Saturday, 27 June 2020
Ceapachán an Taoisigh agus Ainmniú Chomhaltaí an Rialtais: Tairiscint - Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government: Motion
Eamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
It is a great honour to be a part of the acting out of our Constitution here today. Appointing a Taoiseach and being a part of the Cabinet appointed by him is the greatest honour in our democratic, constitutional Republic, and we seek to live up to that as best we can.
The Cabinet has a pivotal role in the Irish Constitution and political decision-making. We operate a system with collective Cabinet responsibility which also brings collective Cabinet authority. I may be wrong, but I understand that the traditional position is that the Cabinet does not vote "Yes" or "No" on issues. An issue that comes to the Cabinet has had a lot of work done on it in advance and three things can happen, namely, it can be accepted, it can be amended, or the Cabinet can decide to revert back to it again so that the issue is resolved. That system gives us great strength. That sense of common, collective ability in the Cabinet to come to a conclusion, while sometimes difficult, leads to good decision-making. The Green Party commits to working with the other two parties in a trusting way to make things work on behalf of our people, particularly because we are in such a difficult time. We are in the midst of a crisis that we have not seen before.
To consider how to approach that crisis, I will briefly look back on the history of the State because there are lessons from the past that this Government, Cabinet, Ministers of State and the wider Members of the Dáil and Seanad can try to apply as they engage in the process that will unfold in the next four or five years. We should look to some of our past successes, including the strategic decisions that were made in the early part of the past decade when we decided to invest in Science Foundation Ireland and research, and became a country that is good in industries such as digital technologies and medical devices, and that focused on new, advanced technologies. That was a strategic decision made by politicians at the time, implemented by public servants and lived out in the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Irish people who took part in the transformation that saw our economy and society become remarkably successful in advanced manufacturing, advanced services and technology. We should keep on that path. In fact, we should double down to try to become even better in those areas by asking what the new technological changes and investments will be.
Some of the Departments that have now been set up are aimed at innovation and connecting our academic and business communities, our civil society and the Government. That will be pivotal to the success of this country. We must be willing to take risks, make mistakes and fail because that is the only way we will succeed. We will learn lessons from the things that do not work and we can multiply and roll out the things that do work. We must be open to, and invest in, innovation in our education systems. We must invest in a State that is willing to be enterprising and take risks, that will not hammer a public servant who makes a creative decision that goes wrong because we can learn from that mistake.
Another example of how to get out of a crisis dates back to the late 1980s. We had gone through a long and deep recession at that time. The history books will give various versions of what happened and credit for the emergence from that recession is sometimes given to cultural events, such as the Irish football team beating England in the 1988 European Championships and Mary Robinson calling people to dance. Various things lifted our spirits. I think that central to the recovery of that time was a social partnership that went right down to community level. It was a result of the work of the National Economic and Social Council and others, including politicians of the time, investing in community development and leadership. Investing in communities was seen as a way of helping to eradicate poverty, and community leaders were built up. It was not all the work of the State. The State facilitated communities to come out of bad times, and it worked. We were good at that. We were seen as one of the best examples in Europe of how the LEADER programme and community enterprise schemes could work. I set up a small business through a community enterprise learning scheme with the help of Mr. Tommy Simpson in Cabra. He helped me up in the first days of getting a business going. That community approach really worked and I think that, in every Department of the Government, we should be looking to put a focus on community and encouraging a bottom up recovery. The State should not do everything for people but should facilitate community groups to thrive. We lost some of that orientation during the past decade and it is time to bring it back at scale and everywhere.
Another lesson we can learn happened before my time. How does a country change strategic direction? I believe we can see an example in the period of T.K. Whitaker and Seán Lemass, both public servants and politicians. They, and others, turned Ireland from a closed economy to an open one. That brought a lot of our success. That change came because there was broad political agreement at the time, following crises of the 1950s that included mass emigration, unemployment and widespread poverty. There was an agreement that the country had to change. In that agreement, which lasted 20 or 30 years, we were able to make strategic decisions that helped us to change our path and become a country that is open to the world. There was collective agreement around investment in education, joining the European Union and being good at foreign direct investment. It took 20 or 30 years for the rewards of that consistency to come through but it worked for the country and we need the same today.
We need agreement that we are going to move from an unsustainable to a sustainable model of the economy, that we are going to go green. We can do so with confidence because most parties in this House agree with that proposal. Parties of the left and right, or whatever their position, and Independents agree. They realise that Irish people think that we are going to be good at making the necessary changes and it is time to do so. We are well placed to make that strategic change.
Europe is also making changes with the Green New Deal. That is the direction the new economy is moving in and, therefore, it is the way that innovation is going. More than anything else, we know that it will not work if it is not community first and from the bottom up. We need community energy and agreement on how we build houses, run public transport, provide safe routes to schools and other things that help us build communities as well as cutting out the carbon in our society. We should create a local environment that is healthy in every way.
We will set about this task with pride on this weekend when, in non-Covid-19 times, the Pride parade would have passed along the quays outside this building, as people from Dublin know. Pride is an incredible occasion that gives one pride in this country. We should be a Government that adopts that as our approach. We must welcome diversity, be open and creative. We seek to do whatever we can to get this country out of a deep recession using lessons from the past but facing the future in a way that will serve our country with pride.