Saturday, 27 June 2020
Ceapachán an Taoisigh agus Ainmniú Chomhaltaí an Rialtais: Tairiscint - Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government: Motion
Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
I extend my good wishes to An Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin. I have no doubt that this is a proud day for him, his people and his community. I also extend good wishes to all those who have now been appointed to ministerial offices because this is a cause for celebration for all of them.
In February last, we presented a manifesto for change to the people and we asked them to give us a chance to deliver that change, to lead. The people by way of response gave us a record mandate to enter government. That was not to be on this occasion but, nonetheless, we have witnessed a realignment of Irish politics. Sinn Féin, for the first time, will now lead the Opposition and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have formally come together. The widespread expectation that a change election would be followed by the formation of a new Government that could deliver the new politics that people are crying out for was not to be. The century-old impulse to grab power, to maintain the old political order, to push back against the instinct and energy for change so powerfully demonstrated at the ballot box, drew Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together. The truth is they have coalesced and colluded in frustrating the voice of change. A Cheann Comhairle, excluding the representatives of more than half a million citizens is nothing to be proud of in my book. I do not think it is something any democrat should boast about. Indeed, succeeding in stalling or stopping necessary change is really no success at all. It is the mark of narrow, failed politics of the past.
That narrow kind of thinking is reflected in the unambitious programme for Government. This will be a Government of more of the same. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government is no historical departure. However, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forced into a loveless embrace by the hopeful vote of the people; that now is the historical point of departure for their Government. Some have described this as the end of so-called Civil War politics. The reality is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael today have precious little to do with anything that was at issue in that tragic conflict. The words of Liam Mellows, a patriot himself executed by the Free State, in his speech against the Treaty, ring very true today: "Men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed." For decades, the issue between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was supposedly, mar dhea, about Civil War issues. In reality, the ancient quarrel between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has long since descended into a race for power and privilege in this State. Forgotten, abandoned in all of this were those who suffered most from the partition of our country, the people of the Six Counties. Forgotten and abandoned was any plan to achieve full democracy, self-determination and unity for Ireland; and so, the great national project of reunification is not included in the programme for Government. There is not a whisper from this Government, while the conversation about constitutional change happens all across our island. This is especially concerning during the age of Brexit, when the imperative to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts has never been greater. A united Ireland is the very best idea for the future of our country. It is essential to the prosperity of all our people because growing our economy requires an all-Ireland approach. Protecting our health services requires an all-Ireland approach. Getting ahead of Covid-19, protecting public health and protecting our people's health requires an all-Ireland approach. No Government, not least an incoming Government, in this period should ignore the imperative of unity. It should be planning for change and reunification and for that referendum on Irish unity as per the Good Friday Agreement.
A Cheann Comhairle, the society shaped by the old establishment divides us between the haves and the have-nots, the insiders and the outsiders, the entitled and the rest. That is why Government after Government has presided over a housing crisis. It is an indictment of successive Governments that housing is so unaffordable for so many. It is also why our health system is broken, crippled by hospital overcrowding, a never-ending trolley crisis and record-breaking treatment waiting lists. It is also why the principle of fairness is breached daily in every aspect of Irish life. The Ireland of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is a place where 65 year olds cannot retire in dignity with their State pension. It is one where working parents cannot afford childcare, where educational disadvantage is all too prevalent, where citizens living with disabilities and their carers are forgotten, and where those with mental health challenges are left to fend for themselves. None of this is accidental. All of this is the consequence of bad politics. It is why Governments come and go but nothing really changes. Irish politics is broken and the way of fixing it is by heeding the people's demand for change. The people know this and they have said in record numbers that the time for change is now, and people are ready for a fresh start. Those who drafted the programme for Government, I feel, must live in a different reality from the rest of us. The crises in housing and healthcare dominated the election and both have deepened during the Covid crisis. On top of that, many families are now facing what has been described as a tsunami of debt, as insurance companies were allowed to continue their rip-off, as banks charged interest to 80,000 families who had to take a mortgage break.
People need homes that they can afford. I call on the Taoiseach and the new Government to build the affordable homes and make sure they are actually affordable in the real world. People need to be able to see a doctor when they are sick, so the Government must invest in public hospitals and our public system and end the privatisation agenda. What is proposed in the Government's plan, far from tackling these challenges, will only deepen our problems. The issues that mattered most to ordinary people in the course of the election are dodged or fudged. However, the Government has managed to include tax breaks for those at the top in its programme. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil from the get-go have copped out on delivering common-sense solutions for workers and families. The brief enlightenment in which we saw a turn to more progressive decisions during the Covid-19 emergency has been extinguished by the programme for Government. For Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, fairness can only ever be a temporary thing, a reaction rather than a principle of good government.
Because of its lack of ambition, this is a Government already on borrowed time. Workers and families know that they deserve so much better. It is that belief that will drive Sinn Féin's determination to deliver effective Opposition. We have the policies, a Cheann Comhairle. We have the team. Deputy Doherty has the plan to shape a fair economy, Deputy O'Reilly that for a national health service. Deputy Ó Broin has the plan to make housing affordable. We are happy to share those plans with the Government and if it is serious about tackling these issues, it will work with those plans. I am very proud to lead our team of 37 Deputies, a team committed to realising a changed Ireland, a fair Ireland and a united Ireland. We will stand up for all of those who voted for change. We will work hard for them and it is in their name that we will hold the Government to account.