Four months on from the Irish general election, political parties are slowly edging towards a deal that is likely to see a three-party coalition take office. However, a number of sensitive and costly issues remain to be resolved and one of them could affect Ireland’s relationship with Israel, as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.
8 February may feel like a long time ago but four months on from the general election, Irish people are still waiting for the change of government they voted for.
Bit by bit, the three players on the pitch, Fianna Fáil, the Greens and the governing Fine Gael party led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, are working their way through their respective shopping lists as they slowly head towards the finishing line.
But as they slowly tick off the items they can do business on to establish a programme for government, failure to get agreement on a number of looming matters could determine if a government is in place in the coming weeks or else, a second election will be unavoidable.
One of those looming matters is support by Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fail party and the Greens for the Occupied Territories Bill 2018, which was passed in the Irish Senate two years ago but failed to get adequate support in the lower house, The Dáil.
The objective of the Bill is to ban the import of products manufactured or sourced from Palestinian territory that is deemed by observers to be occupied illegally by Israel.
Speaking to Irish Legal News, the government’s Attorney General Seamus Woulfe said: “It would be impractical to draft legislation banning the importation of goods from illegally occupied settlements,” suggesting that the Fine Gael position is not for turning.
The Greens are keen to re-visit the Bill but Leo Varadkar’s ruling Fine Gael is opposed to it citing the possibility of damaged relations with Israel and the Trump administration.
Unless somebody caves in or is prepared to accept a fudge on the matter, the ongoing talks could hit an inflexible dead end over this controversial proposal!
As it stands, the support of 80 TDs is required for an overall majority and with Fianna Fáil (37), Fine Gael (35) and the Greens with 12 seats taking the total to 84, a number of other sticking points have become difficult to secure agreement on.
The Greens are insisting in the talks that a reduction in carbon emissions of 7% per year until 2030 is a red line, a demand that is meeting resistance with the agricultural community where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael receive most of their respective support.
“There's no value in going to the [Green] membership with any proposed programme for government without that,” explained a party source to The Irish Examiner last week.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are also at odds over plans to increase the official retirement age from 65 to 67 while the Greens are determined to bring an end to the controversial practice known as Direct Provision, the process where immigrants who say they are refugees, are housed, many for several years, until their applications are corroborated.
In the meantime, state revenues have all but collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic suggesting that whoever enters office will have to enforce unpopular fiscal measures in order for the government to pay its bills.
All this before agreement is reached on a possible rotating Taoiseach system whereby Micheál Martin will lead the country for 12 months followed by Leo Varadkar and so on until 2025.
If all that wasn’t enough to contend with, the old enemies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as well as the Greens will have to hold special delegate conferences where the votes of circumspect respective members could stymie the creation of a new Administration!
Meanwhile the left-wing Sinn Féin, which, surprisingly, secured 37 seats in the Election, is anxiously looking on from the side lines knowing that if a second Poll is called, it is likely to emerge as thee most popular Party in the Country!
The picture should be clearer in the coming two weeks!