Thursday, 14 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.
As we all know, the Thirty-second Dáil is more diverse than any since the foundation of the State.
The traditional rules of Government formation no longer apply and we must embrace a new way of working together if we are to achieve the society we all want. Fine Gael wants a strong economy and a fair society. We want thriving communities in urban and rural Ireland. We want a country that looks after its people from the cradle through to their senior years. We want a country where nobody is left behind and where everybody is given the opportunity to succeed.
Since the general election, Deputy Enda Kenny has worked tirelessly to ensure the country has a stable and lasting Government. He has had very positive engagement with Independents and, together, they have approached discussions on the formation of a Government in a sincere and constructive way. The meetings have lasted for more than 50 hours, with wide-ranging policy debates on delivery for the people of Ireland.
Since I last took to my feet to nominate Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, a number of events have taken place. In the national interest he has proposed a full partnership Government, including Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Independents as he believes this is the best option for the country. A full partnership would be lasting and stable. It would be a Government based on parity of esteem, consensus building, mutual respect and collective decision-making. Deputy Enda Kenny has made every effort and shown his commitment since the general election to form a stable Government. The offer would have brought together the two largest parties in the State in an historic partnership and was, I believe, a bold offer and one worth making. I regret it has not been accepted to date, but Deputy Enda Kenny remains determined to ensure Ireland will have a stable Government to address the many challenges facing the country and work to improve the lives of the people.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." We have taken on the responsibility of doing something. Deputy Enda Kenny has taken on the responsibility of forming a new Government in a reasonable and responsible reform-minded way. We are doing something and it is our intention to form a Government that will work for the people and one that will last. Meanwhile, some are playing a game of party first, pass-the-parcel politics, on which they should be challenged. These parties cannot even enter a room to have exploratory discussions with others. The people have found that their votes have simply been wasted on certain parties which are more interested in being commentators than decision-makers.
Where we are today is not without precedent. In 1989 there were three attempts at nominating a Taoiseach, yet progress is clearly being made. Members of all parties and none are willing to talk, compromise, come to the table and take on the difficult job of creating a Government in this fractious Thirty-second Dáil. Their efforts and commitment should be commended. It is far easier to play the role of observer than it is to play the role of participant. I know that the people I represent in Dublin North-West appreciate the efforts of all those Independents who have worked in an honest fashion to try to put together a new Government. While 14 of them have announced an abstention today, I am hopeful they will continue to engage in the work of creating a Government. It is in the spirit of working in an honest fashion to try to put together a new Government that I am proud to once again nominate Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.
It is my honour and privilege to second the nomination of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach in the Thirty-second Dáil. The people have voted, but 48 days on we are still without agreement on who will be the leader of the country. We have a duty to work together to have a stable Government as a matter of urgency. It is time we set aside our egos and focused on what needs to be done for the good of the citizens of the country. Now, more than ever before, the country needs a strong leader and I believe Deputy Enda Kenny is the best person for the job. He is a man of integrity, great compassion and vision. He has shown great leadership and immense courage in recent weeks. I firmly believe that, as Taoiseach, he would steer the country on the right path and continue to work hard to face the many challenges that lie ahead in the Thirty-second Dáil. I, therefore, formally propose to Dáil Éireann his election as Taoiseach.
I propose that Dáil Éireann nominate Deputy Micheál Martin for appointment by the President to be Taoiseach.
Deputy Micheál Martin is very well qualified to undertake the duties of the office of Taoiseach. In nominating Deputy Martin, Fianna Fáil is remaining firm in its commitment to implement a change of Government. Deputy Martin is still making every effort to form a Fianna Fáil-led minority Government. The discussions with Independent Deputies to date have been very detailed, welcome and constructive, and these talks have been respectful and have involved debates on policy priority rather than being surrounded by spin. Deputy Martin remains determined to make every effort to ensure that the promises our party made prior to this election are implemented, namely, our fully costed policies on tackling homelessness, securing home ownership, creating decent jobs and supporting enterprise, cutting family costs and improving services that families need and tackling crime and developing community services.
To try to dismiss the divisions of today as Civil War politics is superficial and dismissive. One of the most striking things in recent days has been the number of people who have decided that Fianna Fáil has no right to keep its word. We do not deny the right of others to criticise or oppose Fianna Fáil but we will never accept the right to dismiss a commitment that we made as a party before the general election to more than 500,000 voters as being defined only by events of nearly a century ago. If we want to rebuild trust in Irish politics, is it not a good place to start to end the days of "Isn't that what you do during an election?" Election promises must mean something or we will never have the trust of the Irish people.
We have moved from a party system similar to Britain's to one which is very close to what one sees throughout Europe, where minority Governments are commonplace. They can work well but we need fundamentally to change how we do our business in this House and in the Seanad to make them work. That is why Dáil reform is key. Strong majority Governments can be arrogant, divisive and unfair, and we need to move towards a political system which ends the days of dominant governance of one party and one which gives every Deputy the right and the obligation to participate in the work of the Oireachtas. Deputy Martin's call for a major push on parliamentary reform has thankfully be taken up, and in the coming weeks we will hopefully see an Oireachtas which is more expert and effective in its work. Yet no reform is more important than breaking the idea that the only legitimate form of Government is a solid majority Government. If we have learned anything from the last few decades, surely it is that we need to change the way we govern our country. Minority Governments can work if people are willing to try, and they represent a much truer reflection of our society, where all, and not just some, of the people's representatives get to play a role. There must be security that Government can do its core business but there is absolutely no need for a Government to have the first, last and only say on every matter.
Deputy Martin has shown his strong personal commitment to reforming our Oireachtas and Irish politics, and his political CV speaks for itself. First elected in 1989, having served as a Minster in education, health, enterprise and foreign affairs and having a long-established involvement in Northern Ireland affairs, he is uniquely well qualified to do this job. He has represented this country and our 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 past five years, he has consistently opposed Government policies which were unfair and hit the most vulnerable the hardest and has campaigned tirelessly for a fairer and more inclusive Ireland, one which values every citizen equally.
