Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Nomination of Taoiseach (Resumed)
Go n-ainmneoidh Dáil Éireann an Teachta Enda Kenny chun a cheaptha ag an Uachtarán mar Thaoiseach.
That Dáil Éireann nominate Deputy Enda Kenny for appointment by the President to be Taoiseach.
I stand today to nominate An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, to continue in his role as Taoiseach of this country. Since I last stood to nominate An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, he, along with the Fine Gael negotiating team, has initiated discussions with 15 Independents. These discussions have not been undertaken lightly and in total have amounted to more than 50 hours of real, substantive discussions. This demonstrates our seriousness towards the work of forming a government that will work and will last. This process and these discussions will take time but any process that is to last will take time. The resilience and the determination shown by the Taoiseach in attempting to bring together a new partnership government has been admirable. His commitment to sitting down with Independents and our party to work on a process, together with an independent facilitator and an independent rapporteur, to put together a process of real substance has brought about a document of real substance.
The discussions, as one would expect, explored key policy areas such as housing, health, improving the lives of people with disabilities, climate change and providing family-friendly child care and a substantial document has been produced arising from these 50 hours of deliberations and discussions between Independent Deputies and Fine Gael Deputies. This document is simply a draft foundation document at this point in time. However, it points the direction for a solid foundation for further discussions and a solid foundation for a potential government.
No democracy can function without compromise and from the Twenty-sixth Dáil onwards we have seen compromise and coalition become a permanent fixture and reality of Irish governance. This is no bad thing, and the process that we see before us is no bad thing either. What we now need is patience and composure. While I acknowledge the people want a government - we all hear this on daily basis and understand it - there is a need to ensure that any government which is formed can work cohesively in the best interests of the people. This process takes time and resilience.
Unfortunately, there are those who wish to take their seats in here while permanently committing themselves to hugging the Opposition benches tightly and pursuing their so-called ideological perfection instead of the reality of compromise and governance. Good for them. However, the reality is this country needs a government. As Robert F. Kennedy once rightly said, "one fifth of the people are against everything all the time". I think the public can rightly guess which fifth of the people in here that phrase might describe. Let us hope they stay at that level of just one fifth. Parliaments simply cannot afford too many passengers. We need decision-makers and people who are serious about forming a government.
I know that Deputy Enda Kenny is serious about governing and forming a government, which is why I support him today. I stand here today to nominate someone who has shown the resilience, determination and fortitude needed as well as the ability to put country ahead of party and simple ideology. He has worked resolutely towards creating a new government that takes account of the fractured political environment and landscape that all of us Deputies can see before us here today.
Let me be clear. While there is an element of repetition to this process, that is not a bad thing. I would prefer to nominate the right person for Taoiseach twice than even contemplate the wrong person once.
I am confident that An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, has both the experience of government and the commitment to forming a Government which are necessary. I am proud, therefore, to nominate Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.
It is my honour and privilege once again to second the nomination of An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, as Taoiseach of the Thirty-second Dáil. I have worked with the Taoiseach both in opposition and in government over the past eight years and I always found him to be a man of honour, integrity and vision. He never fails to impress with his enduring energy and enthusiasm in everything he does. His work both at home and abroad has displayed great leadership, and he is a respected statesman on the international stage. He has worked tirelessly to restore hope and opportunities for all the citizens of this country. I believe Deputy Enda Kenny's qualities are needed in these challenging times. Over the past number of weeks every effort has been made by the Taoiseach to create a climate for negotiations to form a stable Government and to continue to build on the work already started.
We, the elected Members of this Dáil, have been entrusted by the electorate to govern and each of us has a responsibility to do that. I believe that with Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach of the Government we can achieve the stability that is needed for the next five years. I therefore formally propose the election of Deputy Enda Kenny as the next Taoiseach of this country.
I propose that Dáil Éireann nominate Deputy Micheál Martin for appointment by the President to be Taoiseach. Deputy Martin is very well qualified to undertake the duties of the office of Taoiseach. Fianna Fáil is remaining firm in its commitment to implementing a change of Government by nominating Deputy Martin as Taoiseach.
Deputy Martin's political curriculum vitae, CV, speaks for itself. First elected in 1989 and re-elected in every election since then, he has served as a Minister with responsibility for education, health, enterprise and foreign affairs and has a long established involvement in Northern Ireland affairs. He has represented this country and its Government with distinction on both the national and international stages and is exceptionally well regarded in Irish politics. As Leader of the Opposition over the last five years he consistently opposed Government policies which were unfair and hit the vulnerable hardest. He has campaigned tirelessly for a fairer and more inclusive Ireland, one which values every citizen equally. He has continued with this focus throughout Government formation talks over the last number of weeks and has conducted his work in this regard diligently and responsibly.
Like the majority of Deputies in this Chamber, I campaigned for change. We campaigned for a change in Government. The people gave their verdict on the outgoing Government and its policies, and it is clear that they voted for change. On that basis, we must do the same in this Chamber today - we must vote for change. By voting for Deputy Martin as Taoiseach Members are honouring the commitment to implement change and to take our country on a fairer and more inclusive path.
In conclusion, I and my party colleagues believe Deputy Martin to be a uniquely well-qualified candidate to be Taoiseach and to lead this country towards the realisation of our shared objective, an Ireland for all.
Tá mise sásta seasamh anseo chun tacú le hainmniúchán an Teachta Mícheál Martin mar Thaoiseach inniu. Ar an gcéad lá sa Dáil seo, leag mise agus mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Lisa Chambers, síos na fáthanna gurb é an Teachta Mícheál Martin an rogha is fearr don oifig seo, an oifig bhunreachtúil is tábhachtaí. Táimid anseo arís inniu chun ár rogha a dhéanamh. Ná bíodh aon amhras faoi seo: tá dualgas orainn go léir rogha a dhéanamh. I ndáiríre, tá beirt in ár nDáil gur féidir leo Rialtas a chur le chéile.
Má táimid ag iarraidh an bóthar ceart a thógáil, má táimid ag iarraidh éisteacht le guth an phobail, agus má táimid ag iarraidh an freagra ceart a thabhairt don phobal, measaim féin agus measann Fianna Fáil go gcaithfimid tacú leis an Teachta Mícheál Martin. Tá roinnt daoine ag impí orainn aon saghas Rialtas a chur le chéile. Ní aontaímid leis sin ar chor ar bith. Measaimid go bhfuil dualgas orainn go léir an Rialtas ceart a chur le chéile, leis na polasaithe cearta agus leis an gceannaireacht cheart, ón Teachta Mícheál Martin. Chuir an Teachta Mícheál Martin a phlean faoi bhráid an phobail i rith an olltoghcháin. Táimidne sa pháirtí seo ag cloí leis an bplean sin agus ag lorg tacaíochta chun é a chur i bhfeidhm. Toghadh muid go léir chun cinneadh a dhéanamh. Munar nglacfaimis go léir páirt sa vóta seo, d'fhéadfadh toradh a bheith againn a thugann an freagra mícheart don phobal. Má tá tír níos cothroime ag teastáil ó na Teachtaí go léir, ní mór dúinn vótáil ar son an Teachta Martin.
I would like to nominate Deputy Ruth Coppinger for the position of Taoiseach. The process of Government formation since the general election has become a total farce. Coincidentally, it is now 40 days and 40 nights since the general election that this farce has continued. While Jesus Christ wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, contemplating the sins of humanity and maybe the need to save it, the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties have left this country in a political wilderness. However, they are not contemplating how they can save humanity but rather how they can pursue the drug of power and political office, without any concern for the substantial issues that affect ordinary citizens in this country.
Most shamefully of all, the background to that political wilderness in which the people of this country have been left is one where we have an escalating social emergency in the area of housing and homelessness and in our public health system, a crisis which is inflicting unacceptable and terrible hardship on a vast number of our citizens. I heard the Fine Gael Deputy who nominated Deputy Kenny talking about resilience and how his party had resilience in the process of negotiation. That resilience is nothing like the resilience that is needed by people who are rotting for 17 and 18 years on a housing list or who are in completely unsuitable emergency homeless accommodation with their kids, desperately wondering whether they will ever have a secure and permanent roof over their head, or the resilience that is necessary when a person is queuing up in an ambulance outside Sligo Hospital, unable even to get in the doors of an overcrowded accident and emergency unit.
These are the issues the citizens of our country are concerned about and the things they want this House to address. They want the political charade being played out by the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties to end. I would love to be putting forward a nominee for Taoiseach who had a realistic prospect of being elected as part of the formation of a left Government but, much as I regret it, we simply do not have the numbers. Those who have the numbers should get on with the business of forming a Government so we can begin to address the issues that are affecting our citizens and causing such hardship and suffering for them.
As I said earlier, a particular measure which I am asking the acting Government and the acting Minister for Finance to take on, in order to begin the address the homelessness and housing crisis, is the following: please, as a matter or urgency, instruct NAMA to stop unloading land and property to vulture funds, real estate investment trusts and private equity funds, which only see that land and property as a means to make profit, and demand that NAMA now change its mandate entirely and throw all its energy and resources into using the land and property at its disposal to address the housing and homelessness crisis.
