Dáil Éireann or house of cards?

The race to the magic number of 80 Dáil seats to form government is on with the top three parties holding their cards close to their chest, writes Niall Hurson.

Enormous change has descended on our political climate with a strong sentiment for new leadership. Sinn Féin had one of their best ever elections, topping the popular vote, all the while securing 37 seats becoming the second largest party in the country. What were Ireland's two strongest parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael both experienced a sharp decline at the hands of young voters who opted for fresh faces in government. The general election has produced an outcome where no one party can govern our country alone and where even the two biggest parties would come up short. For this reason, intense talks have begun, a race to form government, left versus right, and potential for compromise and coalition forming between contrasting parties. 

Each political party and their representatives outlined impressive ambitions for agriculture and rural affairs in their manifestos. Campaign promises are politicians bargaining power to find themselves a seat in the next Dáil. Each political party releases a manifesto as part of their campaign to gain power and the percentage of the popular vote. The manifesto details the political parties promises and areas for action once elected. In this feature we will look at the promises made by the political parties likely to form government and what areas we can expect to be addressed for agriculture and rural affairs.

Fianna Fáil lead their agriculture manifesto with the guarantee to defend CAP funding and ensure sustainable farm incomes. Under this heading the party aims to secure national ceilings at EU level on individual CAP payments and restrict them to €60,000 in Ireland to safeguard the family model of farming. New measures include the establishment of a new state independent authority called the National Food Ombudsman (NFO), to protect primary producers in national law and ensure fairness and equity in the food supply chain at a cost of €2.3m. The party aims to reform and simplify the current Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and ensure a €200 per head payment on the first 20 cows. A Fianna Fáil led government ensure the increase in Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) and biodiversity payments with the allocation of an additional €50m above 2020 levels to bring the ANC scheme funding to €300m per annum.

Sinn Féin’s agriculture manifesto prioritised the establishment of a commission on the future of the family farm. The commission’s membership would include representatives from farm organisations, statutory bodies, and independent experts. The terms of reference are claimed to ensure that it issues a report, within a short time period, to include proposals aimed at protecting and supporting the family farm model. Similar to their opposition the party propose supporting beef farmers through enhanced suckler cow payments and challenging the ‘cartel-like nature of the processing sector’. The party also claimed they will assist sheep farmers through higher ewe payments and an ANC increase.

Fine Gael lead their campaign under the half-time in Brexit slogan, promising to protect the interests of all people on the island of Ireland, North and South. Speaking at the Irish Farmers Association AGM, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the commitment if he were to be in charge of the next government to seek a second Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) for Ireland's beef farmers. Varadkar also confirmed that the unspent €25m from the original BEAM scheme would be rolled out on beef schemes this year and alluded to a future Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS). Fine Gael confirmed the party would provide a further €85million in targeted beef schemes in 2020 if reelected. The party gave guarantee to work at EU level for the development of a Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) for Irish beef, prioritising funds for the promotion of beef in key markets through Bord Bia. 

The Green Party had a strong election securing 12 seats under the leadership of Eamon Ryan. In its manifesto the Green Party committed to reviewing the derogation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and totally phasing it out if deemed necessary. The environmentally minded party also committed to a ban on the live export of livestock for slaughter to non-EU countries and the phasing out of the live export of pre weaning calves. Also, in its manifesto the Green Party guaranteed its support for CAP reforms to reward farmers for sequestering carbon, restoring biodiversity and producing clean energy. 

In light of the results of the recent general election it is most unlikely the current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar will lead the 33rd Dáil on his own, but potential for a rotating Taoiseach role with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin remains a possibility. Also unlikely is a government without Sinn Féin, having won the popular vote and posing as a great threat in opposition to an already reduced Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.