By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats have agreed to a five-year program that will result in the first outgoing government to achieve a second term in 33 years when the 29th Dail meets for the first time on Thursday.
The agreed document required only final ratification by the PD’s General Council. The group was meeting Tuesday night and was expected to approve the resumed coalition arrangement.
Negotiations involving the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, Tanaiste Mary Harney, and a three-strong team from each parties have been hammering out the new coalition deal.
A draft program for the administration went to the party leaders last Friday and the two teams fine tuned details over the weekend.
Both parties had stood back from negotiations until the final results of the May 17 election were in. The results gave Fianna Fail 81 seats and the PDs’ eight — the combined 89 deputies is a clear majority in the 166 seat Dail that should allow for the normal attrition of by-elections losses between now and 2007.
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The FF negotiating team comprises Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen, Environment Minister Noel Dempsey and Chief Whip Seamus Brennan.
The PD team includes Attorney General Michael McDowell, and former farm leader Tom Parlon, now deputy for the Midlands Laois-Offaly constituency, and party chairman John Minihan.
There are believed to be six items that have been a particular focus of negotiations.
Some of the main differences that had to be ironed out were a scaled-back “Bertie Bowl” sports stadium, the distribution of ministries, the scope of continuing tax reform, privatization of state industries, and more extensive use of private-public partnerships to develop state infrastructure.
The taoiseach said last week that he did not see “any insurmountable difficulties.”
“It is just a matter of us being able to get wording that we can make sure we can implement,” he said.
The 1997 program for government had been almost completely implemented and audits had been carried out on it every year. It was hoped to do the same with the new program.
Harney also said a lot of progress had been made.
“I have always been hopeful that the will of the people, which was the return of the outgoing government, would be fulfilled,” she said.
Of the six issues that caused difficulty, she said, “We have found a way forward in relation to most of them. I am very hopeful we will be able to form a government.”
The tanaiste said the PDs, having doubled their number of D_il seats in the election, must have a “meaningful role” in the new government. This is expected to mean two senior ministries and two juniors.
The taoiseach also hinted that he will carry out a more extensive reshuffle of his Fianna F_il ministers.