DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would set up a unit in the prime minister’s office to “work towards a consensus on a united Ireland” if they are able to form a new government, according to an initial agreement between the two parties.
The leaders of the historic rivals agreed on Tuesday to govern together for the first time if they can get additional support to form a coalition, two months after an election now overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis.
The broad framework document the pair will use in talks with smaller parties — a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Wednesday — contained 10 “missions”, one of which detailed their approach for what was described as “a shared island”.
Under a 1998 peace deal that settled 30 years of sectarian violence in British-run Northern Ireland, Britain’s minister for the province can call a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to unite with Ireland.
The framework document said the two parties, which have swapped power since Irish independence in 1921, were committed to working with all traditions on the island and respect the principle of consent enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement.
However it added: “We will establish a unit within the Department of An Taoiseach (prime minister) to work towards a consensus on a united island … examining the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.”
Both parties have said they would ultimately like to see the unification of the island, which was partitioned almost a century ago, but that now is not the time.
Fianna Fail’s manifesto for the Feb. 8 election wanted such a unit to lead a formal study to set out how Dublin should approach the handling of any future referendum. Fine Gael made no specific commitments on preparations for a poll.
The pro-Irish unity Sinn Fein, which narrowly won the most seats at the election but has been ruled out as a partner by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, has pushed for a unity poll by 2025 and more significant preparations.
The two once dominant parties of Irish politics need the support of at least one smaller party or eight independent lawmakers for a majority in the fractured 160-seat parliament.
Two potential partners, the centre-left Labour and Social Democrat parties, were critical of the framework document on Wednesday but said they would study it in the coming days.
The Greens, the largest of the smaller groups with 12 seats, said it would consider the content and reply shortly. It has called for a temporary national government across parliament since the coronavirus outbreak.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans)