The Programme for Government, published 11 May, is entitled “A Programme for a Partnership Government”. The document is prepared “in recognition of the new political reality”. This involves striking a balance between urgent priority and long-term planning. Not missing from the discussion is the unusual, and indeed, historical make-up of the new Government – a blend of Fine Gael, Independent Alliance and unaligned Independents.
In the main, the new Government is dedicated to one idea:
“Through all of our efforts we will be guided by a unifying goal; to work together in the interests of all of our people, to deliver a fair society.”
However, the Programme emphasises the measures being undertaken by both the Government, the members of the Oireachtas, and select reformatory bodies to ease the transition and facilitate a good, working upper house.
The Programme contains 16 main talking points:
We have summarised the main points of each below.
Making Partnership in Democracy Work
- The new Government plans to employ the “Action Plan” framework of dealing with high priority issues, such as their predecessors did with the Action Plan for Jobs, which has largely proved successful in the past few years.
- In terms of longer-term issues, the Government plans to first develop “a broad based consensus at political and public level before a settled action plan can be developed”. Implementation of the first stage would require buy-in from “the public, the media, relevant stakeholders, the political system/parties (including relevant Departments & Agencies) and the public service”. Once that is secured, and groundwork is laid, an Action Plan can be put in place.
- As ever, there is an increased focus on transparency. This includes “Annual Performance Reporting to meet standards of SMART governance”.
- Yearly budgets will also be subject to a reform of system.
“This is a key reform in making the functioning of government more effective and more transparent while giving the Dáil greater say in the development of Budgets and Deputies greater opportunity to propose substantive changes.”
- Pages 14-15 of the Programme contain proposals for new structures of developing budgets.
- The Working Group on Dáil Reform are working on ways through which a peaceful and cooperative partnership government can perform better, including the relaxing of whipping arrangements. The motion regarding the Group’s Final Report takes place this week.
Ending the Housing Shortage and Homelessness
- The headline feature of this section is the following:
“Our actions will increase housing construction to create a functioning housing market. Some 25,000 new homes will be built every year by 2020, with higher targets thereafter, to address unmet needs.”
- A new Cabinet Minister for Housing has been appointed by the Taoiseach, Simon Coveney TD (Fine Gael). The Department is now titled The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
- Leaning on the work done by the committee on housing and homelessness, the First 100 days will see the publication of an Action plan for housing, which will include the above stated commitment. The Action Plan will be “subject to key targets and deadlines and regular Cabinet review”.
- Delivery of local authority social housing will be completed on a two-phase basis, “(1) 18,000 additional housing units by end 2017, and (2) 17,000 additional housing units by end 2020.”
- In terms of social welfare arrangements, the Government aims to help meet meet housing needs through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). However, it states, “until the supply of new housing is increased it will be difficult to meet the targets set out”.
- Tax relief for landlords who accept rent supplement and HAP tenants will be maintained. The Housing Committee will be tasked with looking at other tax incentives that may encourage greater market engagement.
- The Programme also commits to incorporating the needs of those with disabilities into future housing plans.
- A measure of “cost rental” will be introduced for low-income families. This will provide them with a better chance of staying in the rental market.
- A myriad of works will take place between the Government, housing agencies, NAMA and other interested bodies in order to boost the number of housing units created per annum.
- On the topic of preventing homelessness in the first instance, the Programme states: “The new Action Plan for Housing will contain a specific section on ‘preventing homelessness’ that will consult on and target new measures such as:
—Family mediation services
—Step-down services and facilities after drug rehabilitation
—Preventing youth homelessness
—Services to victims of domestic abuse
—Structured programmes for those leaving hospital, prison or state care after a long period of time
—Community mental health services”
- To tackle the already-pressing issue of homelessness, the Government has recommitted itself to the delivery of 500 rapid-delivery housing units, 22 of which have already been completed in Ballymun.
- €70m will go to homelessness services to tackle the issue of rough sleeping.
- There is an aim to re-centralise people by “examining new incentives to regenerate derelict and underused buildings” on Main Streets and in town centres.