The majority of Deputies in this in this House today, myself included, campaigned for a change of Government. The people gave their verdict on the outgoing Government and its policies, and it is clear they voted for change. On that basis I believe we must do the same in this Chamber today. A clear choice is being presented to all Deputies in this House today, and I emphasise the word "all". We either vote or act in a way that re-elects Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach or we choose an alternative and vote to elect Deputy Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. That is the choice before the House today. If Deputies sit on their hands or vote against Deputy Martin, they are effectively putting Deputy Kenny back in as Taoiseach to lead a Fine Gael minority Government. The people may not have been entirely clear on who they wanted to lead this Government but they were very clear on who they did not want. By voting for Deputy Martin as Taoiseach, Deputies would be honouring that commitment to implement change and opting to take our country on a fairer and more inclusive path.
My party colleagues and I consider him to be uniquely well qualified to lead the country towards the realisation of our shared objective - an Ireland for all.
Tacaím le moladh an Teachta Chambers ainm an Teachta Micheál Martin a chur os comhair na Dála agus é a chur faoi bhráid an Uachtaráin go gceapfaí é mar Thaoiseach ar an tír seo. Go deimhin, tá Fianna Fáil ag déanamh a lán iarrachtaí chun Rialtas mionlaigh a chur le chéile. Tá a lán cainteanna ar siúl againn agus a lán iarrachtaí á ndéanamh againn. Ach mar bhunprionsabal againn tá na polasaithe a chuireamar os comhair an phobail roimh an olltoghchán. Anois, sa Teach seo, tá rogha ann idir bheirt fhear, ach, i ndáiríre, rogha idir dhá shlí - slí amháin agus slí eile - atá ann. Tá muideanna go léir anseo chun rogha a dhéanamh. Níor sheol muintir na hÉireann anseo sinn chun a bheith inár suí gan rogha á dhéanamh againn agus an freagracht á chur ar dhaoine eile. Tá freagracht orainn go léir agus tá cumhacht againn go léir. Tá daoine sa Teach seo agus iad ag lorg Rialtas le móramh ollmhór ach ní bheidh a leithéid de Rialtas arís ann. Ina ionad, beidh páirtnéireacht, ach páirtnéireacht idir an Rialtas agus an Pharlaimint a bheidh ann. Tá ról agus cumhacht againn go léir agus freagracht orainn go léir maidir le sin. Má táimid ag iarraidh dul síos an bóthar sin, caithfimid tacaíocht a thabhairt don Teachta Micheál Martin inniu sa Dáil.
When the Dáil last met to debate this issue, the Labour Party made clear our position. The process around forming a government has left a lot of people scratching their heads. The Dáil is meeting again today despite no clear outcome of meetings between the two biggest parties and the Independents. There is no agreed programme for Government and no evidence of any arrangement that could bring about stability, unless, of course, after today people sit down to look again at the options. Here we are again today, and not as happy as can be. It appears that the whole process has broken down once more.
The fact is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have the numbers. The current situation requires a clear engagement by Fianna Fáil to agree the provision of a government - perhaps that is some element of what Deputy Lisa Chambers has been saying. Instead we have continued prevarication by Fianna Fáil, for its own naked political reasons and contrary to the country's best interests when we face challenges in the future.
The current behaviour of Fianna Fáil brings to mind, as I stated last week, similar self-interested decisions taken back in the 1970s to abolish rates, which was a bad decision and which subsequently backfired.
-----with no intention of putting their shoulder to the wheel to progress the issues that they pretend to care about. In contrast, the Labour Party, in 2011, did not hesitate while our country was at risk.
In Government over the past five years, the Labour Party succeeded at a very difficult time in this country's history in making Ireland a better place, economically and socially - not the best place because we still have to get there. That is, we hope, what some of these discussions are about.
We entered coalition in the full knowledge of how difficult things would be because our country was in a perilous state.
The Labour Party passionately believes in progressive politics. That is why we believe any programme for Government should include an ambitious housing package to address the crisis in the sector.
We put the money there, and the House will have the opportunity to debate it. Any programme for Government should also include an absolute commitment to eradicating child poverty and putting in place the structures and policies needed to make this ambition a reality.
It should also include a commitment to increase the minimum wage progressively to deliver a living wage for all working people and to improve conditions at work and the law on work for working people-----
-----reducing the cost of living for families across Ireland through supporting child care costs, recognising the need to reduce carbon emissions, repealing the eight amendment-----
-----and having, from the Thirty-second Dáil, real tax justice and reform. We have seen the revelations from Panama. We must ensure individuals and firms pay their fair share of tax, no more and no less. In light of the failure to produce a programme for Government that addresses these issues in a serious way, the Labour Party is not in a position to support any of the candidates for Taoiseach before the House. We are at a crossroads. As I said last week, the Civil War is over.
We need responsible parties to allow for the provision of a Government and to put our country first. Those who have a mandate to form a Government should do so. Members talk about why people voted for them.
I will oppose both nominations for Taoiseach that have been put forward today. I did not interrupt anybody. I sat here and listened to all the contributions from people who proposed both candidates. Although the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Members talk about Dáil reform, when people take to their feet they heckle and shout. This does not seem much like Dáil reform. I am entitled to be treated with respect and have my say. I will have my say, please, uninterrupted and without being heckled by people from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. While they may not like what I have to say, I have the right to say it. I have not even started, and both parties are already heckling.
This is Groundhog Day. We have been here three times. We know the vote will be inconclusive, a farce and a charade, and it will anger people who are watching and asking why we are going through the motions. This is one reason for which I will strongly oppose the nominations that have been proposed, although it is not the main reason. The main reason is that the two people nominated have been responsible for creating deep inequality in society. Today's report from UNICEF showed that one third of children in the State are going without basic needs such as proper housing, access to health care and even adequate food. This came from the policies of Fianna Fáil, which also created inequality, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, which also played its part in increasing child poverty. This is why I will not support either nomination.