That can and must be done immediately so we can begin to address what is the worst housing and homelessness crisis in the history of the State.
I nominate Deputy Coppinger not because we are interested in personalities, the drug of power or political position, but because we want to use this opportunity to highlight the issues that matter to our citizens and that every single Deputy in this House has a responsibility to address urgently. The two biggest parties, which are in a position to form a Government, should stop messing around and get on with the business that will allow us to address those issues.
The nomination of Deputy Ruth Coppinger marks the first time in the history of this State that a woman has been nominated for the position of Taoiseach. Women continue to be treated as second-class citizens in this State. Of those living in poverty, around 70% are women. Child care provision lags way behind the European norm. Meanwhile, many historic wrongs done to women remain to be righted. Only this week in Northern Ireland a 21-year-old woman was given a criminal record for terminating her pregnancy. The exact same fate can befall her sisters in this State. The last Dáil, to its shame, passed legislation allowing for 14-year jail sentences for women who terminate their pregnancies here. In the United States Donald Trump has said that women should be punished for accessing abortion services in states where abortion has been made illegal, but this already happens here. Is it not punishment that women are forced to go abroad in secrecy and shame to access services that should be legal here? The Thirty-second Dáil should end this dinosaur regime, stop defying public opinion, and act to remove the eighth amendment to the Constitution and legislate for abortion rights. Will there be a need for an active mass campaign to pressure this House to do so? Yes, I believe so. I also believe that the nomination of Deputy Coppinger puts down a marker that these issues will be highlighted in a spirited fashion from these benches in this Dáil.
Nearly six weeks after the election, there is still no new Government. The largest party in this House is wounded, the two main parties of the elite are stalemated and the Dáil is in a state of semi-paralysis. The press warns of the dangers of this situation, including the danger of industrial unrest. Bus drivers, Luas drivers and DART drivers are pressing pay claims. The press warns that nurses, gardaí, teachers and others may follow suit. Let us hope they do so. Working people were nailed to the floor and fleeced, first by Fianna Fáil, then by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, during the crisis years with water charges, the property tax, the universal social charge, pay cuts and pension levies. Now, working people see the recovery being robbed from them.
The Panama papers shine a light on a global capitalist elite maximising incredible wealth at the expense of society, sometimes illegally. In this republic, most of the elite do not need offshore accounts: the policy of successive Governments has already made this a paradise isle for the super wealthy, made richer again by the austerity measures forced upon the population. If hard-pressed working people, trapped by inadequate incomes, haunted by a housing crisis and crippled by austerity charges, can use their industrial muscle to claim their fair share of the recovery while the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil mating dance continues, they will have the full support of Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit.
Meanwhile, it is reported that water charges can become a stumbling block to negotiations. We say to the people that they should place no faith whatever in any of the major parties to voluntarily abolish these charges but they, the people, can force those parties to do so. The weapon they have is the boycott. We are appealing to every household to boycott the next bill and make water such an issue that the parties will have no choice but to abolish the charges. A mass national demonstration called by the anti-water charges movement would also be a real pressure point at this time.
Deputies Kenny and Martin will meet tonight. An arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would produce a government that might make the hairs stand up on the back of the necks of progressive people and those who seek real change in this society. Sooner or later such a government would draw a response from ordinary people in the communities, from those who are tired of water charges and austerity measures, in the workplace, from those who need a pay rise, and in society, from those who want to counter a right-wing alliance with a real left alternative. From all such struggles, a new left will emerge; a new mass party of working people. Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit will be an important part of it. In such a way, the ground can be prepared for a genuine left-wing government. The nomination of Deputy Ruth Coppinger is a declaration of intent on our part to prepare for such an eventuality.
There are three nominees. We now have 30 minutes in which to have further debate, with seven Members offering to speak. Although I am in your hands, I suggest that Members take two or three minutes so we can get everybody in.
I welcome the news that Deputy Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, and Deputy Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, are to meet this evening to discuss forming a government. It is a matter of some wonder that it has taken them so long to face up to the fact that neither can be elected Taoiseach and will not today if one does not support the other. It is also a matter of grave concern that the business of the Dáil has been effectively suspended for 40 days and will be suspended again after this session. We meet here to have a vote that will be absolutely inconclusive. It is a waste of time and a continuation of the shambles of recent weeks. Sinn Féin will play no part in this charade.
Teachta Enda Kenny cannot be elected Taoiseach today; neither can Teachta Martin, Teachta Coppinger nor I. For that reason I did not allow my name to go forward. The other nominees should have done likewise.
There has been a host of worldwide events that will have an impact on our island, including the EU response to the refugee crisis, the impending Brexit referendum, the Panama papers revelations and US decisions in respect of tax inversion, and yet the Dáil is not dealing with them. We should also be discussing the issue of homelessness today. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, Sinn Féin has put forward a motion to appoint an Oireachtas committee, similar to the Dáil reform committee, to discuss this crisis as an urgent matter. We have been denied the right to move that motion and the Taoiseach, thus far, has declined my request to facilitate this necessary initiative. Ms Erica Fleming, a young homeless woman who has been living in emergency accommodation for nearly a year with her nine-year-old daughter, Emily, will give a briefing in committee room No. 4 today at 5 p.m. I encourage all Deputies, including acting Ministers, to attend and listen to her story. We should be dealing with this emergency, which sees 5,000 families made up of citizens like Erica and Emily without a home.
Today, there are 525 citizens languishing on hospital trolleys and we have heard disturbing reports of ambulances unable to place patients in hospital as they queue outside Sligo general hospital. Tomorrow it could be Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda or the accident and emergency departments in Cork, Galway or Beaumont. The worsening health crisis is a serious matter that must be addressed urgently but we have decided not to do that. These are the issues the Dáil could and should be dealing with instead of a vote that will decide nothing.
Let me be clear - Sinn Féin is opposed to Teachta Kenny or Teachta Martin leading a government.
However, it is also clear that they can do so because they have the numbers. There is a similarity in policy between them that should encourage them to do so. It is nonsense to suggest that Civil War politics is a barrier to these parties reaching any sort of agreement.
The Civil War is quickly set aside in local councils where these two parties divvy up positions between themselves to keep Sinn Féin out. They must get used to the fact that this is a different Dáil and those two parties cannot dominate politics here in future as they used to in the past.
What do we do when this vote is over? There is no talk now, post election, about keeping the recovery going, stability versus chaos or the emergency being over. In fact, Fine Gael has admitted that the figures it used during the election campaign were wrong. Deputy Noonan and the former Deputy James Reilly have said as much recently.
Here we are, 40 days on from the general election and the Dáil has sat twice. The blame for this lies squarely with Teachta Martin and the acting Taoiseach, Teachta Kenny, because of their refusal, or inability, to accept the new political dispensation. I urge them both, therefore, to accept the new realities and that they are the only ones fit to form a Government.
For our part, Sinn Féin will seek to provide progressive opposition to the conservative majority that exists. I am firmly of the view that all the rest of us who share this ambition must work together in the time ahead.
We supported the nomination of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach on 10 March to complete the proposal we made to the people in the general election, which was the return of the Labour Party and Fine Gael to government. We also made clear that we would take every subsequent vote on its merits in the best interests of the country.
Specifically ahead of today’s vote, we made clear that we would listen to what the various candidates for Taoiseach had to say in terms of the package they put to the Dáil, the stability of any arrangement being put forward, and the programme for Government proposed. The Dáil is nowhere near being able to make that assessment because the parties with the two largest mandates following the election, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have yet to speak to each other. Although we all attended the 1916 commemorations together, it is still like the Civil War is not yet over. It is over, however.
The Labour Party considers that it would be premature to vote for a candidate today. We will therefore abstain on the nomination of Deputy Enda Kenny, and oppose the nomination of Deputy Micheál Martin and others. I will give a brief summary as to the reasons. It is fair to say that Fine Gael has made a much more concerted effort at forming a Government than Fianna Fáil. I welcome the fact that at least Fine Gael is taking its responsibilities seriously because the country cannot afford this impasse.
New figures show consumer sentiment has weakened, meaning people are becoming fearful about the ongoing political uncertainty. That is not without consequences, as practically every business in this country can testify. There is a range of immediate policy issues which demand urgent action, including housing, health and child care to name just three.
In addition, the vote on Brexit, with all its potential consequences for this country, looms large on all our agendas. The foundation document, which Fine Gael has circulated following its negotiations with Independents, has some welcome commitments but, in my view, is not progressive enough. I could not help but notice and welcome that its core theme, "a strong economy for a decent society”, is borrowed wholesale from the Labour Party manifesto.