- Greater protection will be available for mortgage holders, tenants and SMEs from non-regulated entities or “vulture funds”.
- In general, the new Government has said it is “seeking to create a framework that removes fear and brings predictability to a difficult process” of creating and sustaining a flourishing housing system.
Creating a Social Economy
The third talking point could be seen as somewhat of a Mission Statement for the new Government. It begins by establishing,
“The New Partnership Government is committed to a ‘Social Economy’ model to deliver a strong economy and a fair society. This ‘Social Economy’ will be built on four foundations”.
- Sound Public Finances and a Stable and Broad Tax Base
—This includes continued “commitment to meeting in full the domestic and EU fiscal rules as enshrined in law”.
—There will be a 2:1 split between public spending and tax reductions.
—The Landsdowne Road Agreement will be implemented fully, in accordance with the set timelines.
- A Supportive Environment for Enterprise and Employment
—The new Government aims to target 200,000 extra jobs by 2020, including 135,000 outside of Dublin and reduce unemployment to 6%.
—All Action Plans for Jobs will be sustained.
—They will also reduce Capital Gains Tax for new start-ups to 10% from 2017.
—They propose a PRSI scheme for the self-employed.
- More Investment in Economic, Regional and Social Infrastructure
—The Government has commited itself to the existing €42bn capital investment plan published by the outgoing Government for the period 2016-21. Further,
“Following the mid-term review of the Capital Plan which is expected mid-2017, we will increase capital investment in transport, broadband, education, health and flood defences.”
- A Just and Fair Society and a More Inclusive Prosperity
—The Programme states, “The new Government commits to a more inclusive prosperity that uses economic growth to create a more just and fair society.”
—It will work on the Integrated Framework and will outline measures to help eliminate any persisting discrimination on grounds of gender, age, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion or membership of the Traveller Community to ensure that no marginalised group is left behind.
—They will also see the introduction a “Working Family payment” that will ensure that low-income families financially benefit from every hour worked.
Jobs and Rural Development
- As stated above, the key mission for jobs is the introduction of an extra 200,000 jobs by 2020, of which 135,000 will be outside of Dublin.
- Establishment of a new Cabinet-level Minister (Heather Humphreys TD, Fine Gael) and the Department of Regional Development Rural Affairs will ensure that rural areas do not fall behind urban area development. This new Department will be subject to regular RIAs.
- Tourism policy will be aided as much as possible.
- Next-generation broadband is also a priority for the Government; the Programme boldly states that they “will guarantee the delivery of next-generation broadband to every household and business in the country.”
- In terms of procurement for SMES, they will “Facilitate quarterly meetings of the SME Advisory Group” to ensure that the voices of SMEs are heard, both by the Government and by the OGP.
- Funding commitment for 80 additional primary care centres has been secured.
- The Government wish to build GP capacity to respond to patients’ needs; ideally they could provide access to “X-rays, ultrasound and other investigations as well as the expansion of chronic disease management in general practice”.
- They will reduce the annual required co-payment for the Drugs Payment Scheme and reduce prescription charges for medical card holders.
- Subject to negotiation with GPs, they plan to introduce free GP care to under 18s on a phased basis.
- Entitlement to a medical card for all children in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance will be extended in Budget 2017.
- The Programme plans for the introduction of a health levy on sugar-sweetened drinks. The Government will also be implementing a national physical activity plan, a national obesity plan and a sexual health strategy.
- Continuing work on and implementation of the new National Drugs Strategy is tabled to begin within 12 months. This plan aims to support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs. This will include introducing supervised injecting centres.
- Reducing emergency department overcrowding includes following a four-pronged approach: reducing numbers coming into hospital by developing primary care services and integrating primary and secondary care services; expanding hospital capacity; supporting timely patient discharge from hospitals; and addressing hospital responsiveness to increased demand.
- They are committed to continued investment of €50m per year to reduce waiting lists further. Annual performance targets will be agreed with each Hospital Group/Trust and CHO (Community Healthcare Organisation) on waiting times.
- The HSE will be dismantled, evolving into a Health Commission.
- An independent patient advocacy service will be set up.