In the spirit of what has been said about reform, we want to be part of a progressive bloc in the Chamber and work constructively with all parties on all these issues. I appeal to people, Independents and others, who stood in the election on a policy platform of opposing the policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and who talked about problems in hospitals, housing, health care and child care. They need to work with those who are genuinely interested in dealing with the real issues of poverty. While they are in talks with these conservative parties, they should know that neither Deputy Enda Kenny nor Deputy Micheál Martin will end the two-tier health service or deal with the homelessness and housing crisis.
Is mór an onóir í dom bheith anseo inniu mar Theachta Dála nua Fhianna Fáil do Chorcaigh Thiar Theas. I am honoured and humbled to be making my maiden speech as a newly elected Fianna Fáil Deputy for the wonderful and beautiful constituency of Cork South-West. May I start by supporting the nomination of my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, for Taoiseach? Deputy Martin, who has a proven track record and immense experience, is a man of the utmost integrity, capability, intellect and honesty. He will go down in history for introducing the smoking ban, which was the single most important public health measure of recent times. He is also lauded and respected for his work in the area of special needs while Minister for Education and Science. His legacy in these areas, among others, lives on for the benefit of our nation.
I suggest the incoming Government will have to satisfactorily address and resolve the issues that are pressing upon the already hard-pressed people of Cork South-West. I believe west Cork is the most beautiful place on earth. Its proud and vibrant people have been struggling valiantly under the outgoing Government. The issues in Cork South-West that need to be addressed by the incoming Government include the completion of flood relief and drainage works and the improvement of broadband and mobile telephone coverage to attract small and medium-sized enterprises and thereby create local jobs. The condition of the roads in west Cork has reached a crisis point in some places. All the while, a percentage of our road tax in Cork is going to Irish Water. More social housing needs to be provided. Leader funding needs to be restored. The difficulties facing farmers and fishermen need to be addressed. A core principle for me is the need to safeguard the viability of rural communities by ensuring they are not left behind in a two-tier recovery. I am committed to supporting and advocating for the development of rural parish communities and balanced regional development to ensure adequate service provision in all communities. I appreciate the honour and privilege bestowed on me by the fine people of Cork South-West. I will ensure that as we go forward, any financial recovery will be felt by every man, woman and child in west Cork.
Toisc gurb í seo an chéad uair dom labhairt sa Dáil, ba mhaith liom i dtús báire mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le muintir Bhaile Átha Cliath - Ráth an Dúin as an onóir seo a thabhairt dom agus as a gcuid muiníne ioman a léiriú chun ionadaíocht a dheánamh ar a son sa Dara Dáil is Tríocha. As this is my first time to speak in this House, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Dublin Rathdown for giving me the privilege and honour of representing them in the Thirty-second Dáil. Like many newly elected Deputies, I am relishing the opportunity to do my utmost to fulfil my mandate by doing my best to deliver on the many pressing and real issues that affect people's daily lives.
This shameful delay of 47 days, and counting, is obstructing and impeding us from doing the urgent work we were elected to do. This delay and level of obstructionism would put in the ha'penny place the obstructionist tactics deployed in a different time by the Irish Parliamentary Party MP, Joseph Biggar, in the House of Commons in the late 19th century. The obstruction then was due to excessive talking, whereas the obstruction now is due to a refusal to talk or seek solutions. The stance adopted by political parties in refusing to consider forming the most stable Government to serve the people has been disingenuously represented by certain people as somehow linked to the national interest.
How can the current strangulation of representative democracy, a choking of the workings of Dáil Éireann, be in the national interest? This reckless approach cares little for the tackling of the unprecedented crisis of homelessness, the escalating rent crisis, hospital waiting lists and climate justice. Lest any party has forgotten, it is important to remind them of the obvious, namely, no one party won the general election. Unfortunately, it seems the people have lost. Some political parties refuse to face up to and accept this new political reality. They refuse to accept the change for which the people voted in February. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything".
It is all too easy to make noise, instil division, create dissent, divide and score points. The contrived party policy differences and the point blank refusal of some to consider even talking to others who also have a democratic mandate is unacceptable. Enough is enough. The only losers in this charade are the people. It behoves political parties to act in the best interests of the people of Ireland, not themselves or their parties. While some members have worked hard and displayed some political courage, others have not, choosing instead to sit on their hands for the past seven weeks. Deputies are not elected to be silent or to run for the hills to take cover when the going gets tough. Now is the time when members should step up and speak up for the people who elected them. Put people before party politics.
Government formation should not be hijacked by self-serving party political concerns. The people are sovereign and have spoken. Given the current fragility of the Irish economic recovery, I implore elected Members to lead and to not be led by a cohort of party political membership, whose only concern in terms of stability appears to be concern for party political stability, party consolidation or party growth. This abysmal lack of leadership might yet require the President, in what would be an unprecedented step, to consider exercising his absolute discretion to steer a way forward for the Thirty-second Dáil. It is never too late to take the best course of action for Ireland. The most stable and compatible option is, of course, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, or is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? It might come as news to people in their party cocoons but the vast majority of people do not care in which order those party names are used but they do passionately care about their families and their country's future.
Is féidir linn fís nua a léiriú do mhuintir na tíre má táimid sásta comhoibriú le chéile agus bealach ceannródaíoch a thógáil don todhchaí. Seo í uair na cinniúna. Seo í an uair le haghaidh crógacht agus ceannaireacht. Now is the time to show real leadership. Stop hiding behind what parties claim is in the national interest when clearly it is not. It is time to do what is in the national interest. It is way past time to put the country first and form a stable Government.
