Tuesday, 9 June 2009
I formally welcome Deputies George Lee and Maureen O'Sullivan to the Dáil Chamber and wish them enjoyment and success as they represent their constituents.
On Friday last, Irish people voted for a fresh start. They ended the domination of Irish politics by the Taoiseach's party for the first time in many years and made the Fine Gael Party the largest party in all three sets of elections. Almost three quarters of them voted no confidence in the Government which is the reason we have a motion of no confidence before the Dáil today. Friday was the first opportunity people had to cast their vote and give their verdict on the performance of this Government, which has crash-landed our economy. Ireland's credit rating is again diminished, business is cash starved and in excess of 400,000 people are on the live register yet the Taoiseach continues to insist that the people's verdict does not matter, the elections were irrelevant and he will ignore the voice of the people by continuing on the disastrous path he has chosen. He may be listening but he is certainly not hearing.
I put it to the Taoiseach that if he has any respect for the Irish people, who he leads politically, he will accept that following Friday's disaster for his Government, including his Green Party colleagues, he has no mandate or authority to continue in government and that he and his colleagues are deluding themselves if they believe they are losing support because they have faced tough decisions. Across Europe, Governments which have faced tough decisions and made decisions in the interests of their respective populations from a fairness and equality point of view - those of Germany, France, Italy and Poland - have done well. The truth is that the Government has lost the confidence of the people not because it faced tough decisions but because it made the wrong choices. If the Taoiseach really believes there is public support for what he is doing, I challenge him now on the floor of the House to spare his colleagues the humiliation of having to walk up those steps against the wishes of the Irish people expressed in their sovereign way through the secrecy and the power of the ballot box. The Taoiseach still has the authority to seek a dissolution of the Dáil and ask the people to give a verdict on the plans that are put before them so that we can have a Government that can lead with authority, decisiveness and fairness and get on with sorting out the problems of the country. If the Taoiseach believes now that he has the confidence of the people, I challenge him to put his programme to the test, dissolve the Dáil, let us have an election, let the people decide who they want and let the best horse jump that fence.
Deputy Kenny will be aware that under the Constitution my mandate is the one I received from this House 12 months ago. It is a great privilege to have it. I will use it, with the authority of that office and those with whom I am in Government, to continue with policies which we believe are, and which are becoming accepted across Europe as being, the policies necessary for this country. The policies are ones that are approved by the European Commission in its job dealing with the euro area currency, our own ESRI and others who confirm that we are heading in the right direction. I know that these policies have imposed hardships on our people. I know there has been uncertainty. Of course we worry about the increasing joblessness. However, we also know that the level of adjustment, which has been significant this year, must continue next year and the year after, and that this Government, and the parties and the people who support this Government in this House, have been prepared to take those decisions.
The Deputy has been continuing with this rather disingenuous argument that I do not have a mandate. I have the very same mandate as the Taoiseach under which he served and that mandate was of the same quality of any other Taoiseach who had the privilege to serve his country from this position. Of course it is a pretty predictable political attempt - rather clumsy, I would have thought, since it seeks to disregard the constitutional proprieties. This House will have the opportunity this week to decide whether the majority has confidence in this Government or not, and that will be the democratic decision of this Assembly. That is the means, under the Constitution, by which we hold or do not hold elections. When we complete our mandate, which we received in 2007 and which we intend to complete in 2012, we will of course go to the people on the issue of the day then, which will be whether to elect this Government or any other.
What was decided upon on Friday last was the election of people to the local authorities and to the European Parliament. I congratulate those who were successful and commiserate with those who were defeated. It was a democratic contest.
What people are fed up of, by the way, in my opinion, is the continuing negativity that Deputy Kenny is portraying.
The Government in which I was honoured to serve under former Taoiseach John Bruton dealt with our economic circumstances in a very different way from Deputy Cowen. That Government handed the economy over to the incoming party in surplus and in good stead, and the Taoiseach has squandered that to a point where there is an unprecedented national debt, where unemployment has doubled in the past 12 months and where, not only in my view but in the people's view, the Taoiseach now has no mandate and no authority to continue in office. Any other Government in Europe would have resigned in disgrace after the extent of defeat inflicted on this Government, not by the Parliament but by the people, on Friday last. The facts speak for themselves. The Taoiseach may well argue about the decision of the people but he cannot argue with the decision of the people.
The Taoiseach stated that he listened to the concerns of the people. I note his comments from last week where he said it is important to sometimes listen to the people and to sometimes put the country first. It is critical at all times, as the Taoiseach should know, to put the people and country first.