I also welcome the commitment, though vague, to the removal of the PAYE tax credit for very high earners and other measures to ensure the tax system remains fair and progressive. The Labour Party put forward precisely such a detailed plan in the election, built around the principles of ensuring more take-home pay for low-income workers while ensuring high-income earners continued to pay their fair share. In the context of the revelations from Panama about tax avoidance, tax evasion and what seems to be downright wholesale corruption, the issues of tax justice are even more important than ever.
None the less, while there are some welcome commitments in the foundation document, it does not go far enough on other issues such as the living wage, housing, health care, class sizes and important social issues such as the Eighth Amendment.
Hence, we are not in a position to support Deputy Enda Kenny’s nomination today as Taoiseach, but we acknowledge that Fine Gael has put forward a basis for progress. Fianna Fáil, in my view, has prevaricated while its members try to figure out what is best for themselves. That is why we will oppose the nomination of Deputy Micheál Martin today. His party has presented nothing of substance for consideration, apart from a promise of legislation on Irish Water. In doing so, they have brought us back to the days of old Fianna Fáil.
Irresponsible game playing on Irish Water is the closest thing I have seen to an act of national vandalism since old Fianna Fáil abolished rates in the late 1970s without developing any alternative model.
We know how that set the country back both economically and in terms of developing the infrastructure Ireland needed. I am sorry to say, however, that now Fianna Fáil is at it again. Fianna Fáil should be sitting down with Fine Gael to see if a responsible, rather than a reckless, set of policy agreements can form the basis for a Government.
In 2011, the Labour Party did not hesitate when our country was at risk. We entered coalition in the full knowledge of how difficult things would be, because Ireland was in a perilous state and stable Government was essential. Five years later, Fianna Fáil members are serving their own best interests rather than the people’s best interests.
The next time the Dáil votes, it should be for the election of a Taoiseach. Many of the contributions today have been about play-acting and shadow-boxing. However, we do, and will eventually, need a Government that can govern on behalf of all the people of this country.
As this is my first opportunity to speak in the Dáil since the general election, I would like to thank all those who voted for me in Waterford. It is a privilege and an honour to have their support and to represent them in this House. Contrary to what one previous speaker said, as a woman I do not class myself as a second-class citizen. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on his election.
I support the nomination of my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, for the position of Taoiseach. Deputy Martin is deeply committed to public service, and a Government led by him would deliver key reforms to build a fairer and more equal society.
Our country has endured turbulent years. Our economy is still recovering and many communities have not yet seen the benefits of increased jobs and opportunities. Our health service is one area that needs serious reform and attention. Cardiac care services are still time-sensitive in Waterford. Cardiac coverage at University Hospital Waterford is limited to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. We cannot put time restrictions on the emergency heart issues that people in Waterford might have. I do not believe that we are best serving people by telling them they face being put in an ambulance to Cork or Dublin if their emergency falls outside these times. In short, it is time for 24-7 cardiac cover in Waterford. It was a firm commitment of mine to the people of Waterford and it will be delivered by Fianna Fáil.
Deputy Micheál Martin is a person committed to reforming our health service. Those in this House who served in the previous Dáil will be familiar with the focus Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin and our health spokesperson, Deputy Billy Kelleher, brought to health issues. We need to ensure safety and dignity for patients in our hospitals and to deliver real change for our nurses and doctors working on the front line taking on impossible challenges in often intolerable conditions. Our health demographics and budget pressures represent serious challenges to the country. Deputy Micheál Martin as Taoiseach will lead a Government committed to meeting these challenges, and I support his nomination today by my colleagues.
I congratulate Deputy Mary Butler on her maiden address. I point out to Members that it is a long-standing and honourable tradition not to interrupt a Member making their maiden contribution. I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.
It is interesting that some of these people have been looking for my vote all week and they will be looking for it tomorrow as well. I thank the people of Tipperary for giving me a mandate. I, along with my five rural colleagues, Deputies Michael and Danny Healy-Rae and other Independents, are interested in forming a Government in response to the electorate who gave us a mandate to come in here. I am very disappointed because while we have been discussing, debating and teasing out all the issues, including policy documents, disagreeing, agreeing and doing our best with Fine Gael, Government officials and indeed Fianna Fáil, others chose to sit on the fence. I do not know why they went out in all weathers asking for votes and for people to elect when they sit on their hands.
It is very important that we form a stable Government because we are running out of time. It has been said here that 40 days and 40 nights have elapsed since the election. Of course, they have. The banks are still enforcing repossessions and people are homeless. There are 35 people on trolleys in a hospital in Clonmel today and the emergency department has nearly closed because it cannot cope. There is a significant crisis in many areas and the electorate is waiting anxiously and becoming tired. We listened to a lecture from the Tánaiste. I ask her, her ministerial colleagues and other Ministers, some of whom were not re-elected, to hand back their wages and take the normal salary of a Deputy and not to lecture us on what we should do and rehash the general election. I ask people to be responsible and, in respect of the vote they got from the people, to act positively to try to form a stable Government. To that end, I will continue my efforts for another week and no more. I will abstain today on the vote for An Taoiseach.
There needs to be an acknowledgement by all constructive Deputies in this House that the election gave no political party a mandate to govern but instead the electorate decided that we all need to work together. My four colleagues - Deputies Michael Collins, Noel Grealish, Michael Harty and Mattie McGrath - and I have accepted that responsibility. Over the past two weeks, we have presented the two main parties, Independents and smaller parties with a number of working papers to try to overcome the current political stalemate.
I am hugely disappointed that some Members of Dáil Éireann have turned their backs on the responsibility and the mandate that has been given to them by the people who elected them. We need a five-year Government, not one that will last five weeks or five months. We need to work towards that, which is why at a very early stage in this process, we as five Independents set out a proposal for a political partnership agreement which would have representatives of all the constructive Deputies in Dáil Éireann sitting around the one table to agree a clear work programme, a list of priorities for a new Government and a format for building consensus in Dáil Éireann around these priority issues.
Over the past two weeks, we have reiterated that the two big parties must sit down with each other to facilitate the development of a political partnership agreement. We welcome the fact that due to our intervention, the parties have now acceded to our request and these talks are to commence later today. However, we cannot ignore the fact that we are extremely frustrated by the failure of the two main players over the past 40 days to sit down together and ensure that whatever Government is formed has an effective working majority on the floor of Dáil Éireann to implement an agreed work programme.
From our perspective, in abstaining from the vote today, we are affording the leaders of both parties the last opportunity to do the right thing and we expect to see real and meaningful progress over the next week. This is very much a last chance. It is time for them to stand up and do the job they were elected to do - to put the people and the country before party politics. Those two parties have a responsibility to show leadership and to show that they can provide this country with a Government that can carry out work and deliver for the people of this State.
I add my voice to those in support of the nomination of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach of the Thirty-second Dáil and leader of this country. I believe he is the man for the job. I have known him for more than 20 years and I believe his personal characteristics and qualities, which he has shown as leader of Fine Gael and the Thirty-first Dáil, are still to the fore. I believe the work he has done with the Labour Party, where they worked together in a collaborative and inclusive fashion, will be brought to the fore in any future negotiations as part of the next Government. It is with great pleasure that I add my voice to those of Deputies Noel Rock and Catherine Byrne in supporting his nomination. I believe Deputy Kenny is a democrat to his core and will abide by the rules of this Chamber and the rules laid down for the governance of this country.
It amuses me to listen to people in Sinn Féin, the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit and all the others who have declined to become engaged with this. There is an expression for them in Offaly and north Tipperary. They are called "the hurlers on the ditch". They are experts on every game but they have not pucked a ball in their lives nor do they want to. Deputy Enda Kenny is prepared to be Taoiseach of this country and is actively attempting to negotiate with people to bring this about. I believe he is the right person for the job. I know there are people who are impatient with the process. There are large numbers of people who are still discussing and taking this seriously and they need time. Forming a Government is a very serious business. When that Government is formed, we will be in a position to deal with all the matters that are outstanding, the very important issues of which we are all aware. However, we will not be able to do this unless we have a good solid Government led by Deputy Enda Kenny.
As I said earlier, there is a crisis at South Tipperary General Hospital as we speak. Trolley figures have increased by over 100% and figures released show that the March 2016 figure is 552, up 319 on the figure for March 2015. Hospital attendance has also increased substantially and occupancy of medical beds is running at 150%. When we last voted for Taoiseach here on 10 March 2016, there were 44 patients on trolleys in South Tipperary General Hospital. This was the highest number in the country. Those numbers have been consistently high since. Today's figure is 38. Patients in these circumstances have no dignity or privacy and have limited access to washing and bathroom facilities. Over the terms of the previous two Governments, the hospital has been starved of resources and approximately 25% or roughly €15 million of its budget has been reduced.
We need additional beds and staff urgently. The chaos in our emergency departments and the lack of beds generally in hospitals are causing several hundred unnecessary deaths each year according to eminent hospital consultants. This has everything to do with today’s debate and the vote for Taoiseach because the last two Governments, the Fianna Fáil-Green Government and the current Fine Gael-Labour Party Government agreed to pay €7 billion in debt interest repayments every year to the EU institutions and banks. The Taoiseach told us two and a half years ago that there would be a game change on this debt. I wonder if he even raised the issue at the most recent EU Council meeting because that never happened.
