Author: Aoife Moore
Irish Examiner

Leo Varadkar says he hopes that farmers and rural Ireland will be pleased with the upcoming programme for government.

There had been much speculation on how agriculture and regional development policies would take shape as the marriage of ideologically opposed partners in the Green Party and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael attempted to find common ground for government.

After announcing a new fund to help beef farmers in the wake of coronavirus, Mr Varadkar assured that this was not the carrot before the stick.

“I sincerely hope that when farmers and people living in rural Ireland and those who are dependent on the rural economy, when they open the programme for government, they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the content,” he said.

“The kind of things that we’re pressing forward, is that the National Broadband Plan should be accelerated.

“That investments in infrastructure, through the various rural funds should continue, and road projects that need to be done should be done.

“Reforms to give farmers have more reliable revenue streams of income for doing the things that we need them to do, particularly around climate action, biodiversity, seeing that less of a threat and more of an opportunity for a new revenue stream.”

Talks to form a government have hit a number of obstacles in the last two weeks, amid ongoing disagreement on major issues such as climate and the economy.

Initial predicted deadlines set have been missed, and talks are likely now to go on until Sunday.

“They’re progressing,” Mr Varadkar said on Friday.

“It seems that every day, one or two new papers are signed off.

“I think there is a strong possibility that we will have a programme for government in the next couple of days.

“I know it’s taking a long time, but I tend to go with the view that it’s better to nail down some issues now, rather than have them as points of conflict during the five-year government.

“Better to spend a fair bit of extra time to do it right.”

Mr Varadkar said from his own party’s point of view, they have “very clear priorities”, during negotiations.

“To make sure that there is an economic plan in place that enables people to get back to work and businesses open over the next couple of months,” he said.

“We also want guarantees with the public finances, that once the economy’s back to economic growth and employment growth, that we will get the deficit down.

“That’s the best way to avoid austerity is to start to bring your debt down when you can afford to do so.

“We’re very keen to have actions in place to protect the rural economy, farmers incomes, and have ideas around the REPS programme.

“We’re very keen on what we call the new care deal for Ireland, with improved childcare subsidies, a better work-life balance for working parents, things like parental leave and parental benefits, and also statutory homecare schemes for older people.”

A major sticking point in discussions has been housing. which Green sources say Fine Gael is “obsessed” with homeownership, while the Green Party are intent on fixing the dysfunction in the housing market, and using public land for public housing. Mr Varadkar hinted at such the disagreement on Friday.

“Homeownership is crucially important for us too, we need more social and affordable housing but the vast majority of people in Ireland own their own home or want to own their own home, and policies need to reflect that too,” he said.