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Martin set to be Ireland’s next taoiseach as government coalition deal agreed

The leaders of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens have finalised the text of a draft programme for government four months on from the election.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin who is set to become Ireland’s next premier, outside Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin who is set to become Ireland’s next premier, outside Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin who is set to become Ireland’s next premier, outside Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is set to become Ireland’s next premier as a deal was struck to form a new coalition government.

The position of taoiseach will be rotated under the terms of the historic draft programme for government agreed by Mr Martin, current Irish premier and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

Mr Martin is set to occupy the post until December 2022.

The three leaders have finalised the deal to form a coalition government more than four months on from February’s inconclusive general election.

The draft deal, which comes after two months of negotiations between the parties, will now have to be endorsed by their parliamentary teams, before being put to their respective memberships for approval.

It was presented to the parliamentary parties on Monday evening, however the outcome of votes among the wider memberships are not expected to be known until the end of next week.

Mr Martin said his parliamentary party colleagues formally endorsed the draft programme.

He said while some voiced concerns, the “vast majority” were supportive.

“TDs and Senators want to go out there now and engage with the members, about the strength of this document, and to get it passed and a government formed,” he said.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a Dublin Bus in Dublin city centre, encouraging passengers to wear face masks on public transport in Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a Dublin Bus in Dublin city centre, encouraging passengers to wear face masks on public transport in Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a Dublin Bus in Dublin city centre, encouraging passengers to wear face masks on public transport in Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

The Green Party’s parliamentary party also backed the draft programme, by nine votes in favour with three abstentions.

In a statement the party said it will “now be referred to the party membership for ratification”.

The draft programme for government includes a national recovery plan to focus on repairing the economic damage sustained by the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreed text says Ireland is at a “defining moment”.

“We face urgent challenges which touch every community,” reads the document.

“In the space of a few short months our world has turned upside down.

“Lives have been lost and hearts broken, and our lives and livelihoods have been changed utterly. In striving together against something which threatens us all, we have shown we can surprise ourselves – adapting quickly, building new alliances and collaborating in ways we never expected.

“All to realise a common purpose: our common future.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin celebrates after being elected for the Cork South-Central constituency during the general election in February (Yui Mok/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin celebrates after being elected for the Cork South-Central constituency during the general election in February (Yui Mok/PA)

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin celebrates after being elected for the Cork South-Central constituency during the general election in February (Yui Mok/PA)

“Covid-19 has presented the global community with a terrible set of challenges to add to the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergency.

“In this Programme for Government we are asserting our ambition to meet these challenges, repair the damage that has been inflicted by the pandemic, and take the renewed spirit arising from these challenging times and translate it into action.”

Mr Varadkar confirmed on Monday morning that the position of taoiseach would be rotated and he indicated Mr Martin would be the first incumbent.

He exits the office of taoiseach on a high, according to an Ipsos MRBI opinion poll which gave Mr Varadkar a 75% approval rating and his government a 72% rating.

Mr Martin scored 46%, behind Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald on 49%, while Mr Ryan was on 40%.

Fianna Fail won the most seats in the election with 38, to Sinn Fein’s 37 and Fine Gael’s 35. The Greens won 12.

Sinn Fein won the popular vote but its efforts to form a left-wing coalition government foundered, as it was unable to secure the requisite 80 seats to secure a majority in the Dail parliament.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – parties that have been historic foes since their formation from opposing sides of Ireland’s Civil War of the 1920s – are now set to enter government together for the first time.

The Greens have been persuaded to be the third party in the coalition – thus securing a working majority – after negotiating a number of environmental concessions in the draft programme for government.

Mr Martin said: “The major issues have been resolved and obviously we’ll present the programme for government to our parliamentary parties, that’s important, and then out to the membership for ballot.

“But I think the programme as it’s now formulated does represent a significant new departure in terms of public policy, particularly in relation to housing, health, education and climate change itself, because I think it is important.”

However, around 50 Fianna Fail councillors have indicated they will join a campaigning group within the party against the Programme for Government.

Mr Varadkar described the agreement as an “historic moment”.

He added: “It’s an opportunity to have a third term in government for the first time in our history, the possibility to protect the gains we’ve made, the work that we’ve done in the past nine years in government.

“But also a second chance, a chance to fix some of the problems that we weren’t able to fix in our last two terms of government, and put right some of the things that need to be put right.”

The Fine Gael leader said he had not decided what post he would assume in the new cabinet.

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Leo Varadkar speaks alongside Simon Coveney at Government Buildings (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Leo Varadkar speaks alongside Simon Coveney at Government Buildings (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Leo Varadkar speaks alongside Simon Coveney at Government Buildings (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he believes Fine Gael members will back the deal.

He added: “It is difficult for many of our members to get their head around what’s happening in Irish politics now and that’s why we need to take our time, listen to people, talk to them and reassure them and explain what this is about, and why it’s good for the country.

“I believe when we do that, Fine Gael people will back it and agree that this is good for the country.”

The draft government will also see a plan to increase the state pension age to 67 deferred pending the outcome of a commission to examine the issue.

There will also be no increase in income tax or the Universal Social Charge in the next Budget.

The Greens have demanded a commitment to cut carbon emissions by 7% annually over the five years of the government and also a ban on the importation of gas extracted by fracking.

Mr Ryan said commitments in the programme would only be valuable if they were delivered on.

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan at Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan at Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan at Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think people get over the top in terms of ‘we got this line in a programme’ – you’ve got to actually deliver it,” he said.

“Now having the programme gives us the opportunity to try and do it, so that’s what they are voting on.

“It’s the chance to deliver for the Irish people as best we can.”

The programme stated that it was possible to bring together the “best thinking from three distinct parties, who differ fundamentally in terms of history”.

“It creates a vision for reform and renewal that can help Ireland recover and thrive,” it added.

“It will not be easy and this programme does not offer easy solutions.

“Not everything will be achieved within the lifetime of this Government. But as we begin to make some transformative changes for our country we recognise that these steps have the potential to deliver radical change.

“This Government will be a genuine partnership between all involved and the policies outlined reflect a shared desire to work together and a mutual respect for each other’s policies, beliefs and values.”

It is expected that all parties will have their votes on the programme for government back by next Friday.

Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald criticised the draft programme as an “agreement for more of the same”, and pledged to form “the most effective opposition in the history of the state”.

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