The fiscal treaty, which followed the Lisbon treaty, has created a new colonialism within Europe. That treaty flies in the face of the 1916 Proclamation. It is not a sovereignty-sharing treaty. It effectively sets aside Irish sovereignty and hands it over to the big EU powers. It must be renegotiated.
Little Ireland has shouldered 47% of the cost of the EU bank bailouts. Ireland should demand a debt conference and seek support from other indebted countries for that. The fiscal treaty requirement for Ireland is essentially a continuation of austerity over the next 20 years. Water charges are part of the fiscal treaty and are heaping repayments on ordinary citizens.
I will conclude by saying over the past two Governments there has been huge and gross inequality. Recent CSO figures show that the 20% wealthiest people in this country own 73% of the wealth, while the bottom 20% own 0.2% of the wealth. The Government must renegotiate the fiscal treaty and tackle the inequality in our society. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael support the fiscal treaty, austerity and inequality and I will oppose both their nominees. I will support Deputy Coppinger on the basis that she is opposed to the fiscal treaty and to domestic water charges. Finally, will the Taoiseach instruct the Minister for Social Protection to tell her Department to stop pressurising social welfare recipients, forcing them to get their payments through banks? It is undermining the local post offices in every part of this country.
Since our last session here in the Chamber, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and I have worked tirelessly, together with up to 15 of the other Independent Deputies and the two Members of the Green Party, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over many hours. We have made little progress. We did as well as we could and worked as hard as we could. I am glad that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are officially going to talk to each other this evening, even though I am reliably informed that high level talks have been going on for ten or 12 days gone by.
I am sure Deputy Martin knows well because my rumour is very well substantiated. It is very urgent that we get to grips with the matter and that they talk to each other because they have the numbers and we Independents do not. We have done our best and we will continue to do our best to make ourselves available to all sides. There are other Members here who have chosen not to talk to anybody. I am disappointed about that because they were elected by their people to come here and represent them as well.
A lot of time has elapsed and there are many serious issues that I wish to raise in this Chamber. I wish to hold the Minister for Health and Ministers for all sectors to account. I know a man in east Kerry who is totally blind. His home help has been cut down to five days. He does not have home help on bank holidays or Christmas Day. He is putting his clothes on inside out and upside down. He is spilling hot water on himself. We need to get that issue addressed because if people need home help for five days they need it for seven days. If old people are confined to wheelchairs and need help to get out of bed they will not be well enough at the weekend to go dancing or to go to rambling houses or whatever. They do need attention.
Our talks were not helped by the antics of senior Ministers saying they had posters neatly stacked and were ready to go. Our posters may not be neatly stacked but we will find them and we are as well able to go as the Ministers if they are putting us under that kind of threat. Nobody wants another election. The people know it will cost €40 million to hold another one. I am appealing to the parties to have meaningful talks and get together. They should not waste the hours or cut the day short. There are 24 hours in every day. They should make as much use as they can of them.
I am afraid the Deputy does not have that entitlement. It is not possible. The order has been arranged and we are going to proceed as per the order. In accordance with the order-----
Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Jim Daly, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Seán Kyne, Michael Lowry, Helen McEntee, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar.
Gerry Adams, Bobby Aylward, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, Tommy Broughan, James Browne, Pat Buckley, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Joan Collins, Niall Collins, Catherine Connolly, Ruth Coppinger, Barry Cowen, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, John Curran, Clare Daly, Pearse Doherty, Timmy Dooley, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Seán Fleming, Kathleen Funchion, Pat Gallagher, Seán Haughey, Séamus Healy, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Billy Kelleher, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Charlie McConalogue, Mary Lou McDonald, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, Denise Mitchell, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Imelda Munster, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eugene Murphy, Paul Murphy, Carol Nolan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Darragh O'Brien, Jonathan O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Willie O'Dea, Kevin O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Loughlin, Louise O'Reilly, Frank O'Rourke, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Anne Rabbitte, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Bríd Smith, Niamh Smyth, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Robert Troy, Mick Wallace.
Bobby Aylward, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, James Browne, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Barry Cowen, John Curran, Timmy Dooley, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Seán Haughey, Billy Kelleher, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Micheál Martin, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eugene Murphy, Éamon Ó Cuív, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Willie O'Dea, Kevin O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Loughlin, Frank O'Rourke, Anne Rabbitte, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy.
Gerry Adams, Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Pat Buckley, Peter Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Ruth Coppinger, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Clare Daly, Jim Daly, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Pearse Doherty, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Dessie Ellis, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Martin Ferris, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Kathleen Funchion, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Séamus Healy, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Alan Kelly, Enda Kenny, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Seán Kyne, Josepha Madigan, Mary Lou McDonald, Helen McEntee, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Paul Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Carol Nolan, Michael Noonan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Jonathan O'Brien, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Paul Phelan, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Brendan Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, David Stanton, Peadar Tóibín, Leo Varadkar, Mick Wallace.
Bobby Aylward, Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Joan Burton, Mary Butler, Catherine Byrne, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, John Curran, Jim Daly, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Timmy Dooley, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Billy Kelleher, Alan Kelly, Enda Kenny, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Eugene Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Kate O'Connell, Willie O'Dea, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Loughlin, Frank O'Rourke, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Scanlon, Seán Sherlock, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.
We now move on to statements by the three Deputies who were nominated. I will call on them to address the House for five minutes, after which, in accordance with the Order of the House, we will proceed to ask the spokespersons from the other parties and groups. The Taoiseach has the floor.
The Dáil has failed to agree on the nomination of a Taoiseach. As I informed the House on 10 March last and in accordance with the Constitution, the Government and I will continue to carry out our duties and will do so until a new Government has been appointed.
I might note that since the last sitting of the House, many of the important events to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916 have taken place. I hope I can speak for everyone in the House when I state these events have been a great success and the promised inclusive, comprehensive and respectful approach clearly has been evident throughout all of the centenary commemorative occasions. If I may, I will take this opportunity to thank all those who were involved in planning and organising the centenary programme, including the Ireland 2016 team, consisting of public servants from a range of Departments and Government agencies, the Defence Forces personnel, the gardaí and those from the other emergency services, as well as all the civilians who gave of their time voluntarily to make this an outstanding success and will do so for the rest of the year. I also thank the many hundreds of thousands of people who have turned out to take part in the events to date and to pay tribute to the men and women who took the first steps towards Irish freedom 100 years ago this month. I make the point that a great deal of understanding and respect for the national flag has been engendered by the presentation by Defence Forces personnel of a Tricolour to each of the 3,200 schools nationwide.
At the last sitting of the House on 22 March, I undertook to work towards establishing a stable and lasting Government. I invited those parties, alliances and Independent Deputies who were willing to accept the responsibility and mandate they received from the electorate and to work towards that objective to enter into structured discussions with the Fine Gael Party. Initially, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin of the Green Party and 15 Independent Deputies agreed to take part in that process, which began on Thursday, 24 March. Subsequently, the Green Party decided to withdraw from the meetings, and explained the reasons for so doing, but the 15 Independent Deputies from small parties and alliances have remained engaged throughout. This process has involved more than 50 hours of constructive and worthwhile discussion. I thank all those who participated, who approached these discussions with great commitment and energy and demonstrated their willingness to accept responsibility in moving the country forward. As for many of the positive ideas and proposals that have been put forward during the process, the first draft of a foundation document has been put in place. Separately, I have agreed to invite Deputy Micheál Martin to have a conversation this evening - and I expect Deputy Martin will oblige in that regard - as to how we might have an initial discussion on how to put in place a stable, effective and lasting Government.
Nearly six weeks have passed since the general election and I note that I deliberately took the view that, in the case of those Independent Deputies who stated they had accepted their responsibility to move the country forward, it was important to identify their priorities, concerns and anxieties. I make no apology for having spent considerable time in engaging with, talking to and listening to them and in putting together what we consider are the main issues that are of importance to them. Everyone is aware that we face a range of important challenges, not just here at home, including housing and homelessness, disability and mental health, health issues, education, justice and so on. Everyone understands this and, in many ways, I have learned the importance of areas within these issues that are highly sensitive. In addition, however, we also face external issues such as the possibility of a Brexit, migration, international currency fluctuations, events in the Middle East and Far Eastern countries and so on. These are all important challenges facing the country, and I make the point to Deputy Micheál Martin, whom I have known for many years, that I wish to be as flexible and generous when negotiating as is possible in this regard.
It is not simply about numbers; it is also about stability and building a relationship of trust. This is a centenary year, which obviously is an important symbolic year, and in the quite complex decision that the people have given, it is right and proper that the cards they have dealt and the spectrum of responsibility and politics for which they have voted be reflected in genuine attempts to put together a Government that will set about dealing with the many challenges we now face. This is the reason it is incumbent upon all Members present, who have the privilege of being elected to serve in the Thirty-second Dáil, to understand this responsibility, and I will work diligently on behalf of my party in that regard to ensure this happens.