As the House will be aware, as in the case of other Independent Deputies, the Independent Alliance has been in discussions with both the Fine Gael Party and the Fianna Fáil Party for many weeks. Most of those discussions have been constructive and useful and, in some cases, progressive. Progress is being made. We are getting used to being love-bombed by both parties. The problem, however, is that neither of those parties will love-bomb each other. Whereas the channel of communication between the Independent Alliance and both parties is good when they talk to each other, the civil war politics immediately emerges. That is unacceptable. Moves by us to bring these two sides together have either been ignored or deliberately misunderstood.
Those who say there is play-acting going on should realise that it is time this ended and that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil got together and made some immediate and urgent steps to give this country a Government.
The result of the frustration which is being felt by the people was manifest at a meeting that we held today, which was attended by nearly all the Independents who participated in the process. We issued a statement afterwards saying that if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could not get together, as we said last weekend, we would have to facilitate talks on a specific agenda. That agenda is this: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should treat each other with the parity of esteem which is necessary in this unique situation. In other words, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should recognise that if there is a democratic vote in this assembly which gives one party supremacy or leadership over the other, they must mutually agree that they will respect that vote, go into a minority Government with the leading party and support it in that way. It must be mutual.
One of the reasons we are abstaining is that we do not like receiving ultimatums from any party that we should vote one way today or it will get off the pitch. We do not respond to that. As a result of this, of the activities which are going on and of the refusal of one party to recognise the rights of the other, we will be abstaining from this vote and withdrawing from the talks between the parties in order to facilitate an immediate agreement between them until they meet those particular requirements which we have requested today.
Mar a dúirt mé níos luaithe, ní hé seo ach an ceathrú uair a tháinig an Dáil le chéile ón toghchán. Tá an pobal míshásta nach féidir le na seanpháirtithe teacht ar réiteach. Tá an pobal i gceart faoi seo.
We have heard, once again, the many virtues of the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and I no doubt everyone will consider these fine qualities when we come to vote, or not to vote. Of course, we will not consider or discuss the real world outside of this Leinster House bubble. We will not discuss the 1,972 citizens who have been on hospitals trolleys since the House last met, over 192 of whom were to be found at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in my constituency. This is the centenary of 1916 and we learned this morning that the homelessness figures doubled in February. There are 5,881 citizens, including 1,881 children, in emergency accommodation. Thousands more families are paying unsustainable mortgages and demanding action on water charges. However, this Dáil, led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, decided that we will not discuss these issues. We will not discuss the plight of the children in the care of the State who are denied the protections they deserve.
Apparently, none of these issues were discussed in the talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I do not believe that these are serious negotiations at all. Instead, what we are witnessing is the political leaders of the two largest parties trying to outmanoeuvre one another, putting personalities before country and egos before citizens' rights.
Seven weeks after the election, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have not even discussed policy matters. They have dumped all their election rhetoric. There is no talk now about keeping the recovery going, about the emergency being over, about stability versus chaos, about an Ireland for all, about €2 billion in additional money to spend on public services or about recruiting 10,000 new doctors, nurses, gardaí, teachers, social workers and other front-line workers. Contrary to the protestations of the acting Tánaiste, it is only through a Sinn Féin initiative that the Dáil will debate a motion today to establish an all-party housing sub-committee to find solutions to the housing crisis.
Incidentally, Sinn Féin is prepared to talk to all parties and none and is currently engaging in talks with those parties and Independents who will talk to us. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, however, have ruled us out. Those of us on these benches are not worthy to be talked to. In the meantime, Ministers who were sacked by the electorate, none of whom is accountable to the Dáil, are going ahead with policies for which they have no mandate whatsoever. Instead, we are wasting our time when we should be dealing with all of the issues that are pressing down on citizens outside this institution.
The Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders need to grow up and recognise that politics has changed. They can no longer have power on their own terms or carve it out in the way they used to. They may pretend that the 23 Sinn Féin Deputies do not exist or that those whom we represent and their concerns should not be factored into how we collectively shape the future. That is the flaw in their thinking. It is the same old story. Deputies Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny leave the people - citizens - out of their machinations and selfish little manoeuvrings. The people's struggles and challenges are not taken into account. Fianna Fáil paid the price for this in 2011 and Fine Gael and the Labour Party did likewise in 2016. For our part, we will continue to bring forward positive, constructive proposals and try to provide progressive opposition to the conservative majority here, whatever arrangements they arrive at. It is my strong view, as Deputy David Cullinane put it, that all of us who share that ambition must work together in the time ahead.
We are opposed to both nominees who represent the 1% in this country - the elite. As a result, they are collectively responsible for the biggest bank bailout in the world. They are collectively responsible for the horrific austerity that destroyed public services and heaped austerity taxes on the people. They are responsible for the immense housing crisis we face because their policies put the profits of developers, bankers and big landlords ahead of the right to a home. They are also both deeply conservative, which is why, despite the non efforts of the Labour Party in the last Government, we still have the eighth amendment and some conservative Independents in the talks apparently threatening to block even a discussion on its desperately needed repeal.
What is going on here? Why is it that we do not have a Government? Why are we here for the third time? Is it, as superficial commentators suggest, that the Taoiseach and Deputy Micheál Martin just do not get on, that their text messages have crossed each other and that there is some problem in communication? There is something much deeper happening and it is a fundamental crisis for the 1% in the State, its political system and way of ruling. It is the same crisis one sees in Spain. Since the foundation of the State in a counter revolution in 1922, there have operated two choices that offer the same thing. One is in government, while the other is the main party in opposition. I refer to the two trusted parties of the establishment. Simply put, they cannot rule in the old way anymore, which is why we have a crisis. The question for us is not to choose between two nominees who offer exactly the same thing but to recognise the opportunity to build a massive left, workers' party which will not betray people but which will stand for principled socialist change and which can achieve a left Government that will put people's needs before profit. Whatever Government emerges will be right-wing. That is the reality. However, it can be a weak and unstable Government. The lesson for people to draw is that they should mobilise against such a Government whenever it implements a policy that is against their interests and that they can achieve victories against such a Government.
