Three political parties in Ireland have struck a deal to form an unprecedented coalition government with a rotating prime minister, four months after an inconclusive election that saw the pro-Irish unity Sinn Fein party shock the political establishment by winning the popular vote.
The agreement on Monday between historic rivals Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and the Greens, must be ratified by the members of the three parties over the next 10 days or so. Under the proposed deal, the smaller Green Party needs to secure two-thirds support, a higher bar than the larger parties that could yet scupper the deal.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have never governed together, swapping power since they emerged from opposing sides of Ireland’s 1920s civil war.
“The leaders have signed off on the draft programme for government,” the parties said in a coordinated statement.
Prime Minister and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar told journalists on Monday the post of prime minister would rotate, but decline to confirm widespread expectations that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin would serve first.
“It’s a good package overall,” said Varadkar, who leads a caretaker administration. “Now we need to make it happen,” he added, noting he did not know what cabinet post he would get when Martin leads the government.
The proposed deal was blasted by Sinn Fein, the left-wing Irish nationalist party which in February surged to the highest voting share for the first time, almost doubling its vote to 24.5 percent, ahead of Fianna Fail on 22.2 percent and Fine Gael on 20.9 percent.
The former fringe party was excluded from the negotiations.
Leader Mary Lou McDonald said the two main parties were only interested in “protecting the status quo and stopping change”.
Greens needed for majority
If ratified, the deal will make Sinn Fein the main opposition party for the first time.
It will also put the Green Party at the centre of policymaking, in a significant development in Irish politics.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail need the Greens to reach a majority in the fractured parliament to pass new laws, including a 6.5 billion-euro ($7.3bn) package to help businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a challenging time ahead economically as a result of COVID[-19] but the programme for government does represent a new departure,” Martin told journalists after the talks.
Monday’s newspapers declared the Greens the winners. The Irish Independent’s front-page headline called it: “A green deal to remould the shape of our politics.”
Green negotiator Roderic O’Gorman said his party secured a 7 percent average annual cut in greenhouse gas emissions with a fixed annual carbon budget for different sectors, while infrastructure spending would focus on public transport.