Consequently, as Taoiseach and as leader of the largest party in the House, I remain fully committed to working to ensure the people get a Government that will work diligently and hard on their behalf and that will last the term. They did give a very different answer in their votes. It is our responsibility to deliver an answer to that by putting together a Government, and for that reason, the House will adjourn this evening until 14 April. Moreover, for my part, I pledge that if I can reach an understanding with Deputy Micheál Martin in respect of a process, a structure and a strategy by which this might be followed through, it can be followed through, and the next week should have an important element of that. While I cannot state at present that this will result in a conclusion, with a Government at the end of a week or ten days, for my part and that of my party, we will work diligently in this regard.
I hope the discussions I hope to initiate this evening with Deputy Martin will lead us very much in that direction and to a conclusion.
I pay tribute to all those involved in organising the 1916 centenary celebrations, in particular the celebrations over the Easter weekend. The presentation of the various aspects of the celebrations was splendid. I pay particular tribute to RTE on its coverage of the centenary concert. The presentation was stunning and reflected well on the nation and our maturity and capacity to tolerate diverse views on the Rising. It did it with some style. I also pay tribute to our armed forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, for the role they played in the Easter parade.
Following the votes, I will now outline Fianna Fáil’s approach to both the formation of a government and the fundamental challenge of reforming our politics. One of the greatest failings of Irish politics is that the need for change gets quickly diverted and we end up carrying on as before. This must not be allowed to happen again. The deep loss of trust in the ability of our politics to deliver progress on the issues of most concern to people will not be reversed by slogans and partisan posturing. We can achieve nothing if all we do is change the form rather than the substance of how our Government and Parliament works. Given the scale of public disillusionment and the mounting crises facing our country, the worst thing we could do would be to keep repeating the practice of the past where the sole focus is on a rapid change of Government members with everything else carrying on regardless. The priority has been power rather than policy.
From the first day of the count, when the scale of the rejection of the outgoing Government became clear, our position has been entirely consistent. It is also the same position we outlined before the election and which formed the basis of a mandate we won with the support of more than 500,000 people. Our core position remains consistent with our promise. We want a change of Government, a change of priorities and a change in how politics is carried out. Irrespective of the ongoing clamour of self-appointed spokespeople on behalf of the national interest, we insist on our right and obligation to work to implement our commitments to the people.
Since the election, we have sought and carried out discussions with a range of Deputies elected as Independents and as members of smaller parties. At the very start of these discussions, we tabled a detailed proposal for the policies which we believe should shape the next Government. Within this, and to avoid the vague generalities too often found in these documents, we identified specific actions which could be taken within six months and twelve months. Our priorities are focused on six specific areas for action. These include making the recovery fairer and ensuring that secure, well-paid jobs are created in all communities as well as urgent action on the housing emergency across all sectors, from home ownership and social housing to private rental. Our proposal for a Minister for housing has now gained broad acceptance across the House, as has our proposal on appointing a Minister for rural affairs. We have been the one party which consistently looked for a Minister for rural affairs. We had one in previous Governments but the outgoing Government got rid of the Ministry. We have consistently pushed for it in our manifesto and it is now gaining widespread acceptance.
Policy is beginning to triumph over the naked pursuit of power for its own sake. The six specific areas for action also include introducing a progressive approach to cutting costs for families and aid for communities under pressure, including a guarantee of key services and strengthening of community policing. While this includes substantial action for rural communities, it also addresses the urgent needs of urban communities, especially those facing a growing drugs menace and an undermining of basic supports. The six areas include support for reforming and investing in essential public services and a genuine reform of both Government and politics and how, for example, in terms of justice, we should transparently appoint judges.
We have come forward with very concrete proposals, in particular in our discussions with the Independents, who have generally responded positively to the content and substance of what we have put forward. I refer that to the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, who, unfortunately, in her presentation reverted to hostility and an aggressive rehearsing of perhaps a traditional animosity between her and the Fianna Fáil Party. I do not think that did her or the situation we are in any justice today.
We welcome the constructive discussions we have had and acknowledge the assistance provided by departmental officials. As our proposals were independently reviewed and costed, we have not had to revise their costings. However, we must put on the record our concern that important fiscal information was not reflected in data published by the outgoing Government before the election.
The underfunded budgets were not acknowledged by Ministers before the election. This is a matter which should be taken up by a reformed budget oversight committee when it is established through the Dáil reform process. This applies in particular to the Department of Health. We were informed by officials that the underlying overrun by the end of February was already €60 million. We pointed this out before the election and we were not told the truth about it during the election campaign. There is also the wider issue of the fiscal treaty and its implications for how that is going to be dealt with in 2016. If any one thing is coming across as being of great seriousness, it is the crisis that is facing the health situation over the next 12 months - not over the next two years but over the next 12 months - in terms of the adequacy of funding that is being made available and earmarked for it.
Our approach to the negotiations has been to demonstrate our good faith. There has been no constant briefing, leaks or spin. There have been no manoeuvrings or attempts to deny the right of others to act in accordance with their mandates. The negotiations have been constructive but not conclusive so far. However, I believe we are close to a position where Deputies will be in a position to state what government option they will assist and support.
The primary focus is on the option of what would be a minority Government. It is important to address some of the comments which have been made about how a minority Government might work. The past approach to government formation in Ireland is by no stretch the dominant model in successful democracies. In fact, the insistence that we hear from some that government can only be successful if it is assured that it can win every vote and get its way on every issue is nonsense. The casual and repetitive demand of commentators, many of whom completely failed to understand the mood of the public before the election campaign, that the only good government is a majority government simply does not stand up to scrutiny. We have just had five years of a Government which had the strongest majority in our history and only became unstable when it came to arguing over delaying the election by a few months.
Independent studies show that up to a third of governments in Europe since 1945 have had minority support in parliament. They have also shown that these governments have shown more respect for consultation in policy formation, worked with real parliamentary oversight of all stages of the budget process and can encourage more fiscally responsible policies than many majority governments. Some countries with the highest standards of governance in the world regularly have minority governments which were enabled to be formed by opposition parties. The key to this is that their parliaments assume a more professional and accountable role.
Everything does not rise or fall on whether there is an all-powerful Executive. It is my intention to avoid the type of partisan comments which defined many of the contributions when we last discussed this matter.
No purpose is served by aggressive point-scoring. What does have to be said is that we now have the position where some are busy lecturing others about what they are and are not entitled to seek to do with their mandate. We have the bizarre situation where some parties are demanding that others form a Government in order that they can get on with denouncing it.
The process being followed at the moment by parties who want to lead Government is new for Ireland but common internationally. After today, it will move forward. Our parliamentary party will meet to discuss the issue tomorrow. It is our intention to continue the ongoing discussions which are under way. It is important to say that one of the things which was rejected by the people in the election is an approach to politics driven by constant hype and spin. The never-ending stream of unattributed comments designed to influence perception rather than fairly reflect reality has only served to damage the public perception of politics.
There can be no trust or real change if this approach to politics continues. With regard to meeting, I have no difficulty at all meeting with the Taoiseach, but I should not have to read at 7 a.m. that apparently I am meeting him at 7 p.m. when, of course, there has been no contact. We can do without that type of endless spinning and manoeuvring.
I am not. This is a very constructive point, and it is important for the conduct of discussions into the future. The Taoiseach must stop the briefings and the manipulation of opinions if there is to be any reasonable prospect of moving things forward. As a bottom line, parity of esteem and respect is important for everybody in the House. That means that if people are saying to Fianna Fáil that they expect the party to support a minority Government if a majority of Independents will support Fine Gael, the same applies to the Fine Gael Party. The Fine Gael Party should equally be in a position to say that whoever emerges in a majority position to lead a Government should also be in a position to enjoy that support.
I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your indulgence on an important occasion such as this. We are working to implement the mandate we received. We seek to rebuild trust based on a new Government, new parties and reformed politics. It is not just a challenge for us, but a challenge for every Member of this House.
Before Deputy Coppinger begins, I have given extra time beyond the five minutes allowed to both the Taoiseach and Deputy Martin. Obviously, the same facility is now available to you, Deputy Coppinger.
I thank the Independents who supported the nomination of the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit. I will explain the context of taking part in the debate on the nominations.
The two nominees we have heard from already should be reminded that it is clear from the election that people voted for change. The only two nominees put forward today, apart from our nomination, are from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and do not represent change. They represent more of the same and have dominated political life in Ireland for decades. While I commend Deputy Martin on doing his best to convince us that there is a huge difference, it is Mouseland politics. In reality, they are identical twins.