To take one issue - the policy that dare not speak its name - we have still not discussed water charges here, despite it being a key issue in the general election. The only information we get is through contradictory, confused leaks from different sources in different newspapers that make no sense whatsoever. It is the issue they do not want to discuss because it is the one on which there have been immense mobilisations. Yesterday, a number of people were arrested at peaceful anti-water meter protests in Wicklow. They should be defended. Today or in the next couple of days we will receive new payment figures from Irish Water. It is exactly three months since we received the last payment figures. If we get to the real figures as opposed to the spin from Irish Water, they will illustrate an increase in the level of non-payment. The other key point is that 99 Deputies were elected with a mandate to either suspend or abolish water charges and abolish Irish Water. If Fianna Fáil or any of the Independents involved in talks do not deliver on this, they will not be forgiven. They should remember this. The people outside are not going to wait to see what crooked deal can be done between the establishment parties and a few Independents to betray what people voted for in the general election in terms of real change and the abolition of Irish Water.
Whatever Government emerges, the lesson is clear. We must mobilise to bring about change and force the repeal of the eighth amendment, demand action to put the right to a home before the profits of the 1% and get rid of water charges and austerity and, in doing so, prepare the way for the real change we need, that is, a left Government that can be delivered. That means building a mass left party.
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, Katherine Zappone.
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, Martin Ferris, Seán Fleming, Kathleen Funchion, Pat Gallagher, Seán Haughey, Séamus Healy, Billy Kelleher, 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, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, 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, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Martin Ferris, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Kathleen Funchion, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Séamus Healy, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Alan Kelly, Enda Kenny, Martin Kenny, Seán Kyne, Mary Lou McDonald, Helen McEntee, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, 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, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, David Stanton, Peadar Tóibín, Leo Varadkar, Mick Wallace, Katherine Zappone.
The Dáil has, so far, not agreed on the nomination and appointment of a Taoiseach and, as I informed the House on 10 March, in accordance with the Constitution the Government and I continue to carry out our duties and will do so until a new government has been appointed.
After the general election, I undertook to work towards establishing a stable and lasting government. I invited the parties, alliances and Independent Deputies who are willing to work towards that objective to enter into structured discussions with the Fine Gael Party. Some 15 Independent Deputies, and for a time the Green Party, agreed to take part. That process, as people are now aware, involved over 50 hours of discussions and negotiations. I thank all of those who, for whatever length of time and to whatever degree, participated in that process during which a wide range of policy issues were discussed and put forward. I also acknowledge and fully respect the right to abstain from votes on the formation of a government until agreement is reached on the composition and the policy programme of a new government that is elected and agreed.
Following the last Dáil sitting on 6 April, I met the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, Deputy Micheál Martin, to discuss how a stable and lasting government might be put in place. I proposed the establishment of a full partnership government which would include the Fine Gael Party, the Fianna Fáil Party and Independent Deputies, because I believe that would be the best option for providing the country with a stable and lasting government. That partnership proposal was based on the parity of esteem referred to by Deputy Ross, which would both reflect the decision of the electorate and respect the mandate given to the individual parties and Deputies who accepted responsibility to work with and towards the development of a lasting government working in the interest of all the people of the country. We are now nearly seven weeks on from the general election and it is time to focus with a sense of urgency on what we must do. I remain fully committed to that objective and I sincerely hope that in the short time ahead, this matter can be progressed to fruition and a conclusion.
Clearly, there are a number of major challenges facing the country, both internally and from abroad. The careful management of the economy and public finances must remain a priority, particularly in the current uncertain and complex international economic environment. In just over ten weeks, the people of the United Kingdom will vote on whether to remain a member of the European Union. This decision may have far-reaching consequences for Europe and Ireland, and for Northern Ireland in particular. We must also continue to address the real challenges in our health services and in the areas of homelessness, housing, mental health, disability and so on, issues which have been identified by a great number of people both during and since the election. We must also continue to provide jobs for our people and continue growth in investment and employment.
For these reasons it is incumbent on all of us who have the privilege of serving in this Thirty-second Dáil to intensify our efforts to provide the country with a stable and durable government. As Taoiseach and as leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the House, I remain fully committed to working to ensure that the people get that kind of government. I hope that everybody who accepts responsibility and wants to do something about this will face up to that responsibility and participate. The House will adjourn tonight until Wednesday, 20 April. We should all ensure that in the coming days we use that time to redouble our efforts to form a stable and lasting government.
I know Deputy Martin has a parliamentary meeting after this session of the Dáil and I invite him to meet me to authorise the continuation of discussions and negotiations on the formation of a government. I would be happy to authorise such progress with Deputy Martin, if he so wishes.
I would like to address recent developments and the issue of where the Fianna Fáil Party stands in regard to the ongoing issue of the formation of government. This concerns both events before this vote and where we go from here.
From the very start we have been consistent and up-front in all of our private discussions and public statements. On the Monday after the election, we set out our belief that the demand for change evident in the people’s decision was wider and more challenging than ever before. It was a demand not just to change personnel in government but to change our priorities and our politics. It was not just about numbers.
I am encouraged by the fact that my call for inclusive and ambitious parliamentary reform has been taken up and is making important progress. There is now no one defending an approach to the Oireachtas that involves it being marginalised by a dominant government. Completing this reform agenda remains a challenge, but there has been a decisive and, I believe, permanent change in attitude on implementing real political reform. What is not yet clear is whether there is broad agreement on reforming the way we govern. There are signs of progress, but substantial issues remain. There are undeniable efforts to maintain a slightly repainted model of the old way of doing business.
For the 12 months before the election and in interviews, debates and canvasses throughout the election, Fianna Fáil stated clearly that it would not enter a coalition government with Fine Gael, even in a circumstance where other majority government options were not possible. We set out our reasons for this in great detail.
This was not a commitment lightly made and it received the backing of our members at our Ard-Fheis. I, for one, believe in putting behind us the era when people said one thing during an election on major issues and did the complete opposite in the aftermath and casually dismissed their promises. The infamous Tesco ad is perhaps the best most recent illustration of that.
