Ireland: Old rivals join Greens to form historic coalition government

A political alliance struck on Friday will bring together incumbent Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael, and its old rival, Fianna Fail. The two center-right parties have dominated Irish politics since independence a century ago.

Micheal Martin (pictured at top), leader of Fianna Fail, is set to become the prime minister, or taoiseach in a special parliamentary sitting on Saturday, as part of a reported deal involving a rotating premiership. Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, both from Finn Gael, are expected to keep their jobs as Martin announces his new cabinet.

Varadkar, who will return to the prime minister's office in December 2022, said on Twitter he was "clearing out the office" of taoiseach.

The Green Party, which won 12 seats in February's parliamentary election, emerged as the kingmaker. It secured significant concessions, including a commitment to a 7% average annual cut in greenhouse gas emission as opposed to the current 2%.

As part of the bargain, the new government will also stop issuing new licenses for the exploration and extraction of gas and focus on public transport infrastructure. "There's work to be done, and we're the ones to try and help make it happen," said Greens leader Eamon Ryan.

The coalition deal was first approved by Varadkar's Fine Gael after it won the support of 80% of its members. "Fine Gael is going to enter a third term in government and this new coalition is united and strong, and up to the challenge," Varadkar told reporters.

Fianna Fail, which won the most seats in the 160-seat parliament, approved the deal with 74% approval. "We have chosen this route, it has many challenges," said Martin. "But on the other hand, it's also a moment of opportunity and a moment of hope for our people."

Sinn Fein takes on main opposition role

February's election resulted in an unprecedented surge in support for the left-wing republican Sinn Fein. "The political establishment rallied to keep us out," Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said. "Just because the old political establishment has put up some barrier in our way, that's not going to stop us."

The one-time fringe party won 37 seats — more than Fine Gael, which was pushed to third place — and now expects to become the main opposition party.

"We're going to be the most effective opposition," said deputy leader Michelle O'Neill. "We can make huge strides forward."

adi/dr (AFP, Reuters)