Laois TD and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has welcomed the coming together of his own party, Fine Gael, and Fianna Fail in a bid to form a government.
The two ‘Civil War parties’, who have been opposed to each other for more than 90 years, officially buried the hatchet yesterday as they released joint policy document that could pave the way for the formation of a government.
In a wide-ranging interview with LaoisToday, Minister Flanagan discussed the policy document and why he believes it is good for Laois, ruled out any deal with Sinn Fein and called on a third party to get involved.
Minister Flanagan says that as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to turn our lives upside-down, the country needs a stable government and that he believes this is the best way to achieve that.
He said: “The Election (in February) seems a distant event at this stage because so much has happened since.
“A lot of the economic pillars that were here in January are no longer there but I think it is important that there is a majority in the Dail.
“We need a stable Government and the only way we will have stability is with a third party.
“I would like to see a new deal for the Irish people which would build on the lessons that were learned from the Election in terms of what people said and the message we received on the doors.
“So that is why I think the coming together of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael is not only important, but it is to be welcomed.
“This is not a done deal and there is still a lot of work to be done. But in terms of what I am reading now, I see a lot of positives and I think we have to build on that.”
Just over two months ago, speaking on RTE’s Prime Time, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that “putting Fianna Fáil back in charge of the economy again would be like putting John Delaney back in charge of the FAI”.
But now as Flanagan’s party looks set to do just that, or at the very least share control of the economy with Fianna Fail, he says that the outcome of the election has necessitated this.
Minister Flanagan also says a third party is needed and believes there is a role for the Green Party.
He said: “I said, just a couple of days after the election, that what was needed was a new deal for the Irish people.
“I felt that that new deal would have to involve two of the three big parties (Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael).
“And that they would also have to come together with another party. And I still believe that there is a role for the Green Party here.
“And I also believe that everyone who was elected in a General Election should aspire to serve in government. I don’t think it is sufficient for up to half of the Dail to say, ‘we’re going to opt out, we’re not going into government, we’re going to stay in opposition’.
“I don’t think the political system is designed for that. People say that there needs to be an active and robust opposition – and that may be true.
“But there also needs to be an active and robust government which is where I am coming from.”
“Putting Fianna Fáil back in charge of the economy again would be like putting John Delaney back in charge of the FAI.”
— Fine Gael (@FineGael) February 4, 2020
While Flanagan stressed the need for a third party, he categorically ruled out that Sinn Fein would be it.
He said: “No, not with my party, not with Fine Gael.
“I will not serve in government with Sinn Fein. I made that clear before the election, during the election and after the election.”
Looking at the document as a whole, which can be viewed in full at the bottom of this article, Minister Flanagan picked out Section 6 as being particularly good for the people of Laois.
This is all got to do with quality of life and sets out a range of measures aimed specifically at commuters – thousands of whom leave Laois for work everyday.
He said: “While this isn’t a programme for government, it is certainly a framework document and I think there are a lot of positives in it.
“Leaving aside any justice elements or issues to do with my cabinet portfolio, I am very impressed by the section on quality of life (Section 6) and its particular reference to commuters.
“This was a huge issue in Laois during the General Election and it is something that needed to be prioritised. I had been speaking to the Taoiseach about this and I am pleased that this is there.
“Of course it has to be built upon. It is a foundation document and not a finished article. But I look forward to that happening with my own party and other parties in the coming weeks.”
You can read the policy document in full below:
1. Reigniting and Renewing the Economy
- Launch a National Economic Plan
- Prioritise capital investment in health, transport, education and housing.
- Support businesses and self-employed people
- Progress to a living wage
- No increases in income tax and/or Universal Social Charge (USC) and no cuts to established core social welfare rates.
2. Universal Healthcare
- Expand our health infrastructure and expedite the implementation of a universal healthcare service
- Expand universal access with a focus in the first instance on paediatrics and women’s health.
- Increase bed capacity, diagnostics and staff numbers to provide community and hospital care more quickly.
- Ensure that all new consultant contracts in the public health service are public only.
- Prioritise primary care.
3. Housing for All
- Prioritise the reduction of family homelessness
- Reduce the cost of land to improve the affordability of housing, employing all measures up to and including referenda.
- Empower and fund the Land Development Agency to build homes on public and private land
- Prioritise home ownership and affordable purchase schemes, which will enable more people to own their homes and increase the number of new social houses.
- Develop the cost-rental model in all our cities and for student accommodation.
- Create a new deal for renters
4. A New Social Contract
- Reform and modernise the childcare sector, to improve accessibility, reduce costs, raise standards.
- Tackle domestic and sexual violence.
- Acknowledge the importance of carers to our society.
- Increase parental leave, to give parents more time with their children at the start of their lives.
- Prioritise gender equality, by involving more women in decision-making roles.
- Ensure that every citizen has a dignified retirement and can retire in financial security.
- Empower all people with special needs or a disability to progress, to reach their full potential, and to play a full part in society.
5. A New Green Deal
- Set new carbon reduction targets
- Take immediate action in response to the biodiversity crisis and protect ecosystems
- Make Ireland a European leader in offshore wind energy
- Deliver a strong Just Transition, which ensures that no citizen or region is left behind.
- Invest in public transport across Ireland
- Increase the carbon tax, in line with the agreed cross-party trajectory of €80 per tonne by 2030.
- Plant 440 million trees by 2040.
6. A Better Quality of Life for All
- Prioritise regional development
- Implement the National Broadband Plan
- Mandate public sector employers to move to 20pc home and remote working in 2021
- Incentivise private sector employers to do likewise.
- Reduce dereliction and bring vacant properties into use
- Support the building of new and affordable homes in towns and villages
- Prioritise upkeep of parks and green spaces
7. Supporting Young Ireland
- Ensuring young people have access to affordable housing and make homeownership a realistic aspiration
- Developing mechanisms for the voice of young people to be part of decision-making
- Develop new employment initiatives for school-leavers and under 25s
- Prioritise improvement in mental health services
- Give every child the opportunity to develop their creativity
- Reduce child poverty
- Protect children and young people from cyberbullying
- Responding to the challenges of addiction and substance abuse.
8. Opportunities through Education and Research
- Supporting students in “restarting their educational journeys” post the Covid-19 emergency.
- No increase in the annual student contribution (student fees)
- A “long-term sustainable funding model” for higher level education.
- Growing apprenticeships and traineeships
- Increasing parental choice in education
- Ensuring that “no adult is left behind” on literacy, digital and numeracy skills
- Invest in research, development and innovation
- Ensure special needs students are given appropriate and targeted supports.
- Enhance and nurture creativity in the arts
9. A shared Ireland
- Establish a unit within the Department of An Taoiseach “to work towards a consensus on a united island”
- Prioritise protection of the peace process and all-island economy.
- Ensure the Northern Ireland power-sharing deal is implemented
- Expand the Anglo-Irish institutions such as the British-Irish Council.
- Ensure mechanisms in place to deal with legacy issues, and to “deepen and strengthen” north-south health in the wake of Covid-19.
- Enhance and develop and deepen aspects of the north-south cooperation
- Continue decade of centenaries commemorations.
10. At the Heart of Europe: Global Citizenship
- Achieve an ambitious, zero-tariff, zero quotas, free trade post-Brexit trade deal
- Work with EU to respond to Covid-19
- Contribute more to the EU budget.
- Support further EU enlargement and integration
- Continue to “value and enhance the close relationship” between Ireland and the UK;
- Double Ireland’s global footprint
- Maintain and support Defence Forces’ peacekeeping missions
- Support efforts “towards a durable, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict”.