It is amazing that key issues have not been mentioned by either of the nominees. Apparently, it is unimportant and not worth mentioning that this week the Panama papers revealed a massive concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny elite globally. The papers also implicated Ireland in participating in creating tax havens for key companies around the world. The 1% are hoarding and hiding their wealth from governments and avoiding tax while in the so-called Third World people are starving and looking for water and in the developed world workers have had their incomes slashed and public services decimated in the past seven years to bail out this elite. Both of the candidates support this system. They have nothing to say in criticism of it. They think that this type of inequality is absolutely fine. In fact, they base their economic policy on encouraging low corporation tax rates and opposing some of these companies even paying back taxes to this country, such as Apple which owes €19 billion. These are key issues for the electorate who made a decision to elect a Government. The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit believes that we must take this wealth and use it to invest in housing, health and education.
Amazingly as well, neither nominee mentioned the water charges. They talk about them on the radio, but they have not explained their position today. Are they going to get rid of the water charges or suspend them? The two parties are doing their best to minimise this issue and bat it out of the way. The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit encourages people to maintain and accelerate the boycott of those charges. Clearly, we cannot rely on those two parties, and particularly Fianna Fáil based on its neglecting to mention the issue, to get rid of them. We will have to refuse to pay to put the parties under pressure to abolish them.
This is the first time a woman has been nominated for the position of Taoiseach in the almost 100 years of the Dáil's existence. That says a hell of a lot about the position of women in Irish public life over the last century. The Fianna Fáil Deputy mentioned that she is not a second class citizen. She is not, but in 31 Dáils no woman was ever nominated for Taoiseach and in the last Dáil there were no women Members of her party in the House, despite the party having 20 Members. Our point is that women have been sidelined in Ireland. In fact, key issues relating to women should be addressed. Quite rightly, 1916 has been mentioned. The women who fought in 1916 were quickly brushed out of the picture and erased from history. They were told to go back into the kitchens and stay out of public life. That is the reality. The political ancestors of the two other nominees did that, and it should be mentioned. Subsequently, they allowed the Catholic Church to dictate a huge part of people's lives by giving it a special place in education and health and huge control over people's lives. People rejected that type of society in the marriage equality referendum and have made their position clear. They want social progress and equality. A separation of church and State is inevitable, but I am not confident it will be done by either of the two parties that nominated Members for Taoiseach today.
Amnesty International staged a protest outside both the Dáil and the Taoiseach's office today, which it will continue for 12 days, on the ongoing scandal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution, which was introduced by the political ancestors of the two parties and maintained for 33 years. That shame can no longer continue. A total of 80% of people favour a referendum and repeal of the eighth amendment. Again, the nominees did not bother to mention it, but what about their negotiations and discussions? We do not want a commission to examine it. People want a referendum and there is a democratic right to have one and for those parties not to suppress it as an issue any longer. We will shortly discuss Dáil reform. It should not be the privilege of a Government to prevent the general populace having a referendum on a key issue of civil liberties, which it clearly wants.
Finally, I wish to mention housing. Many Deputies have left the Chamber to hear Erica Fleming speak about her situation. I commend Erica on campaigning for months in a very difficult situation. I took part with Erica in an occupation of a house to highlight the ongoing housing crisis. It is scandalous that she is still in the current situation. There must be an end to the privatising of housing. Taking that issue into public control is the only way to end the housing crisis.
With regard to the talks process, I do not welcome a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael coalition or partnership, unlike what Deputy Martin said. However, if the two traditional parties and the so-called Independents, who have been having chats for the last while and who are not really independent because obviously they are willing to horse trade with the two traditional parties and prop them up if necessary-----
If the two parties think they can continue to rule in the old way, they can forget it. We have seen the Luas workers and the reaction from nurses and teachers to having a two-tier system which was foisted on them by these two parties.
The Tesco workers will not accept having to suffer low pay and a continuation of austerity.and rule by the rich against the interests of working people, so be warned about those things.
The second vote by this House addressing the issue of Government formation has now concluded. As has been said by many speakers, 40 days have elapsed since the people cast their ballots and gave us this new Dáil and each of us our mandates. It is a very diverse result and, in the formation of Government, we need to respect that diversity, in particular in terms of the kind of parliamentary reform that is on the table at present. The change in our procedures will make it much easier to respect the kind of diversity we have seen in the result.
I believe the people rightly expect us to make progress because so many pressing issues are facing our country, many of which have been mentioned here today. We face external risks and we need to deal with many serious domestic challenges and address the social problems that have been identified by all of us. We all share a wish to deal with those and nobody has exclusivity in wanting to deal with social problems. We are all committed to dealing with the health issues and the housing crisis. There is no one person in this Dáil who has greater moral authority than the other in terms of our motivation to deal with the issues of concern to the public.
What I would say about Fine Gael is that we will work with others in the national interest - we should be talking about the national interest - in order to move beyond the current impasse and to get on with the job of providing the country with both a stable and a good Government. As the Taoiseach and Deputy Martin mentioned earlier, we have been very successful in recent days and weeks in commemorating in a very inclusive way the events of 1916. I believe the people have been moved by the very inclusive, respectful, dignified approach that has been taken to those commemorations. We should take that spirit of inclusivity and respect it in the process of Government formation.
We should try to avoid posturing. Deputy Martin talked about how the public view politics now, and political posturing does not help. We really have to put the country first. I do not think we should be bound by either tribal mindsets or by historical tradition. As everybody keeps saying, we are in a new situation so let us work together to fulfil the ambitions of this country and to address the challenges of those we represent, in particular the challenges people see in their own lives, within their families and in their communities.
That has been and remains the driving force behind the efforts that the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, has been making in recent weeks. Obviously, that has been reflected in the work we have done with the 15 Independent Deputies. We have been trying to work hard to look at the solutions to all of those pressing problems, whether in regard to housing, homelessness, disability, mental health issues or any of the other areas that need addressing.
I hope everybody will approach this process in a very bona fide way in terms of really trying to bring about a stable Government. I believe the people would welcome the kind of language that has been used by some here today, if not by everyone, in talking about putting the interests of the country first, rather than party interest. That is the challenge in the next few days, and I think it should be days rather than weeks. People want to see a stable Government shortly and they do not want this process dragged out for weeks on end. I believe that, with the right commitment, we can put a stable Government in place and that stable Government can then begin to work even more effectively with the Dáil than has been the case in the recent past.
Is í seo mo chéad óráid sa Teach. Caithfidh mé a rá i dtús gur mór an onóir agus an phribhléid é dom bheith anseo ar son na ndaoine i gCuan Bhaile Átha Cliath Theas. Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé i mo Theachta Dála dícheallach agus fíor-éifeachtach i rith na mblianta - nó b'fhéidir na seachtainí - seo chugainn.
This is the first time I have had the opportunity to address this House, even though I have already voted seven times on the election of a Taoiseach, which may be a record in itself. I think I have voted the same number of times on the election of a Taoiseach as I have voted in general elections.
For the past three weeks, I have been a member of the Fianna Fáil negotiating team, which has been a great honour. I want in the first instance to commend the Independent Deputies with whom we have been negotiating during the past three weeks for the purpose of trying to put a Government together. Those Independents have approached those talks with great diligence and great seriousness, and I know they have a desire to ensure this country is provided with the Government it so requires.
One of the issues with which I have been dealing with the Independents is the whole area of justice, and I am very pleased the Minister for Justice and Equality is present in the House. There are many issues in respect of justice that need to be reformed in this country. Some of them have been mentioned in the draft discussion document put forward by Fine Gael but I believe they have not been put forward sufficiently. I want to identify three of those issues, the first of which is in respect of judicial appointments. We need to depoliticise the appointment of judges so we get the best people occupying those very important positions in our superior courts as well as in the courts of local and limited jurisdiction. Another area of justice that needs reform is in respect of the Parole Board, which has been in existence for many years but which needs to be put on a statutory basis. This is something any new Minister for Justice and Equality must take on board immediately. We also need to ensure greater powers are given to the Criminal Assets Bureau. We had the opportunity of discussing with officials from the Department of Justice and Equality the issue in respect of a review of the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau but, although that review began in 2011, I regret to say it still has not concluded. Those are just three very important issues in respect of justice that need to be addressed.
We need to recognise that the result the people have delivered is an unusual result and not the traditional result thrown up by an Irish election. We need to recognise that more time than usual is going to be required to put together a Government. This has not been the longest period of time from a general election to the formation of a Government given that, back in 1992, it took 45 days. While we are going to beat that, we should recognise that, in the future, we are going to be looking at minority Governments more than the past, probably on a number of occasions.
Fianna Fáil has played its part very seriously in these negotiations and we will continue to play our part as a responsible party that will always put the country first. I do not think we should be criticised for taking time in respect of these negotiations, given their outcome will have huge consequences for this country not simply for the next two the three years, but for the next ten years. I believe the only valid alternative and real option for the Government that is departing is a new Government led by Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil. If that is not available, Fianna Fáil will be responsible in its obligations to the people of this country in this House in recognition of any role a Government has to play.
