Government." However, the document does not include a figure for a living wage.
The document says as a result of Covid-19 "Ireland has moved from a situation of having the highest ever level of employment, and a strong surplus, to having the biggest ever increase in unemployment, and a large deficit."
It adds: "The State has reacted to this crisis with large income and business supports. When we gradually move back towards normality, new actions of similar ambition will be required, in order to restore confidence and demand to the economy, promote employment, and safeguard the public finances."
The document says a new government will tackle issues that could potentially undermine a recovery, such as the cost of insurance.
It adds it will enable businesses to prepare for the post-Covid-19 environment, which will have a "long legacy" with greater emphasis on remote and flexible working and the consequences of social distancing.
Policy responses for sectors such as retail, tourism, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing and construction, the document say will also be addressed.
The document says the new government will identify and support potential growth areas such as cloud computing, medical technology, proteins and green technology.
Under 'A Shared Island', the parties will 'establish a unit within Dept of An Taoiseach to work towards a consensus on a united Ireland' which will 'examine political, social economic + cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.'— Paul Cunningham (@RTENewsPaulC) April 15, 2020
Under the section entitled 'A Shared Island', the document states that the parties will "establish a unit within the Department of An Taoiseach' to work towards a consensus on a united Ireland".
It says, the unit will "examine the political, social economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected".
Among the other measures, there is a commitment to ensure that "mechanisms are put in place to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement."
FF FG plan promises to implement universal heath care with a focus first on paediatrics and women's health. All new consultants contracts in public service will be public only @rtenews— Mícheál Lehane (@MichealLehane) April 15, 2020
The plan vows to expedite the implementation of a universal health service which would focus first on paediatrics and women's health.
It also contains a promise to increase bed capacity, diagnostics and staff numbers to provide community and hospital care more quickly.
It will ensure all new consultant contracts in the public service are public only.
Primary care will be a priority so that patients can receive care in the community.
There will be investment in health infrastructure to help society return to normal and to manage future public health threats.
All public sector employers will have to have 20% of staff working remotely or from home by 2021. Incentives will be provided to private sector employers to do likewise under the FF/FG policy plan @rtenews— Mícheál Lehane (@MichealLehane) April 15, 2020
Under the section entitled 'Housing For All', the parties say they will commit to both 'empower and fund' the Land Development Agency to 'build homes on public and private land' in order to deliver 'new homes for affordable and private purchase, social housing, and cost-rental accommodation.'
The parties also commit to reducing "the cost of land to improve affordability of housing" and says the parties will use all measures - "up to and including referenda", as well as "a new deal for renters" by "providing more long-term security, stable and affordable rents and greater choice".
It also plans to "prioritise the reduction of family homelessness" by providing "long-term secure accommodation" and "preventing new cases of homelessness".
They say they will "prioritise home ownership and affordable purchase schemes" while also developing the "cost-rental model in all our cities and for student accommodation".
As reported on @rtenews at the weekend, FF FG Framework for Gov document promises:— Mary Regan (@MaryERegan) April 15, 2020
- No further increase in college fees,
- A new deal for renters with more security and stable rents.
- Reform and modernize childcare
In the document, a new "social contract" section describes how the importance of carers will be recognised, and how childcare costs will be reduced while childcare workers will be given a "sustainable career pathway".
There's also a promise to increase parental leave, gender equality will be prioritised with more women involved in "decision-making roles".
Each citizen will have access to a "dignified retirement" a pension auto-enrolment system will be introduced and people with special needs or disability will be "empowered" to play a full part in society.
In terms of climate change the parties say they will commit to setting new carbon reduction targets, but do not specify what those targets should be.
However, the document commits to "identifying and implementing early significant changes - underpinned with a clear road map for delivery".
It also states the parties will commit to ensuring "the recovery at domestic and European levels is carried out through a green lens"; taking "immediate action in response to the biodiversity crisis"; and making Ireland "a European leader" in offshore wind energy.
The document commits to delivering "a strong Just Transition"; electrifying "the public and private transport fleet"; increasing the carbon tax, "in line with the agreed cross-party trajectory of €80 per tonne by 2030"; and planting 440 million trees.
It also proposes that an "ambitious" home energy retrofitting programme should be rolled-out; and that agriculture should be supported in its "ongoing transition to emission efficiency".
If signed-off, the document will be shared with the Green Party, the Social Democrats, and Labour in the hope that one or more party will agree to entering into coalition talks.
Some dissent can be expected - Fine Gael negotiator Simon Coveney has written to party councillors acknowledging the deep reservations some have about going into government, but arguing there is an absence of, what he calls, credible alternatives.
" ...and a partridge in a pear tree..." early reaction from prominent figure (who does not want to be named) in one of 3 parties this doc is aimed at. https://t.co/whsjiEBNj4— Mícheál Lehane (@MichealLehane) April 15, 2020
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil want to form a coalition involving another party and Independents - however, as Mr Coveney stated in his letter, it is not going to be straight forward, and there are no guarantees of success.
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said his party will appraise the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil plan, but he described it as an un-costed, purely aspirational document that fails to mention any concrete timelines or when any of the mooted ideas would be delivered.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton has said that no one favours the hasty formation of a government that "wouldn't sustain the pace, as we seek to frame a recovery plan for the extraordinary jolt to our society".
Mr Bruton is acting as chair of a reference group which has stepped back from formal negotiations and is seeking to apply seven key tests to the framework agreement for coalition.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O’Rourke, He said these tests would see that any government formed must have the prospect of being a durable government with a broad-based legitimacy working in the public interest.
Mr Bruton said that detailed housing measures are at the core of a framework document on government formation. He said that balanced regional development which gives people access to affordable homes is part of the proposals being examined.
It would also ensure that this process will not distract from the ongoing work to protect people during the Covid-19 crisis.
He said that he has expressed concerns about the risks and dangers a coalition with Fianna Fáil would not be durable or have legitimacy but he said "the tests will check if it is".
He said this is a starting point of discussions with other parties to see if "it can deliver the stable arrangement that people want as "the road ahead is tricky".
Fianna Fáil's finance spokesperson Michael McGrath has acknowledged that there are different opinions within the party about entering government with Fine Gael, but said Fianna Fáil is a democratic party and there will be an extensive period of consultation.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said that the issue of taoiseach is not one that was discussed by the negotiating teams and party leaders will address the issue at the appropriate time.
Additional reporting Paul Cunningham