On Friday 26 June, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party ratified the allusive Programme For Government in the 33rd Dáil with an 80%, 74% and 76% approval rating respectively.
The Programme’s negotiations began on May 11th when the Green Party formally agreed to enter government formation talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Over the course of five weeks, “Our Shared Future” was drafted. The document’s key focuses were purported to be on housing, healthcare, climate action and a self-entitled “jobs-led recovery” in combating the impending recessive economic fallout post COVID-19.
The Programme included a selection of relatively bold statements. In Housing, a commitment to build 50,000 social homes, in Health, a shift towards a universal healthcare system along the lines of Sláintecare, in the Environment, the promise of a “Green New Deal” culminating in a 7% reduction in carbon emissions between 2021-2030 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and most astonishingly of all, in finance/social protection, a universal basic income pilot model. Many have called it an historic document and a sign of strong centre-left progressivism growing in the upper echelons of Irish politics.
However, the Programme often contradicts this ideological standpoint with numerous inferences of economically liberal and socially conservative policy construction. Ministerial portfolios in which this became unequivocally clear in the eyes of Labour Youth were Employment, Gaeltacht and Island Affairs, and Business and Enterprise.
The Programme contained scant references to trade unions and was inadequate in terms of its commitment to labour law reform, with no mention of a new and improved Industrial Relations Act, the right to collective bargaining, ensuring the full implementation of Ireland’s commitment to the ILO or a heading dedicated to unions under the section entitled “A New Social Contract”.
As the party of work, this undoubtedly concerned us and presented itself as a cause of concern for working people and those subject to insufficient, inequitable pay and conditions in low-income employment at present, particularly when trade unions will suffer significant issues with the retention of members and bargaining power in disputes. This, in conjunction with the fact that this government will also preside over the implementation of Garrett Simon’s ruling on Sectoral Employment Orders being unconstitutional will also be a major setback for workers and their families.
The Programme also made insufficient provisions for the economic security of Gaeltacht and Island areas. This was particularly pertinent considering the closure of the seasonal tourist and education industry, which is estimated to have cost the peripheral regions in excess of €50 million. Despite the fact that the Programme promised extensions of the language’s regulation, promotion and education, it did not take into account the thousands of households unjustly impacted upon by these losses. Labour Youth would have expected an Assistance Payment for those affected by seasonal unemployment in Gaeltacht and Island regions, particularly those who were involved with Coláistí Samhraidh (Summer Colleges), the most lucrative of the SMEs in said seasonal industry.
However, the most worrying characteristic of the Programme for Government was the vehemently pro-business stance taken in regards to a so-called “just recovery”. Business and enterprise development in the life cycle of the next government will go under-taxed and under-regulated, with Employer PRSI remaining 48% of the EU average and a pledge from the government to back “entrepreneurs and pro-enterprise initiatives” to encourage a jobs-led recovery. Labour Youth considers this unwelcome in the face of adverse circumstances for workers and their families and calls for the regulation of these businesses and a more pro-worker approach to the recovery of the economy post-COVID 19.
In consideration of those shortcomings in the Programme for Government, Labour Youth agreed with the Parliamentary Party’s decision to oppose the nomination of Micheál Martin for Taoiseach of the 33rd Dáil’s Government during yesterday’s Dail vote in the wake of the Programme’s unanimous passage.
Speaking in opposition to the motion, Party Leader Alan Kelly voiced the need for a cleaner and fairer future, as well as highlighting the public’s desire and right for and to a new social contract with universal healthcare and a focus on workers at the core of this renewed social contract, aspects of Irish society that were neglected in the Programme for Government.
Unfortunately, the passage of the motion ensures that the Programme for Government is now enshrined in the government’s roadmap for the life cycle of the next Dáil. With all cabinet ministers appointed, it is imperative that Labour Youth liaise with the LPP and ensure that all ministers are held to due account and that the opposition voice is based upon the interests of society’s most marginalised. We must vocalise the need for Darragh O’Brien to deliver on the construction of 50,000 social homes or more, that Stephen Donnelly maintains his “social democratic view” of the Programme for Government, particularly in regards to the implementation of Sláintecare, that Leo Varadkar will develop a more comprehensive social contract, with the core focus being those in low and middle-income employment.But most crucially, that Micheál Martin is scrutinised as Taoiseach and that the aspirational, yet progressive facets of the Programme will not be absconded on and that they will be reviewed and developed to their utmost, according to social and economic need, not corporate or exclusive greed