According to the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, 350 people die in this State as a result of overcrowded emergency departments. This means that, in the 40 days in which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have refused to talk to each other, 35 people have died in this State in overcrowded emergency departments. These are not people coming to the end of their lives but people who are dying as a result of those overcrowded emergency departments.
Some 5,715 people are in emergency accommodation today. In the 40 days that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have refused to discuss Government face to face, roughly 280 extra people have joined the ranks of people in emergency accommodation.
Tuesday next, 12 April, will mark the tenth month since Clerys closed.
That was a textbook case of tactical insolvency. No doubt we will have a round of crocodile tears from all the parties in this Chamber, but the fact is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may still not have spoken to each other. The disaster about this is that there are solutions to these problems. For example, I have a Bill that I want to bring before of the Dáil which would pierce the corporate veil and which would ensure that these tactical insolvencies cannot happen and yet, because of this Government hiatus, caused by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I will not be able to do that.
People watching today will feel it is surreal to see Deputies Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny hector each other 30 feet apart from each other but not go into a room to discuss Government as of yet, 40 days later. The truth is, as has been mentioned, Sinn Féin wants to be in government. We want to be in a position to make the necessary changes, but the numbers are not there, and anybody who says they are there is simply looking to draw us into the farce in which other Deputies are involved at the moment. We are honest and upfront about what we want to do and we made our decisions and laid our cards on the table very quickly to expedite the process of Government formation. Mark my words, Sinn Féin does not want a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil Government.
It is a disgrace that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are faffing around with the mandate that they have been given while immediate crises wrack this country. The truth is that the two centre-right parties are holding this country to ransom. They are saying to people with housing and health problems and people who are unemployed and suffering poverty and injustice that they must wait while they set about improving their political fortunes into the future. However, people cannot wait. The country has seen Deputy Micheál Martin texting Deputy Enda Kenny and maybe Deputy Kenny WhatsApping Deputy Martin-----
One of the problems I have at the moment is that there are mandates here in this Chamber that could be acted upon. For example, in my constituency we have the problem of the North-South interconnector, which the previous Government sought to overground. Sinn Féin wants this interconnector undergrounded, and I understand Fianna Fáil and a certain amount of the Independents also want it to be undergrounded-----
However, Alex White, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, is proceeding with the previous Government's policy on this issue. He does not have a mandate, yet those in this Chamber with a different mandate are being prevented from doing the job that they are meant to do, and that is happening right across the whole process.
My colleague Deputy Gerry Adams suggested today that we propose a committee to deal with housing and everybody nodded piously at that. He suggested the only way that it could happen was for the Taoiseach himself to propose it and make it happen, yet we will get to the end of this debate without the Taoiseach making that proposal, and that is a shocking indictment of his position on housing and his inability to deal with the issue. I am asking the two political parties to end this Groundhog Day and this republic of farce and either transform their mandate into a Government or get off the stage and call an election.
With the permission of the House, I would like to vary the speaking slots from five minutes to three minutes in order to accommodate everybody who I have on the list of those who wish to speak because currently we have a 30 minute slot but it will take 42 minutes in addition to what we have already taken-----
I am trying to be as fair as possible to everybody, including Deputy Ryan. He is speaking after Deputies Alan Kelly and Brid Smith. I want to make it very clear that there is an opportunity for everybody in the House who has indicated to me that they wish to contribute to give three minutes of their time. If I can have the agreement of the House, we can proceed in what I think is the fairest way of dealing with the issue.
I will be quick as I can. I join the Taoiseach and other Deputies in congratulating those who organised the events surrounding the 1916 commemorations. The way in which it was conducted was absolutely incredible. I would particularly like to congratulate RTE on its role. It often gets a lot of criticism but it played a fantastic role. We should all also acknowledge the role of the Defence Forces. I acknowledge the work of the 2016 team, particularly the co-ordinator, John Concannon, who was the right man for the job and did an incredible job.
The Tánaiste has outlined Labour's decision regarding the vote on the Taoiseach today. I will not go into that as we are short of time. It has been six weeks since the election, and I have spoken about the 1916 commemorations, but by and large the public is now concentrating on what we are doing in this House. They have moved on, we have had our space and what we have seen to date has been a bit of a charade. We have seen a bit of flirting, we have seen negotiations going on between Fianna Fáil and Independents, Fine Gael and Independents, and we have had a version of Lanigan's Ball: I stepped in and he stepped out again. Then there were negotiations through Instagram and Twitter. Deputy Micheál Martin would update us all through Twitter or Deputy Mattie McGrath would go on another radio station, looking for more attention. What we have had is a pantomime, and the public is not laughing. What has been generated has shown that within that pantomime there is very little difference between the two principal participants, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We are looking forward to seeing the flirting finish and the courtship start this evening, and hopefully we will all be back in a few weeks' time with a Government that is stable and a marriage that we can all witness.
I have looked at some of the proposals being put forward, particularly regarding housing, and there is very little difference between them. Everything that has been proposed, as far as I can see, in some way has been proposed or copied and pasted from documents that have already been put out there.
The position of the Dáil is that Fine Gael is the largest party, Fianna Fáil the second largest, then Sinn Féin, then Labour, smaller parties and others. Those numbers show the inevitability of the marriage that we all know is necessary in order to have a Government, and the pantomime that we have had has to end. Let us all face the fact that a quarter of the people elected to the Dáil have no intention of ever serving in government. Sinn Féin does not want to go into Government, and that must be acknowledged. That is fine by me because I do not want them to go in either. Fine Gael is making some sort of effort; Fianna Fáil is being too cute by half. I found Deputy Martin's contribution here tonight to be one of the most patronising I have heard in the Dáil in many years. The simple fact of the matter is that in 2011 we in the Labour Party had to put the country first at its most difficult time, and we did that. Deputies might disagree with what the Labour Party did, but it produced and it went into government for the benefit of this country.
The marriage that is being proposed - the courtship will begin later this evening - is required for the sake of the country. If the courtship ends soon, the alternative is for all of us to do what Deputy Varadkar tweeted about, which is to get our posters ready.
I can give a perspective of somebody who is brand new to the House, its procedures and atmosphere. It has been a painfully slow 40 days, as Deputy Boyd Barrett alluded to earlier. It is in my mind all the time how dreadful this looks to the public, which as others have mentioned is suffering from the housing crisis, disabilities and being left on trolleys while waiting for health care. People like the Luas strikers and those voting tonight in Tesco on industrial action if they do not get their pay rise must be frustrated in thinking about the maths of what is going on here. For 40 days, we have been highly paid, both through salaries and expenses, with some of us getting more than others. We are being paid to do nothing, as we have done nothing, and the financing and resources have been wasted while many in this House would criticise Luas drivers and others for taking strike action to improve their conditions.
One of the repeated mantras that keeps coming back to me and jarring in my brain is the idea that we are all trying to fulfil the ambitions of this country and we must put the interests of the country first. Look at the diversity of political opinion in the House. The interests of this country are not shared by everybody in this country when Deputy Enda Kenny and Deputy Micheál Martin speak about putting the interests of the country first, as they mean certain interests. I mean different interests. There are competing interests.
I can give the example of the question of homelessness and housing. The Minister responsible for housing, who has just spoken, has repeatedly driven the interests of the private market, developers and builders in the question of dealing with the housing crisis.
We are interested in ending the housing crisis and beginning the provision of tens of thousands of social houses, which is the only way of addressing the issue. Driving it into the private market, with private landlords and developers, will ruin any possibility of ending the problem.
More than 90 Deputies were elected who would act on water charges, and those to my left have very clearly stolen the clothes of the left in saying they would do something about water charges. Nothing has been done. Can we at least get our act together to do something about the issues we have in common? People from many parties stood outside the Taoiseach's office today to demand repeal of the eighth amendment. Let us get our act together and do something about that.
From Deputy O'Callaghan's final comment, I detect that we will have white smoke soon, with some arrangement to put a Government in place. It is outrageous that we are taking another week off and getting no business done in the House. This side of the House is working closely with the Right2Change and the Right2Water Deputies to put together a joint motion on water charges. We will work with others interested in doing this and I am calling on the public to get outside the gates and support us. I am calling on the public who voted for us and the real people fighting back to try to change their lives in this country. We are concerned about them. There are competing interests in this country and they are the interests of the rich versus the rest of us. We represent "the rest of us".
I was delighted to support the nomination of Deputy Ruth Coppinger. It was historic for Dáil Éireann, as was the previous nomination of Deputy Boyd Barrett. I have always believed in the unity of the broad left and I had hoped, through the decades, that my former party would have been the fulcrum of such a broad left Government or even led such a Government. I was elected as a Right2Change candidate and an Independent 4 Change. My preference still is for change and we should have a change of Government. That was the decisive feeling of the people. In particular, all of those who stood on the platform of Right2Change should perhaps have a single nomination for Taoiseach, with people supporting that broadly across the political spectrum. We should try to fulfil the will of the people in this regard.