In this election campaign, the Taoiseach was shielded from the people.
His handlers conveyed him to his party's supporters at all times. He did not appear on the streets of Ireland. He did not meet the people, as was his wont. The supporters got around and shielded him from the rawness and anger on the streets. He did not meet the people. He did not shake hands with 100 members of the public in the three weeks of the campaign he conducted around the country.
I agree with the Taoiseach on one point, although I rarely agree with him. On 28 May, he stated that the people were mature and had discernment and common sense. I agree with that statement. Last Friday, the people were very discerning. They knew exactly what they were doing when they went behind those screens with their pinn luaidhe. They are a people of common sense and understand that those who got us into this mess are not those to get us out of it.
In their hearts, they know full well that the Taoiseach does not have the team, the Government or the capacity to lead the country forward. From this point of view, if the Taoiseach, as the leader of Fianna Fáil and the leader of the Government alongside the absent leader of the Green Party, believes he has the confidence of the people to go forward and deal with our nation's problems, he should put that confidence to the test. I am sick and tired of listening to Minister after Minister say that, if we had an election now, it would cost money and cause great instability. The greatest cause of instability is the Government's floundering around and incompetence-----
-----going from disaster to disaster. The best way to provide stability and to grapple with our country's problems would be to let the people decide whose programme they like best, whose programme will solve the nation's problems and which party-----
-----will make decisions in the best interests of the people from the points of view of fairness and equality, the party that will not screw them to the wall in the way that Fianna Fáil has done by bankrupting the country. If the Taoiseach has that confidence and that courage to put his plan to the test, he should dissolve the Dáil and let the people give their verdict on who they want to lead them into the future.
I reject the contentions made by the Deputy, obviously.
First, my apologies, as I should have in my opening remarks welcomed and congratulated Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and George Lee on this, their first day in the House. It is an occasion from many years ago I recall for myself. It is a great day for them and their families and I wish them well. I congratulate them on their success and commiserate with those who were defeated, including our own party colleagues, Shay Brennan and Maurice Ahern, in those two elections. I wish the Deputies well. It is a great day for them.
To come back to Deputy Kenny's predictable attacks, the issue is that the courage displayed by the Government has been on the basis of the decisions that we have been prepared to take in the teeth of continuous opposition from him on all of the major issues of the day.
The courage of this Government will continue to be about putting the country first, even if it has had - and it has had - short-term political implications for the level of party support in both the European and local authority elections. The courage of this party, working with our Green Party colleagues and with the support of our Independents, will be about making-----
The courage of the decisions that need to be taken relates to the decisions we are taking. It is amusing that, as Deputy Kenny comes in here every day, week on week, suggesting that the country is gone, banjacksed, never to return from a doom-laden future, the fact is that people with whom we are dealing-----
-----internationally in the European Commission, the European Union and the European Central Bank and at home recognise that the decisions we are taking are macroeconomically the right decisions. They are the way forward.
It is the only means by which one can bring back balance to the public finances and unless we address the position regarding the public finances the prospect of economic recovery is prolonged in this country. We have to get on with that job. We will do it and we intend to do it, with or without the support of Deputy Kenny. He has an opportunity-----
He has an opportunity, in the form of a motion of confidence tabled in the House this week. We will have that debate today and tomorrow and will go proudly through the lobbies to defend and support the Government which is prepared to take decisions while we listen to endless cliches from that side of the House.
I join Deputy Kenny and the Taoiseach in welcoming Deputies George Lee and Maureen O'Sullivan to the House and wish them well for their time here.
Last Friday something happened that I never thought I would see in this country. The number of people out of work exceeded 400,000 for the first time ever. Those people have paid for the Government's mistakes with their jobs. The people who are still at work are paying for the Government's mistakes in the form of levies and additional taxes on their incomes. The pensioners who had to give back their medical cards are paying for the Government's mistakes. Children with special needs in schools who do not have the additional teachers and resources they need are paying for these mistakes.
In that context, it is not surprising that last Friday the people of this country gave the most emphatic rejection of a sitting Government that has ever been given in this State. Since then, we have had a succession of Ministers and, today, the Taoiseach telling us the verdict of the people does not matter and that the Government intends to limp on, run to the bunker and hope to recover for another day.
The Taoiseach said this approach shows that the Government is acting courageously. It is anything but. The Government is displaying its fright and terror of facing the people in a general election. This Government has lost its mandate, its moral authority to govern, the consent of the governed - on which any democratic government depends - and the confidence of the people. How can a Government which has lost the confidence of the people continue in office?
