Greens enter Irish coalition talks with climate on agenda

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s Green Party agreed to enter talks about forming a government with the centre-right Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties on Sunday, but said it would withdraw if it could not agree a policy programme with climate action at its core.

Ireland has been in political deadlock since an inconclusive election in February, with the caretaker government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar forced to implement costly and extensive fiscal and political policies by the coronavirus crisis.

Varadkar’s Fine Gael and traditional rival Fianna Fail reached an initial broad agreement last month to govern together for the first time, but need more support to control parliament and cannot pass any laws until a new prime minister is elected.

If they can get the backing of the Green’s 12 lawmakers they would have a majority, which would allow the them to pass laws including those needed to uphold a 6.5 billion euro package to support businesses shuttered by Ireland’s lockdown.

Measures to allow affected firms to defer tax liabilities for 12 months and to use a 2 billion euro ($2.2 billion) credit guarantee scheme will require legislation to be passed by June or early July, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said on Sunday.

“We are conscious of the huge challenges facing any government in the Covid-19 crisis,” the Green Party said in a statement, after days of talks among its lawmakers.

“Any proposal must be transformative on climate action and commit to strong progress towards a more sustainable and fairer society. If this is not the case Green Party representatives will withdraw from negotiations,” it added.

Some Green Party members are sceptical that the two larger parties will pursue ambitious enough environmental policies, with the main sticking point being a commitment to a 7% average annual cut in greenhouse gas emissions.

Even if its lawmakers agree to enter a coalition, any deal must be approved by 66% of the Green Party’s grassroots members.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which both draw support from parts of the agricultural sector opposed to the Greens’ target, require the backing of a majority of their wider membership.

“We are absolutely committed to seeing are there ways in which we can significantly improve the ability of our country to reduce emissions,” Donohoe told the Newstalk radio station.

“But we do need to understand how that is going to be done and how that will be funded, given all that we have going on in our country,” he added.

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