A few days after the general election I received an invitation from Deputy Micheál Martin to meet him and discuss the issues of concern and what we both saw as the future for our country. We had a very pleasant meeting for approximately 45 minutes. I outlined to him the ferocious and major concerns from my own constituency, particularly with regard to housing, health and disability services, as well as the requirement for the abolition of water taxes. At the end of the meeting I said that I obviously could not support his nomination for Taoiseach as I believed that in so many areas Fianna Fáil was not prepared to take the dynamic action required and I would not be able to fulfil my Right2Change mandate. A few days later, the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, also kindly invited me to a discussion and we again went through the key areas of concern facing the people. The Taoiseach reiterated the policy stances that he and his party took in the general election. I also said at the end of the meeting that I could not support the nomination of the outgoing Taoiseach because I had been elected as a Right2Change candidate and the people wanted change badly. That was one of the fundamental results of the election.
I was struck in both meetings by the fact that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have so much in common. For example, the previous speaker was the Minister responsible for housing. On this side of the House we urged him desperately to introduce serious rent regulation but he would not do it. He could not achieve it because on that critical policy issue, which affects the provision of social housing so much, he was relentlessly opposed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I was shouted down by Fianna Fáil on that subject as well. The parties have so much in common.
There is a duty to govern and six weeks have passed. We urgently need a Government to tackle problems. That heroic young woman, Ms Erica Fleming, is in the building right now, explaining to Deputies her circumstances and those of her family. There are 1,600 other children living in homeless accommodation and hotels this evening. We need urgent action.
-----there is an obligation on the Right2Change parties and progressive independents and parties to put together a Government in this State. One or other of the conservative parties should see what it can do in supporting such a Government, which would be very dynamic.
We in the Social Democrats decided to abstain on each of the votes for Taoiseach today because we did not see an outcome to start with and we felt this was, essentially, postponing the inevitable. We do not have to like the results of an election but as democrats we must accept them. The reality is this issue is both mathematical and political. The mathematical point is that the two large blocs of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael between them got sufficient numbers to form a Government.
There is a political element as well. Part of the reason this country is polarised is the political direction it has taken, not just in the past five years but in the past 20 years or more.
It is no surprise we have a housing and homelessness crisis because it comes down to political failure. It is no surprise there is a problem with white collar crime and corruption because there has been an approach of light-touch regulation. In recent days, the Panama files have shown evidence of that international relationship in which, unfortunately, Ireland has played a part.
In some of what has happened today, there has been a lecturing tone about responsibility. There is a responsibility for creating some of those crises, including housing, health, the lack of prosecutions for white collar crime, and the absence of disability services. Essentially, we want to play a constructive role whereby we will stop this Punch and Judy type of politics. However, a programme is needed for the Dáil as well as for Government if there is to be an involvement for the polarised Dáil that citizens have elected. It is polarised because society is polarised and we have ended up with a very unequal society. Some of that concerns the lack of progressive budgeting and the extent of child poverty.
We ran seeking a mandate for a strong economy, honest politics and a fair society. We must interpret our mandate in terms of what we do, but we want to play a constructive role. We believe such a role is within a Dáil with a programme to take a broad strategic approach to health, housing, corporate governance, child poverty, crime and many other issues. We must take a strategic approach while acting constructively if the Government pursues those issues in the interests of the country.
I join others in congratulating and commending everybody who took part in the Easter 1916 commemorations. One moment struck home for me on Sunday, 27 March, outside the GPO. The words of the Army's head chaplain rang true when he said:
Another day begins. Give us the courage to step on new ground, eyes young again with energy and dreams. Help us to believe in beginnings, to listen to the voices that challenge and to sing a new song for Ireland.
He set out in very clear terms what that new song might be: respecting social justice, both unity and diversity, and respect for our environment.
I commend the Taoiseach and his colleagues on the work they did in the process of engaging with the Independents and our own party. To date, however, the outcome in that 109 page report presented last night does not sing to me with a vision for Ireland. Unfortunately, such a minority Government, be it led by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, has neither the numbers or the coherence that answers the call made outside the GPO for a new song that might inspire us.
We have a duty on all sides to try to create a Thirty-second Dáil which manages to get through the 100th anniversary of the First Dáil with a Government which is able to work over the intervening two and a half years. I listened to what Deputy Micheál Martin said with respect. I commend Fianna Fáil on a constructive negotiation process, but I disagree with what Deputy Martin said, that it was not yet conclusive. I do not see how the current negotiations with the current arrangements and configuration will lead to any conclusive Government. I would like to hear in detail from Fianna Fáil Members how they think that will work They got 43 votes for Taoiseach today, not one additional one, while Fine Gael got 50 plus Deputy Lowry's. That is the reality of what happened here today.
If we are not to see a Thirty-third Dáil before the centenary of the First Dáil, we all have an obligation and a duty to consider how this could be done differently. If it is not possible for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to work together, perhaps there is some other national form of government that might possibly work. I listened to Deputy Broughan and Deputy Catherine Murphy saying, and I listened to Deputy Catherine Connolly saying privately earlier, if she does not mind me saying so, that maybe the smaller parties and Independents should meet together without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to consider what the options might be. Perhaps we should not do that in Government Buildings but in some independent place of our own choosing in our own time.
The current arrangements are not working. Something needs to change. We all have a responsibility to answer that Easter 1916 commemoration call to sing a slightly different song of Ireland.
It seems to me that what is happening in the Dáil this evening is a microcosm of what has been happening in Irish politics for a very long time. We are debating the creation of a Government, which is possibly the most important thing we could be debating in the next five years. We have curtailed debate on that to 30 minutes. We curtailed the speeches to five minutes and other speeches to three minutes. We plead that we do not have time to discuss this issue for some reason which I do not understand. We have not been meeting or sitting, but if we were serious about what is happening here today, we would have given far more time to far more people to thrash out what is really happening.
Those who have said that what is happening in Government Buildings and in the Fianna Fáil offices is a charade are utterly wrong in doing so. We in the Independent Alliance do not want any plaudits from the Taoiseach or anybody else for going to meetings to discuss the formation of a Government. We regard that as a duty which was given to us by the electorate and we are simply responding to their call. It is difficult. I applaud Deputy Eamon Ryan and Deputy Catherine Martin of the Green Party who attended those meetings for a while. Deputy Ryan then decided, for reasons of his own, that he was probably not going to get out of it what he wanted or that it would not work in the way he wanted. At least, however, he attended, contributed and made an effort. It is not easy for any of us to talk to those people who, weeks beforehand, we had opposed. They had said things about us, and we about them, which are difficult to swallow in a short time. That was our duty and it is what we have done and are doing. It is an extraordinary situation for Sinn Féin to call this a charade. I congratulate that party, however, on being able to form a Government with the DUP in Northern Ireland. I think that is an appropriate response to what that party's Members are saying about what is going on today.
Those talks are not easy. While I agree with those who have said that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have not made that visionary jump - they are conservative parties by their very nature and may be incapable of making that visionary jump which is necessary - they have moved and are trying at least to take on the message. The response has been inadequate so far but the message is being delivered that unless they cross that Rubicon, we cannot contribute to the formation of a Government.
We are pledged to take this process the extra mile. If it fails, it fails but we are determined to fulfil what the electorate has asked us to do, which is to introduce a new and radical element into Irish politics which has never been seen before.
Over the past couple of weeks, much has been made of the responsibility of Independents to engage with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in terms of looking at how to form a minority Government that would rely on the support of either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. I met Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael before the round-table discussions in Government Buildings took place. After consulting my supporters, I decided not to participate in that process. I came to the conclusion that it was a farce more quickly than those who did participate in that process. From talking to Independents who did participate, it seems that the general consensus among everybody is that it has been fruitless because there have been no discussions between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in conjunction with it.
I knew this beforehand. I decided not to take part when I listened to what each side had to say and what it intended to do. Some of the documents I was presented with showed that there was no willingness to make changes and fundamentally change the Government. I was elected with a mandate for a fundamentally different type of Government and I did not see that this could arise from that process.
It will not arise from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coming together either but it gives us the opportunity to have a fundamentally different Government at some stage in the future. This comes down to the biggest difficulty in this process for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The dogs in the street will say that there no difference policy-wise between Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. The only difference is around personalities and a bit of history. Since 1932, either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael has been in Government and has controlled the Opposition in this House. Both parties have controlled this House and the functioning of politics in this country since 1932 and they are desperate to continue to exercise this control into the future.
Deputy Micheál Martin spoke earlier about the fundamental challenge of reforming politics. The people have taken on that challenge but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have not recognised it yet because they voted both of them into a majority situation. This is the fundamental change that can and should happen as a result of this process because this is a Government that works. Everybody told us before the last election how the numbers decide what happens. Those are the numbers and the only thing stopping it happening is the fact that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want to control both sides of the House indefinitely. This is the fundamental change and this is the thing we must challenge. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael must accept that politics has changed fundamentally and their iron grip on Government and Opposition is ending. If it does not end now, it will end after the next election.