Erring on the side of caution as Brexit approaches, Micheál Martin TD and Fianna Fáil renewed the confidence and supply agreement that has kept the Fine Gael-led minority government in place since 2016. eolas assesses the agreement and explains the mechanism of confidence and supply agreements.
The decision to extend the agreement was announced in mid-December 2018 as the Dáil was approaching its Christmas recess and the end of the original agreed term of the agreement, rounding out negotiations that had begun in October.
Fianna Fáil leader Martin told the Dáil that the decision had been made with the Brexit-related political chaos in Britain convincing him that such chaos should not be replicated in Dublin during the year that the United Kingdom is set to withdraw from the EU. He told the Dáil that, in “normal times”, he would be making a push for a general election, but “these are not normal times and Ireland is immediately confronted with one of the biggest threats for many decades”. Martin also said that new emergency legislation regarding Brexit would be forthcoming in early 2019.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar thanked Martin and Fianna Fáil for their support, while his deputy, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, said that the decision showed “maturity” on Fianna Fáil’s part and that he expected the agreement to last “well into 2020”.
The decision was criticised by the leaders of both Sinn Féin and Labour; Mary Lou McDonald TD accused Fianna Fáil of using Brexit as cover for delivering “more of the same” in areas in which the Government is failing, such as combatting homelessness, and Brendan Howlin TD, whilst criticising the fact that agreement documents would not be published, said that Fianna Fáil had written Fine Gael a “blank cheque”.
How does confidence and supply work?
Without the publication of the agreement documents, it is impossible to know the particulars contained within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s specific agreement, but confidence and supply is an agreement where a party or body of independents support the government (by either voting with them or abstaining) in motions of confidence and budgetary votes. It differs from a traditional coalition because the junior party do not take up seats within the government.
Fianna Fáil have so far abstained on budget votes; this guarantees the minority government of Fine Gael and independents the easy passage of bills barring interior rebellion. However, they have retained the right to vote as they please on other matters in the Dáil and Seanad, as evidenced by their support for the passage of Seanadóir Frances Black’s Occupied Territories Bill through the Seanad.
Unlike coalition governments, confidence and supply agreements do not come with guaranteed terms and can be extended or terminated at any time. It is on this front that the two parties seem to disagree, with Coveney’s claim that the agreement will last into 2020 and beyond, contradicting the Fianna Fáil stance that there could be a general election in 2020.