Saturday, 27 June 2020
Taoiseach a Ainmniú (Atógáil) - Nomination of Taoiseach (Resumed)
The Labour Party will oppose both nominees for Taoiseach before the House today. The nomination of Deputy McDonald comes before this House without, unfortunately, a scintilla of evidence of a rational, thought-out programme for Government that could seek to attract the votes of a majority in this House. Sinn Féin is simply going through the motions of appearing to be interested in government. The truth is that today's nomination is not backed up by a real attempt to negotiate a programme for Government. Sinn Féin's election manifesto was like a giveaway from "The Late Late Show", with something for everyone in the audience. However, bills must be paid and the books must be balanced. Politicians treat taxpayers with contempt when they tell them they can have everything for nothing in a utopian world. I accept Sinn Féin got a mandate from the public, and I respect that, but with a mandate comes serious responsibility, including a responsibility to seek to govern with others with an agreed policy framework. That has never existed in the case of Sinn Féin, which yearns for opposition. That is why the nomination of Deputy McDonald is unworthy of support today. For the record, nobody has a monopoly on political change.
The nomination of Deputy Micheál Martin as Taoiseach comes on the back of an agreed programme for Government between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. The programme for Government has proposals that are to be welcomed and we, in the Labour Party, very much welcome some of them. The sad reality, however, is that this is a lost opportunity to transform our country and society, particularly given the Covid crisis. Parts of the document are being trumpeted as game-changers when they are not. Let us be honest; the financials behind this programme for Government are comical, so comical that they were not put down on paper and do not exist in reality.
Over and over, the programme lacks ambition. We heard at length in recent weeks about the hours and hours of torturous negotiations to set a target of a 7% annual reduction in carbon emissions. The Green Party claimed this as a victory, despite the truth being that it was the minimum required to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change. I should know because I signed that agreement on behalf of the State. The saddest indictment of the outgoing Government is how little has been achieved in setting about meeting out commitments in the intervening four years. The programme for Government promises much. However, without timelines and costings, many of the proposals will be kicked further and further down the road, that is, if Deputy Ryan allows any more roads to be built.
Most disappointingly though, there is little evidence in the programme for Government of any concerns for workers' rights, equality of opportunity or access to education and training to change. This is deeply worrying to the Labour Party. In January 2020, Deputy Micheál Martin said that Fianna Fáil was the party of the working classes. How can a party that claims to be of the working classes not seek to improve the lot of workers? The Deputy's claim is demonstrably void in this document. There is no radical thinking on workers' rights and no meaningful plan to introduce the living wage or extend free health care to all. There is no radical plan to provide homes at an affordable price point for ordinary workers or affordable childcare so that parents do not have to make the choice between staying out of the workplace for a prolonged period or paying a second mortgage in childcare fees. When Fianna Fáil claims to be of the working class it is simply a smokescreen. Nothing in this pick and mix programme for Government will completely transform the lives of ordinary working people. We know from their previous Government alliance that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have no problem taking away from the most vulnerable in our workforce. Who can ever forget that in its dying days that Government cut the minimum wage by €1?
We are about to enter another financial disaster. I say loudly and clearly to everybody in this House, particularly the new Government that is about to be formed, that low-paid workers cannot and should not suffer as a result of the decisions that will be taken in the coming years.
Fine Gael just does not get industrial relations and is completely inept with them. We need only look at its latest stint in government when transport workers, teachers and our nurses, who saved this country in the past months, were on strike. We all know the outgoing Taoiseach loves his films. In the 2016 general election, Deputy Leo Varadkar said that Deputy Micheál Martin was a good debater and an even better deceiver, that he could not be trusted and that his record as a Minister was a disaster. Sorry for pointing that out. The then Minister for Health compared the Fianna Fáil leader with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Total Recall" with alternative memories planted in his brain and created a fairytale about his record in the Departments of Health and Foreign Affairs. Here we are four years later and it would seem the outgoing Taoiseach has had his memory absolutely wiped in the pursuit of office, and has constructed his own fairytale today. I believe he must have taken some tips from Matt Damon when he was here during the lockdown as Leo, our current Taoiseach, has woken up, akin to Jason Bourne, with no actual memory of what he said about Fianna Fáil or Deputy Micheál Martin four years ago, or indeed numerous times over the past ten years.
We have been here with the Green Party before too. On 6 May 2016, the leader of the Green Party announced that he would not vote for the election of the Taoiseach, then Enda Kenny, and would not aim for government, stating, "I said we would not join the Government because we come from a left-of-centre perspective and we did not see that reflected in the document." Four years on, I can tell Deputy Ryan that I come from a left-of-centre party and it is certainly not reflected in the current programme for Government which he has so eagerly signed up to. Having said that, the Labour Party genuinely wishes the Green Party well. It shares many of our party's goals and ideals and I look forward to seeing it implement them as part of this Government.
A Government will be formed this evening and we in the Labour Party sincerely wish it the best. I personally wish Deputy Micheál Martin the best as the Taoiseach-elect. I wish him well and I wish this future Government well. I also want to put it on notice that the Labour Party will hold it to account.
The Irish public, in the middle of the Covid experience, is a different public with different priorities and emotions compared with those of a few months ago. They want and deserve a new social contract. Covid has acted as a disruptor across all political and economic thought, and the new Government would do well to remember that from the get-go.
The Labour Party will hold this Government to account based on the following principles. A cleaner future for all depends first and foremost on building a fairer future for all, for those who work, for those who are looking for work and for those who cannot work. The opportunities presented by the crisis must not be allowed to pass. We had a taste of telemedicine and free general practitioner care. Most of all, the people have a had a glimpse of a single tier health system, where private hospitals were taken over by the State. We know that real change can happen in how healthcare, childcare and other services are now delivered in Ireland. The provision of a sustainable, affordable roof over the heads of all families and individuals will be the key measure upon which we judge this Government.
This is a momentous week and an historic occasion. The memberships of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have voted overwhelmingly to enter government today. Both Deputy Micheál Martin and I are former students of the great history department of University College Cork, and neither of us could ever have envisaged this occurring today, but it has. There is one final step to be taken by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which is a full and final merger of the two parties because, let us face it, there is now not a scintilla of difference left between the two parties. We are finally on the cusp of an historic realignment of Irish politics.
I welcome an alignment on a traditional left-right divide and one the Labour Party would cherish. I assure everyone that in the coming weeks, months and years, we in the Labour Party will not be found wanting when it comes to standing up and advocating on behalf of the people of Ireland. It is not just a new Government that is being formed today, it is also a new dawn in Irish politics for each and every one of us.