A deal for a Government programme has been finalised by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and The Green Party, with Micheál Martin set to take on the role of An Taoiseach before it is rotated to Leo Varadkar in 2022. The programme for government includes the abolishment of the Direct Provision system and changes in governance for the Higher Education sector.
On Direct Provision, the deal states “we are committed to ending the Direct Provision system and will replace it with a new international protection accommodation policy centred on a not-for-profit approach”, as reported by The Irish Times. It is reported that the Green Party had pushed for the abolishment. The change is expected to be made within the term of the incoming coalition and will be informed by the current review of the system being carried out under Catherine Day, Chair of the Expert Group on Direct Provision.
Some short-term measures have been agreed by the three parties including a reduction in the time that asylum seekers must be in the country to be eligible to work from nine months to six. As well as this, extra resources are expected to be allocated to the system to speed-up the processing of asylum applications.
Lesley Mkoko, a UCD student who is a resident of a Direct Provision centre in Waterford, spoke to The College Tribune and commented that because “previous governments have not been trust-worthy, […] the general population of Direct Provision centres have lost hope”. Particularly, Lesley criticised the remaining restrictions on the right to work for asylum seekers. “What we are looking for is the end of the Direct Provision system and total autonomy for asylum seekers”, said Lesley who believes that the government’s programme is keeping “the existing non-autonomous system” for asylum seekers who just “want a real chance at living normal lives”.
The draft programme also considered the amalgamation of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs into the Department of Education to make room for a new Department of Higher Education. This plan has since fallen through and is not included in the new agreed programme. The University Times reports that the incoming government will keep the €3,000 student contribution fee the same until the next Dáil. There will also be a review of the SUSI grant system as pushed for by the Union of Students in Ireland who voted last month to lobby the government. As well as this, the programme intends to inject funding into Higher Education research opportunities. A plan to tackle sexual harassment in Higher and Further Education institutions will also be undertaken.
The incoming government is prioritising ‘greener policies’ and has made a commitment to reducing Ireland’s emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 7% annually. Future capital investments in transport will be split 2:1, in favour of public transport over road infrastructure. As well as this, €360 million is expected to be spent every year on cycling and walking infrastructure on Irish roads. The Carbon Tax is expected to rise to €100 per tonne from €80 per tonne to push Ireland towards a ‘greener’ economy. Agricultural emissions are to be treated differently under the programme, in recognition of agriculture’s “special economic role”.
The National Development Plan will be reviewed to ensure it complies with Ireland’s climate obligations and a new Climate Action Bill will be introduced, legislating Ireland to be carbon-neutral by 2050. The programme also proposes a ban on single use plastics.
In the areas of Justice and Equality, the programme hopes to introduce a nationwide ‘anti-racism strategy’ and plans to introduce Hate-Crime Legislation, which has been lobbied for by many activist groups. The programme’s economic focus is led by a ‘jobs stimulus plan’ in July to help the hospitality sector and SMEs. The programme is entitled “Our Shared Future” and seeks to “repair the damage that has been inflicted by the pandemic and take the renewed spirit arising from these challenging times and translate it into action.”
Mahnoor Choudhry – Assistant News Editor