- The new Government is committed to meeting the recommendations of A Vision for Change. These provisions include:
—Appropriately trained staff should be available at primary care level to provide programmes to prevent mental health problems and promote wellbeing;
—Building further capacity in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS);
—More 24/7 service support and liaison teams in primary and emergency care;
—Mechanisms to attract and retain staff in this area.
- For those vulnerable to suicidal behaviour, there will be a “co-ordinated, uniform, quality assured and safe” service running 24/7. It should provide pathways from primary to secondary mental health services where needed.
- There will be an extension of services, such as Jigsaw, which is free to access and does not require GP referral, which are more informal and attractive to young people.
- Legal processes that deal with involuntary committals will undergo reform.
Improving the Lives of People with Disabilities
- Legislation which deals with range of legislative barriers to ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 is underway with a view to putting it before the Oireachtas before the end 2016.
- All means testing will be consolidated under a single national body ensuring a single application process for services or entitlements across all government agencies. A review of the role of the National Disability Authority will also take place.
- Budget 2016 increased Housing Adaptation grants scheme by 10% to €55m; the new Government supports further increases in funding for this scheme
- A new scheme to ensure access to the Early Childhood Care and Education programmes for young children with disabilities is commencing this year.
- They are committed to implementing the Carer’s Strategy (2012) in full. They also support an increase in Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit, plus improved access to counselling supports for carers.
Children and Youth Affairs
- The Programme commits to smaller classes for junior and senior infants in particular.
- The Government hope to publish a National Parenting Support Plan with a range of practical and supportive measures for all parents.
- Consultation on how to introduce greater awareness and prevention of mental health problems for young people will take place. For teaching staff also, we will support SafeTALK and ASIST courses
- There will be robust measures introduced to protect children while online.
- As part of the Children First legislation, there will be heavier vetting guidelines for anyone will substantial access to children and young adults.
- The operation of Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) will be reviewed “to ensure that a child’s view is always effectively represented in court proceedings.”
Working to Make Our Older Years Better Year
- The Government will increase the State Pension and the Living Alone Allowance above the rate of inflation.
- The Free Travel pass for all pensioners will be protected, with promises to “work with private and public operators to keep services operating on as many routes as possible.”
- €385m in capital funding has been secured for the replacement and refurbishment of 90 public nursing homes across the country
- The Programme contains a commitment to investing an extra €500m in education by 2021 through such measures as:
—HSE Speech and Language Therapists (a 25% increase);
—additional National Educational Psychologists (NEPs) (a 25% increase);
—reducing the pupil teacher ratio in junior and senior infants;
—annual increases in primary and secondary capitation rates;
—additional teacher CPD;
—a new School Excellence Fund;
—pay increases in accordance with the Lansdowne Road Agreement; and
—extra third level investment.
- A focus of the new Government is modernising education, bringing remote learning into classrooms and ensuring all students have access to a wider range of subject choices and consistent quality education. As previously announced, they will include a coding course at Junior Cycle Level and introduce ICT/Computer Science as a Leaving Certificate subject.
- They will increase mandatory schooling to age 17.
- Their aim is to increase the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools; they provide a figure of 400 by 2030.
Crime Prevention, Justice and Equality
- The accelerated recruitment programme for the Gardaí will continue, with a view to increasing numbers to 15,000
- Investment will be made into the modernisation of the force, including equipment used in evidence logging, and updating the stations from which they work.
- There will be a review of the boundaries of Garda districts and the dispersal of Garda stations in rural areas and in developing urban and suburban areas to ensure that adequate resources are available where and when they are needed.
- A new dedicated Armed Support Unit will be established, and prioritised for the Dublin area, in order to tackle gangland crime.
- The Government will work on reforming structures within the Gardaí, and in addition to the new Policing Authority, hope that faith in the force can be restored for the public.
- They are committed to reforming the Direct Provision system, with particular focus on families and children.
- An updated National Women’s Strategy will be available by end 2016. Further, they are committed to increasing female representation on state boards to 40%.
