Dáil debates

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

12:00 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)

Gabhaim comhghairdeas leat, a Cheann Comhairle, as ucht bheith tofa mar Cheann Comhairle. I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt don obair mhór a rinne na Teachtaí Dála nár éirigh leo san olltoghchán seo. Creidim go bhfuil onóir ag baint leis an bpolaitíocht agus gur bhain siad an-chuid amach nuair a bhí siad anseo. Ba mhaith liom chomh maith fáilte a chur roimh na daoine atá sa Teach seo don chéad uair. Lá an-mhór atá ann dóibh gan dabht.

One of the clearest messages from the people is that they want us to reform the way we do our business in this House. Far too often, contributions here are about seeking attention rather than dealing with the serious issues at hand. The difference between permanent campaigning and daily business is sometimes difficult to discern. That has become the case even on the first day of each new Dáil. There has been a growing tendency for speeches to be delivered which take no real account of the fact that an election is over and the people have just spoken.

Equally, a habit has developed of nominating people for the position of Taoiseach for the sake of doing so rather than in the belief that the person has a right to assume the office. Today, it is my intention to break with that precedent. It is clear that Deputy Enda Kenny has been given a mandate by the people to take up the office of Taoiseach and that he should do so in a coalition Government involving the Fine Gael and Labour parties. Fianna Fáil respects Deputy Kenny's mandate and will therefore not oppose his nomination today.

In addition, we will not support the nomination of any other person for the office. Unless there is some unforeseen development in the nature of the members and responsibilities of the Government Deputy Kenny will propose to the House later this afternoon, Fianna Fáil will also not oppose the nomination of the new Government. Clearly, this decision will not affect the outcome of the votes but it is an important signal about changing the way politics is conducted in Dáil Éireann.

There is, of course, a distinction to be drawn between the votes which will be held today and support for the programme for Government. Fine Gael and Labour have agreed to share power but have kicked to touch on most of the major issues to be addressed by this Dáil. They stood in the election as separate parties and have at best only agreed a process for bridging the gaps between them. On fiscal policy, the one concrete agreement is to implement the 2011 budget they voted against a few weeks ago. On financial policy they have agreed to change existing policies but have not agreed on what specifically will replace them.

Given the energy with which some Deputies in Fine Gael and Labour have attacked the past use of policy reviews, the inclusion of over 21 such reviews in their programme for Government is more than a bit ironic. In many ways this is one of the least specific programmes for Government ever published. Flexibility is certainly required to make a coalition Government work but the danger contained within this programme is that it leaves so many basic points for later negotiation. The scale of budget changes for the majority of the term of office and the balance between taxation and spending measures should be set out clearly in a Government's programme, and the failure to do this must inevitably lead to concerns about unresolved issues.

This shows itself relating to the likely Cabinet as well. A new set of challenges requires a new approach to setting ministerial tasks. I welcome Deputy Kenny's intention to restructure Cabinet responsibilities. However, the idea that one Minister will negotiate the detail of budgets while another will have responsibility for implementing these decisions is a recipe for confusion and conflict and is a compromise which appears based mainly on a failure to agree as to who should be the Minister for Finance.

I want to reiterate that Fianna Fáil's approach in this Dáil will be to provide constructive Opposition. When we agree with a policy, we will support it. When we do not, we will oppose it and will set out a credible alternative. We will not follow the example seen in recent years of manoeuvring to oppose everything for the sake of popularity. The self-serving and partisan narrative which others have offered about the last decade may have been helpful for campaigning purposes but it will not help in the much tougher business of governing.

It is my intention that Fianna Fáil will provide an Opposition which is both assertive and constructive. Equally, I want it to be absolutely clear that we will defer to no one in our right to represent the nearly 400,000 people who voted for us 12 days ago. I am leader of our political party but I am first and foremost an Irish republican. This means that I want my country to do well no matter who is in charge. I have serious concerns about Deputy Kenny's policies and I sincerely do not believe that we have seen a programme for Government which is capable of addressing the serious issues facing our country. However, I wish him well and I sincerely hope that he will be successful as Taoiseach.

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