We need to re-establish public trust in politics and how we do politics. Parties which have chosen to remove themselves from the process of government formation are, of course, entitled to their own positions but it would be a great service to us all if they kept to themselves their lectures on the duties of others. The sheer number of people who have appointed themselves to be spokespersons on behalf of the national interest is now ridiculous, as is their habit of giving advice to people or parties they misjudged or opposed.
In addition to promising that we would not enter a coalition with Fine Gael, we said that we would be responsible and respond to the realities of a new Dáil. We have already done this and we will continue to do it. Central to this is that we believe Ireland must recognise the fact that it now has a multi-party system and should move away from its absolutist approach to government formation. The idea that democracy requires a rapid transition between majority governments is simply not supported by the facts. Minority governments can and do work and they do so in countries which have high levels of governance.
In the past month we have held good-faith negotiations with parties and independents. We tabled very detailed policy papers, notwithstanding what the leader of Sinn Féin says, and one Independent paid a compliment saying the meeting we had with the Independent Alliance last Monday week was the best he had attended in the past six weeks on all the issues, from health to housing, with public servants in attendance.
It is an important point. The only people who have engaged, despite all the lectures from around the House, in substantive policy negotiations in the past number of weeks are the Independents - Fine Gael with Independents and Fianna Fáil with Independents. It behoves others to stop lecturing those who are engaged and doing the work.
In the past month, we have held good-faith negotiations. We tabled detailed policy papers and clarified them. We set out not just what can be achieved over a full Dáil term but also what can be implemented in the next six to 12 months. In these negotiations, we have taken the approach of not issuing briefings and not seeking to spin media coverage. We have played them straight. They were constructive and positive discussions which were dominated by substantive policy issues. At the same time, there were discussions between these groups and Fine Gael. I want to thank those who participated in our discussions but clearly they had reached a point where there was a choice to be made. They are entitled to say they want more detail and want an agreement in advance about supporting whatever emerges from negotiations. We are not in any way reflecting on the right of Deputies to make up their own minds but, equally, we have the right to say that we think a stage has been reached where the approaches and policies of the alternatives to leading a Government are there to be seen.
It is not unreasonable to ask that people state whom they are willing to support. Many very candid positions have been stated in private which have yet to be repeated in public. We have repeatedly answered in the affirmative questions the Independents have put to us about our capacity and willingness to support a Fine Gael-led minority Government if the numbers dictated so. Fine Gael has refused to reciprocate. That said, however, and following this vote, it is time to move on. As we have stated repeatedly, and as I outlined in the Dáil last week and on Sunday and Monday, Fianna Fáil believes that a minority Government is the only credible and legitimate outcome from the current make-up of the Dáil. We understand the need for an agreement which allows such a Government to function. We agreed with Fine Gael last Saturday to enter into discussions about a minority Government. We have approached these discussions in good faith and have achieved significant progress on the most important issue, which is to define responsibilities and approaches between parties in such an arrangement.
This said, there are very significant concerns relating to these discussions and whether the entire process can be completed. The single most important change required to make any new arrangement work is to abandon the mindset of trying to spin and control everything. Good faith requires demonstrating that you can understand and address the needs of the other side. In recent years the obsessive daily spinning defined an approach to governing which has been decisively rejected by the people. Fine Gael would be well served if it understood how its behaviour towards the other party in the outgoing Government suggested what could be charitably called "a complete lack of partnership".
To be very direct, we will not get to an agreement unless there is an abandonment of the manoeuvring and inflexibility we have seen in the past week alone. As the Taoiseach knows, meetings this week have been delayed a few times due to Fine Gael's requests and delays. The very first time this happened on the other side, however, official statements were being made within minutes expressing annoyance and threatening a breakdown. Equally, the decision to pass motions at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting yesterday directly intended to reject our positions was at the very least deliberately unhelpful and provocative. We are in danger of the word "partnership" being drained of any substance.
The future of Irish Water is not the single most important issue facing our country but it is important and the election represented a decisive rejection of current policies. The post-election lobbying campaign by this State company is unprecedented in our history. It is a total waste of public money and of the legitimate balance of powers between Parliament and State companies. Once Dáil committees are established, we will be seeking an investigation into the cost and nature of this campaign. In addition, we should be very clear that any attempt by Irish Water to accelerate contracts and hiring for non-essential maintenance roles will be seen as an attempt to undermine discussions on water policy by elected representatives.
It is not yet clear that Fine Gael understands the need to move away from the highly controlling attitude which defined the past five years. We await a demonstration that it knows how to respect the interests of others. If Fine Gael wants to find a way of making the new situation work and is genuine in understanding that the old approach to government is over, then we continue to be willing to be flexible. We are prepared to continue in discussions with Fine Gael about the operation of a minority Government. However, we expect that it will do what it has so far refused to do, namely, detail whom it expects to participate in such an arrangement and outline that Government's programme.
From the very beginning we have been straight and open about our position. We have not stood on the sidelines but have taken a constructive and flexible approach, while being true to the core promise we made to the half a million people who voted for us. This will continue to be our approach. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Dáil for their indulgence.
As others have said, we have again failed to elect a Taoiseach. I would like to make some comments as to the responsibilities we all have now to try to change that by next Wednesday. From our perspective, we in Fine Gael have been trying for weeks to move towards a situation where we could create a partnership or an alliance or a consensus around how a Government might be formed in a very complex political landscape. Parties are essentially being asked to do things now that they have not done before and we will continue our efforts between now and next Wednesday to try to get a conclusion to that process whereby the minority Government about which Deputy Martin and the Taoiseach speak becomes a reality and a possibility next week. That will only happen if those of us in this House who are interested in being a constructive part of putting that together work together to make it happen.