- Through Social Innovation Fund Ireland, they want to raise a minimum of €50m to provide growth capital to Ireland’s best social projects and innovators.
Agriculture and the Marine
- They will implement Foodwise 2025
- Their aim is to increase the value of exports by 85% to €19billion
- Support the creation of a further 23,000 jobs in the agri-food sector
- The Programme would see the introduction of simplification measures for the inspection system; the Government plan to table amendments at an EU level to the proposed ‘yellow card system’ to ensure its workability in the Irish context.
- “We recognise the obligation to implement new EU pesticide regulations.” They ensure implementation of any up-skilling and training as a result of this will be cost-effective and convenient.
- They will publish a new Animal Health Strategy.
- The first National Mitigation Plan will be published within 6 months of the new Government forming. It will focus on four key sectors: Electricity Generation, Built Environment, Transport, Agriculture.
- A National Dialogue on Climate Change will be established; it will involve extensive public consultation.
- They will continue to measure our environmental sustainability credentials, ensuring they are underpinned by best scientific practice
- The new Government will undertake a very active afforestation programme … “The programme targets an increase in planting each year over the lifetime of the programme, commencing with 6,000ha of new forests in year one, increasing to 8,290ha in 2020”.
Investing in Society: Urban Regeneration
- The Government will implement Ireland’s first National Youth Strategy and fund schemes such as the Youth Employability Initiative.
- They will invest €3.6bn across the lifetime of the next Capital Plan to support the creation of major transport links. Also, “to fund additional capacity to meet existing and future commuter needs”.
- The reform of our social welfare system is proposed “so that jobseekers are given every opportunity to work”, while those we consider most vulnerable in society are supported.
- They will “Safeguard urban centres and the night-time economy” by deploying members of An Garda Síochána at relevant places to target sale and supply of illicit drugs.
Ireland and the World
- In arts and heritage
—The Government will develop and publish an updated National Heritage Plan “that sets out policies for the protection and promotion of our built and natural heritage”.
—The UNESCO Convention for the 138 Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage will also be implemented, protecting things such as hurling, uilleann piping and the Folklore Collection in UCD.
- In defence
—Implement the White Paper on Defence
—“Recognising that women and girls are disproportionately affected by violent conflict”, The Government will implement Ireland’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Further, they will support international efforts to protect women and girls in conflict zones.
- Irish Language
—The new Government plans to systematically implement the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish language which will increase the number of people using Irish in their daily lives and “ensure that Irish becomes a more visible language in today’s society, both as a spoken language and also in areas such as signage and literature.”
Political and Constitutional Reform
- The Government support the establishment of a new Parliamentary Investigations Unit and an independent office to assist members and Committees on budgetary matters.
- They will set about establishing a Dáil Business Management Committee where representatives from each Party and Group will meet and agree the Dáil’s weekly agenda.
- The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board will be replaced with a new Judicial Appointments Commission.
- A priority for the new Government is an independent electoral commission. They will investigate the voter registration process, “in particular the possibility of the PPS system being used to automatically add people to the electoral register once they reach voting age”.
- On Constitutional Reform, the Government propose a number of referenda be held on the following topics:
—Article 41.2.1 of Bunreacht na hEireann regarding a “woman’s life within the home”
—The question of amending Article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution to remove the offence of blasphemy
—Ireland’s participation in the Universal Patent Court
—Giving the Office of the Ceann Comhairle constitutional standing, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention
- Finally, the Government has committed to empowering “frontline service providers to make more decisions, encourage more collaboration between public service bodies, and between the public and private sectors, and reward public service innovation and change”.
In the week since the publication of the Programme, there has been some backlash. Notably, there has been huge discussion over the lack of a commitment to a Living Wage, something the outgoing Government spoke frequently on. Far more divisively, missing from the list of Constitutional reform referenda is a vote on repealing the eight amendment, a sensitive subject which has split politicians, and largely been spoken about only in hushed tones.
The Programme does also make note that a Britsih exit from the EU would be detrimental to Ireland, and it will “use appropriate avenues to express” their feelings on this.
The full Programme is available for download as a pdf from oireacthas.ie.