WITH less than two weeks until a new Government is expected to be formed, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says that decisions about who will sit around the cabinet table have yet to be made.
However, speaking to, Micheál Martin admitted that Cork is likely to feature strongly in the next Government but remains cautious about the new programme for government being accepted by the coalition partys' memberships.
On Monday, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party agreed a new Programme for Government, which, if accepted, will see Deputy Martin become the next Taoiseach.
The parliamentary parties have supported the deal but party members will now be balloted on whether or not to accept it.
The Cork South-Central TD said that they received positive feedback from around the country.
“People realise that the country is in a very serious crisis in the midst of Covid-19 and lots of businesses and lots of jobs are at stake so everyone believes we should have a government in place to try and deal with the crisis,” he said.
However, the Fianna Fáil leader said that he was “not too eager” to count chickens before they are hatched.
“There’s a number of hurdles to be jumped yet,” he said.
Asked byif it was likely that Cork South-Central could become a political powerhouse if the programme for government is accepted, Deputy Martin said that this was “a very strong possibility”.
“You have Simon Coveney with Fine Gael. You have Michael McGrath who is [Fianna Fáil] finance spokesperson, a very capable and able spokesman as well, and very much centrally involved in the negotiations, so yes, I think Cork South-Central has featured already nationally over the last number of years and I think is going to continue in that vein.”
Deputy Martin said that if the programme is accepted, there are a number of developments in Cork he would like to see proceed including planning for a light rail system.
“Cork is clearly identified as the second city after Dublin in terms of population growth, and in terms of potential for development.
"We have a very strong multinational presence here so it’s important we get our transport links right and infrastructure right and it’s also important I think that we position the region for future inward investment,” he said.
Current Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that the next ten days will be “a blunt and direct detailed conversation” to give reassurance needed for memberships to support the programme for government.
Mr Coveney said that parties cannot be taken for granted and that the proposed coalition government is “new and different for people to get their heads around”.
He said that there are big political personalities from Cork in the potential new government and that he believes that they will deliver for the city and the county.
“If I’m serving in a government with Micheál Martin, I’ll be working with him, not against him, to make sure the government is a success and I hope people, particularly in Cork, but also in the rest of the country will give a new Taoiseach the opportunity to give the leadership that the country needs.”
“Micheál is a very experienced politician and he’s very able. He’s a competitor for me politically and has been for 20 years, we shared the same constituency, we fought many elections together and I’ve had a lot of disagreements with him in terms of policy and debates, but I’d like to think we’ve always had a respect for each other."
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath has hit back at the suggestion that no commitment has been made for Cork in the programme for Government.
Deputy McGrath said that he does not accept comments made by Green Party councillor Lorna Bogue who believes that the programme for government “does not deliver for Cork”.
The Cork South-Central councillor said that she “cannot stand over” the programme for government after reviewing the document “with a fine-tooth comb”.
“There isn't a lot of actual commitment there and very few commitments to Cork and the development of Cork as well.”
She said that when broken down, the €320 million funding for walking and cycling infrastructure ends up being “about €11 million for Cork” which, she said, in the context of Cork City Council budgets “is not actually a huge amount”.
She said that the commitment to 50,000 social houses when divided by the yearly figure and the number of local authorities in the country, would mean an additional 322 houses for Cork City Council per year which she said is “not acceptable” as a response to the ongoing housing crisis.
Councillor Bogue was also disappointed to see that the programme for government states that “they will conduct a review to see whether people are being mistreated during liquidation processes”, following the recent strikes held by Debenhams workers after the company went into liquidation.
Deputy McGrath said that he believes the “ambitious” programme is for the whole country and is set against the backdrop of huge challenges as the fall out from Covid-19 continues and does not accept suggestions that the programme excludes commitment to Cork.
He said that the programme is designed in the context of the National Planning Framework which “earmarks Cork as being the fastest growing location in the country and as being the real counterweight to Dublin”.
“That policy has been confirmed within this programme for government so Cork will be at the forefront of the planning for the future growth and development of our country and this programme for government to my mind provides a huge opportunity for Cork.
“What I really want to see from this government if it does come into office is that it would be a government of enterprise.
“The number one priority has to be to repair and gradually rebuild the economy and to help all of those who would be at the forefront of that, small and medium-sized businesses around the country,” he said.
Ms Bogue said that although she will wait for the Green Party’s convention on Thursday before making a final decision, that if the document came before her in a Council budget meeting that she would not accept it and that she is “surprised” that the voices for Cork “haven’t produced something revolutionary for Cork”.
“We should be the engine that’s running the entire southern region and we're not going to get there with this programme for government,” she said.
Mr Coveney said that he is “excited” about the commitments for Cork that are contained within the programme and contested the suggestions made by Ms Bogue that the programme “does not deliver for Cork”.
He said that the programme is committed to implementing a transport plan for Cork which includes plans to progress a light rail system and commuter rails system connecting commuter towns to the city, BusConnects, road improvements, priority bus lanes, cycleways and walkways, in what he described as a “transformative strategy for Cork”.