I understand the frustrations that many people have expressed - and not for the first time - that Ireland does not have a Government and that Ireland badly needs one right now in order to start solving many of the problems that people are facing in their lives outside this House. However, it is not true to say that parties such as ours and others have not been working night and day to try to put together a Government outside the norms of politics in Ireland. There is an increasing understanding of the need to be flexible, of the need to understand other people's inputs and views and the need to reflect the broad consensus we got from the electorate which is a different one in terms of what they demand from politics this time around. From our perspective in Fine Gael, we hope the party opposite, in particular, will begin to discuss with us in partnership again how we can find a way forward as two large parties to provide a Government by next week. We will certainly approach those talks in good faith.
We have also attempted to be flexible, to be open. There have not been leaks of the content of those discussions to date between two parties but let us be truthful.
Both parties meeting each other are of course cautious in terms of the outcome and how that may impact on their own political parties and on the functioning of a government in the future because a minority government in Ireland is different. It is vulnerable. It will need not only Dáil reform and political reform but also a change in approach and attitude to politics from all sides of this House if it is to work for people, which is ultimately what we need to do. I am not lecturing anybody. I am saying that my party is committed to trying to make that work on an equal basis with others who want to do the same. I appeal to other political parties to be part of that process if they have not been part of it yet. We are ready, willing and open to discuss with them how they may want to be part of providing stable government with us in government or from opposition.
We would also like to recognise those Independents in this House who have spent an enormous amount of time trying to put forward new ideas, policies and suggestions and trying to understand how they fit in in the context of a minority government, which we are trying to understand, even in a party as large as Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, in terms of how it might function from next week onwards. The alternative is to go back to the electorate and ask it to vote again. If that happens it will be a failure on our part as politicians who have the privilege of getting elected to this House in terms of being mature and able enough to put something together that can last and solve problems because, ultimately, that is all that matters to the people who elected us.
On behalf of the Taoiseach and Fine Gael, I thank all those who have been constructive. In particular, I thank Deputy Katherine Zappone for her courage as an individual and as an Independent to support Deputy Enda Kenny for Taoiseach. We appreciate that.
I encourage others to find a way by next week to allow them to be comfortable enough to take a risk in terms of their own political future and outlook and the basis on which they got elected.
Can I point out that in respect of the nominees for Taoiseach, the Taoiseach and Deputy Martin, we provided a degree of flexibility beyond the order of five minutes? I do not intend that we will provide more than five minutes for other speakers. The next speaker is Deputy Jack Chambers.
Today represented a great opportunity for the Deputies in this Chamber. The choice was a clear one between the old and tired policies of the past, the ones we have laboured through for the past five years during which Fine Gael, under this Taoiseach, oversaw the greatest housing crisis the country has ever seen. Since this election, however, Fine Gael has revealed itself to be addicted to power. The Taoiseach's Government lost half the number of seats it had and yet he still holds that sense of entitlement to power. He moved the goalposts at the end of last week and put forward a so-called partnership proposition that he knew full well would not be agreed by the Deputies in Fianna Fáil. He did that so that the median option for the Independents would be a minority Fine Gael government but it was all about absolute power. He would not agree to support what Deputy Ross referred to as parity of esteem, equity and the whole principle of what Dáil reform is and should be about. It is about parity of esteem between two big parties and that we can work together in a minority capacity, and whoever has the bigger minority bloc should be respected. Fine Gael has failed to respect that today and over the past number of days, and that needs to be recorded.
We in Fianna Fáil want to play a positive and responsible role but Fine Gael again has shown its addiction to power and it is failing to respect what could be a bigger bloc of a minority Fianna Fáil government. That is wrong and it undermines the spirit of Dáil reform to which Deputies Rock and Coveney referred. In doing so, Fine Gael has sent a very loud and clear message to everyone that it is not ready to embrace the change needed for this House to properly function. It is a real shame.
During the debate on housing that will take place later we will hear figures and statistics that are difficult to comprehend. We will hear that there are more people homeless today than ever before and that there has been a 400% increase in homeless families during the past four years. Yesterday, we were told that one family is becoming homeless every day. There are 130,000 families on the housing list. That is 130,000 families who have fallen victim to the inept policies pursued by this acting Government. Tragically, those figures no longer come as a shock. Any one who walks outside the gates of Leinster House today can see all too clearly the scourge of homelessness on our city streets, and also around the country. In my constituency of Dublin West, more children have become homeless than in any other county. The situation in Tyrrelstown, where families fear they will become the next statistic, suggests that people living in Dublin West will continue to be threatened by the problems of the housing sector until proper steps are taken to address the many problems.
Similarly, in the area of health care, there has been a remarkable deterioration in services during the past five year to the point now where hospitals routinely have to shut down accident and emergency departments as they struggle to cope with overcrowding. A hospital corridor that is not packed with trolleys and sick people sitting in chairs now looks out of place. The outgoing Government has allowed for the normalisation of a two-tier health service. On a policy and ministerial level, the health service enveloped in a virus of spin and spoof. We have a health care system in which operations and surgeries are routinely cancelled and doctors, nurses and health care professionals are worked to the point of exhaustion.
Today, we face sticking with that way of doing things, with another stalemate. We could have chosen a new course, one that would have set this country back on the right path and delivered a fairer and more equal society under the stewardship and leadership of Deputy Micheál Martin.
The outcome of the last election shows us that it is time for a new way of doing politics. There has been a fragmentation of the old system and a convergence towards other European electoral systems and norms. Some Deputies seem to be in denial about that or have failed to recognise the desire for change in how we operate. What is required now is increased debate on important issues. I recognise the work of the Ceann Comhairle and the subcommittee on Dáil reform in changing how we do our business, and I hope that progresses over the next number of weeks. Deputy Micheál Martin is the only man with the courage, vision, dedication and ability to lead the sweeping changes that are required in this House. He was the man who put reform on the agenda the week after the election, and he is committed to delivering the changes needed to make this House function in the interests of the country.
