Wednesday 28 September 2016

Independents hold nation to €13bn ransom

Astonishing 'pork-barrel' list of demands exposed

Philip Ryan and Jody Corcoran

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

The group of Independents, led by Shane Ross, are also calling for its ministers to be allowed to vote against legislation they do not agree with, which would go against collective Cabinet responsibility. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
The group of Independents, led by Shane Ross, are also calling for its ministers to be allowed to vote against legislation they do not agree with, which would go against collective Cabinet responsibility. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Independent TDs have demanded 'parish pump' deals, estimated to cost a staggering €13bn, as their price for supporting a Fine Gael-led minority government, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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Details of the astonishing demands, revealed for the first time today, include calls for new motorways, railway lines and the reopening of old mental health institutions.

The hugely expensive pre-conditions for returning acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny into power have raised concern in Fine Gael and forced the party to turn to Labour to support the next government.

A Fine Gael source yesterday revealed that during talks it was decided not to circulate the demands to Independents because if the details were 'leaked', they would "cause embarrassment all round".

In the past seven weeks, Independents publicly insisted that talks on forming a government centred on developing policy platforms with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

However, Fine Gael sources this weekend confirmed that there have been more than 100 demands for public spending and 50 new tax incentives set out by the Independents in return for their support.

Yesterday, acting foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan warned Independents that there is "no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow".

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, told the Sunday Independent he was "committed" to making a minority government work.

He said: "The Fianna Fail and Fine Gael negotiation teams must now be given some time and space. I am committed to making it work, subject to a successful conclusion of the current negotiations."

Mr Martin spoke positively of the talks and was confident that a reformed Dail would facilitate such a government.

Mr Flanagan told the Sunday Independent: "Fine Gael will intensify its engagement with Independents but there are no circumstances where the government will be formed on the back of being held hostage by individual vanity projects in Kerry or elsewhere."

A Fine Gael negotiator yesterday said Independent TDs' requests for new roads and railways were "already in double-digit billions" and included a new motorway between Tuam and Derry and a railway line from Athenry to Letterkenny.

Another Independent TD requested a new way of getting to Dublin Airport from the west that "did not involve using the motorways". Independents are also seeking free transport for every person with a disability and income tax cuts for construction workers.

A senior Fine Gael minister described the Independents' approach as: "It's every idea they have, or their supporters have, or a lobby group has passed on to them."

A source close to the talks said the cost of the Independents' demands would come to €13bn "at least".

The Independent Alliance's policy document also insists that the next government should not be permitted to appoint an Attorney General - rather the State's legal representation would be independently appointed.

The group, led by Shane Ross, is also calling for its ministers to be allowed to vote against legislation they do not agree with, which would go against collective Cabinet responsibility.

A Fine Gael source said some members of the Independent Alliance also wanted to make it easier for families to commit their relatives to mental health hospitals and addiction clinics. The Independent Alliance submitted a document as a group, while other Independent TDs gave Fine Gael individual lists.

A Fine Gael minister said there was "very little" by way of policy proposals in the "normal sense", adding: "It is more 'I have an idea' or my support does."

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny is seeking to convince the Labour Party to return to government so he does not have to rely on Independents.

It is understood that Fianna Fail has also made it known that it would not object to Labour and others forming part of a Fine Gael-led minority government.

The proposal is being considered by Labour leader Joan Burton despite her insistence after the election that she would not return to government.

There have been extensive discussions between Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats about forming an alliance of the Left, which would enter a rainbow coalition arrangement with Fine Gael. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is anxious to enter government and has been urging the other parties to form an alliance.

Ms Burton is open to the prospect but there are fears that she will not be able to convince Labour members to support a return to power.

Yesterday, her spokesman said it was "premature" to discuss Labour supporting Fine Gael in government and that if a decision was taken it would have to be passed by a vote of the national membership.

It is unlikely that the Social Democrats will take part in the formation of the next government but channels of communication are still open with the other parties.

Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae said all of the Independents would turn their back on Mr Kenny if he "cosied up" to Ms Burton again. "People may have rejected him but they definitely rejected Labour," Mr Healy-Rae said.

Fine Gael negotiators are this weekend continuing to talk to Independents ahead of more talks with Fianna Fail on the formation of the minority government.

Yesterday, Mr Martin said: "My intention is to protect the centre ground of Irish politics. That is what I was saying when I said we will put the 'national interest' first. My intention is that there should be no dilution of the centre ground.

"People must believe that Dail reform is really happening. The reality now is that we are looking at a very significant new way of doing business. There will be a sea change in how the Dail does its business. Dail reform will facilitate a minority government.

"We have been accused of being cynical, but there is now a good opportunity to make this work - if the right philosophy is shown by all sides.

"We will be facilitating that on the basis that the current negotiations are successful.

"The talks are ongoing, but our team in the talks are taking a positive approach. There is a positive mood."

Sunday Independent

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