Let us start at the beginning. Does the Taoiseach accept the Government was rejected by the people last Friday? Does he accept that last Friday, the overwhelming majority of people who went out to vote voted against the Government? Will he accept that verdict or will he rely, as appears to be the case, on his claim that a majority of Members of the House will vote with him in a motion of confidence?
I suggest that majority is now redundant, because it is based on a vote cast two years ago which would not be replicated today. The Government does not have the essential support of the people. I do not refer here to temporary popularity, approval ratings or opinion polls, which will always go up and down for any Government. I refer to a pattern which has existed for some months now, has been reflected in opinion polls and was confirmed overwhelmingly last Friday in a real election. The Government does not now have the support, confidence or mandate of the people.
For the Government to continue in office is to defy the will of the people. I repeat the request made by Deputy Kenny, that is, before we debate a motion of confidence on the Government in the House, the Taoiseach should do the decent, honourable and democratic thing, which is to respect the wishes and will of the people. He should announce to this House his intention to resign from Government, go to Áras an Úachtaráin, seek a dissolution of the Dáil and let us have a general election so the people of the country - not the Members of this House who were elected two years ago in entirely different economic and political circumstances - can decide who should be governing this country in the difficult years ahead.
If Deputy's Gilmore's premise was logical we would have had a general election after the local elections in 1985, and likewise in 1991. In every local election, except probably in 1967, the Government of the day did not win and its parties returned with less representation in local authorities. The same is true of the European Parliament elections since 1979 when we began to directly elect European parliamentarians. If Deputy Gilmore's logic was correct, that would not have been the case and we would have had a different Government every two years.
The mandate received by this Government, as with any Government formed after a general election, is for a five-year period. The reason we have a mandate for five years is to enable Governments to get on with taking the necessary decisions that have to be taken. I am prepared to put my political reputation on the line at the end of that mandate in 2012, having had the opportunity to exercise our authority as a Government for the completion of that mandate and to do what is necessary for the country to bring us from an unprecedentedly difficult and swift change of economic fortunes that has come about for many reasons - not one reason - which we can debate in the House today and tomorrow.
We hear, listen and accept unreservedly the decisions of the people last Friday on who would be their representatives in local authorities and the European Parliament. As a democrat I accept that, and I also accept that the mandate of the Government runs until 2012 and that we must get on with the job because the people have seen the electoral contest and the campaigns that have taken place and have heard the political talk, left, right and centre, throughout the country. What we have to do now is get on with the job of government. As long as the Government has a majority in this House to conduct the policies it puts forward and enacts, everyone who is a democrat must accept that is the position, according to the Constitution of this country.
When the mandate runs out in 2012 I will put the case for the Government to the people. We will all put the case for the Government based on its performance over that period. In the meantime, people expect us to get on with the job and that is what we are going to do. We will have a debate in this House on an ongoing basis on the real policy choices or, if a coherent alternative is being put forward, of which there is no sign, we could have a debate on that as well. In the meantime, we will continue to do what we believe to be right by the country.
I accept the election outcome has had political implications for my party and for my colleagues in Government. We accept the verdict of the people on the local authority and European Parliament elections. We will now get on with the business of Government. That is our job and that is what we will do.
Second, those elections were primarily about local issues. I accept the popularity of the Government was a factor in them. The Taoiseach may not be aware, because he was not in touch with people during the course of the recent election campaign, that the elections on Friday were not about local or European issues, they were about the state of the economy and the Government's mismanagement of it. They amounted to a referendum on the Government and the people rejected it.
The Taoiseach asserted that what the people want him to do is to carry on, but that is the last thing they want. The people want rid of him and his Government. That is the message from last Friday. The decision the Taoiseach will have to make, and make shortly, is whether he is going to defy the will of the Irish people and continue in Government-----
There is no question, Deputy Gilmore, of this Government not having a mandate. It is disingenuous for the Opposition to continue to make that case. That decision will be made tomorrow when the representatives of the people will decide whether the Government enjoys the confidence of this House. That is the democratic position, which is of no less quality, in terms of its "democraticness", than anything Deputy Gilmore has to say about what happened last Friday. The Deputy can put whatever interpretation he wishes on the previous election during which time his party enjoyed some success, as did Deputy Kenny's party. Deputy Gilmore has had his day in the sun.
We are now going to get on with the business of doing the job. Our mandate is here in this House. I am confident that mandate will be reaffirmed in the House tomorrow, thus clearing the air in regard to that argument and allowing us to get on with the business of Government. That is the constitutional position in this country.