Irish political update – Are we at the final hurdle, and here’s what to expect next

With talks remaining confidential, the only excitement this week included the announcement of a Green Party leadership contest, but what can we expect to happen once this stage of the process is concluded?

Eamon Ryan vs Catherine Martin

The idea of Catherine Martin leading the Green Party is not entirely new. It had been mooted regularly amongst many young Greens and newer members and with each questionable statement from current leader Eamon Ryan, the idea began to gain more clout within conversation circles.

Ryan’s recent media hiccups include his widely unwelcomed carpooling suggestions, his invitation for the return of wolves and his more recent rally cry for window salads during Covid-19. There is no denying that Ryan can be unpredictable and outlandish, even still, his performance over the past decade should not go unnoticed or unrecognised for it was – building a party from the ground up is no easy feat.

One of his accolades was leading the Green Party from its total wipe-out in the 2011 election, to its current claim of 12 Dáil seats, and if all goes smoothly for him and his party, the Greens will be a coalition partner of the next Government with a deal that makes the membership happy.

Setting aside Ryan’s achievements, some party members have called for a new leader, urging Catherine Martin to contest the leadership, stating she resonates with new members and would help the party to develop outside of Dublin. Martin’s convictions, work ethic, rural background and her positive relationship with grassroots members have all been raised as justifications as to why she is the right person to lead the party. Already, the Deputy Leader is showing confidence and has responded publicly, thanking members for asking her to step up and contest the upcoming leadership election. She is to give the matter serious consideration over the coming days; however, she has expressed the importance of Government formation talks continuing uninterrupted. 

Talks coming to an end – but what happens next?

Government formation talks will continue next week into what is expected to be the final week of negotiations and potentially the toughest. The agenda will include business supports for small and medium enterprises, while the finer details of renewable energy and climate targets which have financial implications will also be dealt with.  

The draft programme for Government will then be put to the parliamentary parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. We can expect to hear more about the programme at that stage as highly sensitive political documents always find their way into the media once they are shared with parliamentary parties.  

Following this, each party will have two weeks to consult with its membership, which is where the most challenging aspects of these negotiations lie. In the lead-up to this point, we have already witnessed some friction growing within the parties. With memberships as large as Fianna Fáil and with the Green party requiring a two-thirds majority, it is difficult to predict the outcome. The deal will be put to the members in such a way that somewhat mirrors the acts involved in securing a referendum result. And although it may not be obvious to the outsider, there will likely be campaign teams ‘for’ and ‘against’ the deal campaigning for their desired outcome. We will either see a new Government formed in mid-June or else it is back to the drawing-board for these parties.  

If all that fails, we could be entering another election sooner than most had hoped. If the deal is approved, things will begin to move quickly. We remain in the dark on who will be the next Taoiseach, but with more seats, it is unlikely that Micheál Martin will let Leo Varadkar go first no matter how strong his case might be considering the health emergency we are in. 

Finally, if the deal gets passed by all three parties, a Taoiseach will be elected by the 33rd Dáil, and a Cabinet will be announced within 24 – 48 hours.

What can industry expect over the coming weeks? 

The negotiation teams will be laying the foundations for business policy that will affect SMEs, multinationals, employers, and workers next week. There have been soundings of an SME Taskforce to help the sector through Covid-19 and Brexit, a Tax Commission to look at international and domestic taxation and renewed focus on insurance reform, amongst other things.

We are expecting a return of a minister with specific responsibility for SMEs in the new Government which could potentially lead to the establishment of a third semi-state agency to support businesses such as your local corner-shop, hairdressers and other small services who will be feeling the effects of Covid-19 into the future. The suggestion has surfaced as a gap has been realised where sectors of the Irish economy do not fit into the remit of the IDA or Enterprise Ireland, which look after foreign direct investment and Irish exporting enterprises, respectively.

What is certain is as soon as a new Government is formed, after five-months without a programme, industry will be hoping to ensure the budgets and plans within their specific areas such as the Capital Investment Programme are ring-fenced and prioritised. With a smaller wallet to work from, there is likely to be some disappointed sectors.

Looking ahead? 

Government formation talks continue next week with business and the economy on the agenda.  

The closing date for nominations for the Green Party leadership is 7 June so we can expect further speculation on Catherine Martin’s intentions. 

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Aisling Cusack

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Aideen Ginnell

Ireland Director