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New coalition government in Ireland

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A historic coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens have formed a new government in Ireland. The Programme of Government is committed to prioritising the Emigrant Support Programme, publishing a new diaspora policy later this year and holding a referendum on voting rights for citizens abroad.

The new government will be led by Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin as Taoiseach with Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar as Tánaiste. Leo Varadkar will return as Taoiseach in December 2022 when the role is due to be rotated under the coalition agreement.

Simon Coveney remains as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The leader of the Greens, Eamon Ryan, is the new Minister for Climate Change, Communication Networks and Transport.

Colm BrophyThere is also a new Minister for Overseas Development Aid and the Diaspora with Colm Brophy (pictured right), a Fine Gael TD for Dublin South-West, replacing Ciarán Cannon. Minister Cannon held the position for three years and many of our members will have met him when he chaired a series of meetings across Britain to inform the new diaspora strategy. We wish him all the best and give him our thanks from the Irish community in Britain.

The agreement between the three parties marks the first time that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will join together in a formal coalition, though the latter had been supporting Fine Gael through a confidence and supply agreement since the previous election. The two parties formed in the years after Irish independence and originate in the opposing sides of the subsequent civil war.

The coalition – containing 84 out of 160 TDs - ends four years of minority government. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald will become the Leader of the Opposition.

Although it is very much early days for coalition, its ambitions have been laid out, which we analyse in more detail and what they mean for the diaspora below.

The coalition’s Programme for Government, entitled Our Shared Future, sets out to:

  • Publish a new diaspora policy in 2020.
  • Hold a referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside the State.
  • Prioritise the Emigrant Support Programme (ESP), ensuring that the most vulnerable members of the diaspora are supported.
  • Develop educational and work opportunities in Ireland for third and fourth generation Irish diaspora.
  • Support those who wish to return to Ireland and address barriers facing returning emigrants.

These were confirmed in the DFA's Global Irish Newsletter in July 2020.

The commitments to hold a referendum on voting rights and to publish a new diaspora policy are continuations of previous government policies. Irish in Britain submitted a document to the diaspora policy consultation, which is available here, and we hope to see the result soon. A referendum on voting rights has long been promised but Brexit, the general election and now the Covid-19 crisis have led to repeated delays.

We are pleased that the coalition continues to prioritise ESP funding, which is an essential and progressive tool in supporting diaspora organisations not only in Britain, but across the world. The Fianna Fáil manifesto for the February 2020 election promised an increase to ESP funding of €2.5m, though there is no mention of this so far.

We look forward to engaging further with the new government on educational and work opportunities for third and fourth generation members of the diaspora. We will also continue to support organisations such as Safe Home Ireland and Crosscare in providing advice to returning emigrants.

The Programme for Government emphasises the close ties between Ireland and the UK and recommits to opening an Irish consulate in the north of England. It also states that the coalition will “Ensure the continued effective operation of the Common Travel Area and reciprocal rights between Ireland and Britain across areas such as social protection, education and training and healthcare.”

A new unit will be established in the Department of the Taoiseach “to work towards a consensus on a shared island. This unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.”

The commitments of the new coalition broadly follow the previous government’s policies on the diaspora, Northern Ireland and UK-Irish relations, so we look forward to finding out more detail over the coming months and engaging with ministers, new and old.