On the health sector, I was surprised to see the Independent Alliance Members abstain again today. There has been mention of Waterford University Hospital in recent days. We have a clear commitment to deliver 24-hour cardiac care, and I know Deputy Butler has worked on that over the past few months, so it appears the abstention again from the Independents is fudging what is possible progress for Deputy Halligan and the south east.
I will conclude. We were all elected in February to represent the people. The people have spoken, and they do not want to do so again. They have waited patiently over the past 50 days. They are tired of the old way of doing things. Fianna Fáil will play a positive, constructive and responsible role in the Dáil to progress our policies in a reformed and properly functioning democratic Parliament, one which the people of Ireland deserve.
Neither Deputy Martin nor Deputy Kenny have been elected as Taoiseach because they do not enjoy the confidence of this Dáil. We should not be under any illusion that anybody outside in the real world is convinced for a second that either of those men or either of their parties - Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael - will make things better, more equal or more fair. That is the stuff of fiction. We know that because the evidence of the past is there in plain sight. Fianna Fáil challenges Fine Gael on its failures in the health system. Deputy Chambers said Fine Gael perpetuated a two-tier system, and he is right, but so did Fianna Fáil. In fact, in many crucial respects, Fianna Fáil was the architect of that very two-tier system.
The rest of us are caught in the bun fight between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a long drawn out domestic dispute between these two parties which, in truth, have very little to mark or distinguish them and which share a disgraceful track record in respect of equality, fairness and the building of a true republic in this jurisdiction. That is the truth.
The truth is also that we are witnessing manoeuvring on who will come out on top. There is a clear contradiction between making accusations of addiction to power and pleas to move away from control and spin and then perpetuating, or seeking to perpetuate, this very control and spin. Here is the test for both party leaders, but let me address it particularly to Deputy Micheál Martin because he was the one who spoke about control and spin and is the one who is fearful, it seems, that the very concept of partnership might be hollowed out. If he wishes to get away from control and spin, why is he so controlling and gripped with fever to beat his rival, Deputy Enda Kenny, in terms of numbers? Members on his benches have stated it is not about numbers, but, in fact, it is. It is precisely about numbers and control - the two big beasts of Irish politics throwing the rattle out of the pram because they do not have it all their own way any more. In the absence of marginalising the rest of us, they are now turning in on each other. The establishment is turning in on itself and we have the fiasco that we have witnessed. That is not good enough.
Here are the numbers and the mathematics as of today. We had 52 against 43. To me, that is a fairly straightforward verdict. I do not want to see either Deputy Enda Kenny or Deputy Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. I would go so far as to say neither of them is fit to be Taoiseach. I do not want to see either of their parties in government. I can tell them that, like many others, I dread the idea of them finally kissing and making up and being in government together in whatever incarnation. This would not be good for the people I represent. I know this. It would not be good for the people Sinn Féin and so many other progressive and independent Deputies represent. We all know this. However, we also know what the numbers are and fully and finally that the two of them need to make up their minds. Are they doing it or are they not? Do not insult us by prolonging this farce.
The Taoiseach spoke about respect for Members' mandates. He has no respect for their mandates because we are left in a situation where not alone do we not have a Government but we also do not have opposition. We have a "caretaker Government" with absolutely no democratic scrutiny. The Taoiseach has deliberately and in a prolonged way frustrated our right to do and fulfil our democratic duty. How dare he do this? He has no right to do so. As for lecturing the rest of us about our responsibility to ensure a stable Government, our bigger responsibility is to ensure good government. He will not use the figleaf of stability and his apparent road to Damascus conversion to democracy, transparency and partnership as the means to co-opt us into politics and policies that are bad for our communities and Ireland and that will never ever deliver the republic the people deserve.
They should get on with it, make up their minds and stop insulting people's intelligence with the poses and posturing they strike. They are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee with devil the bit between them. Make the deal and do it quickly and, if they cannot do so, they should be very clear that it was they who were not interested in being in government and that it will be they who will force another general election.
I find it profoundly depressing to witness the farce we have seen in the Dáil today. I came here more than a decade ago to contribute progressively and positively as a parliamentarian, like everyone else here, and I have done so both in opposition and in government. This Dáil does absolutely no service to the people of Ireland who elected the 158 of us who sit in this Chamber. We need to do something about this. For 104 years the Labour Party has been a voice in and out of government for progress in Ireland. We have had the guts to go into government when we have had the numbers to make a difference. Unfortunately, ours is a smaller party now than it has been for many years, but our role is still vital to the progress of the nation.
In the past seven weeks as a party we have grappled with our changed position. Many long-standing public representatives and friends of mine have left Leinster House. Many of the staff who put in countless hours in supporting us, campaigning and working on behalf of the people, find themselves without work. Politics can be cruel and the Labour Party has certainly paid a price. However, among our members and those who support us, we have repeatedly seen something very bright - the undimmed passion of people who want to continue the fight to make Ireland a better and more equal nation.
Since my first involvement in politics I have known that the Labour Party cannot act alone. We are a progressive force in Ireland, but we are not the only ones. I am glad that we are beginning discussions with other parties on the responsible left. I hope these discussions will see a progressive alliance develop in the House. Such an alliance must, in my view, retain one central focus - a roadmap to deliver social and economic equity and equality. We must argue for the policies that are sadly lacking from any of the proposals which have so far emerged during the seven weeks of talking, leaks and grandstanding.
A Dáil programme deserving of progressive support must do more than simply use the language of the Labour Party of building a strong economy for a decent society. It must include the policies which could bring this about. A progressive programme would set the eradication of child poverty as a national objective, as my party leader stated, and include the funding structures and policies that could at least halve the level of child poverty in Ireland by 2021. It would close the growing gap between rich and poor by protecting the real value of social welfare payments, providing a living wage for all in work and making sure changes to income taxes would exclude any benefit to higher earners. It would build on the work done by the previous Government to protect the rights of workers. For example, it would make a clear commitment to outlawing abusive terms and conditions of employment, including low pay, insecure hours and enforced and bogus self-employment, and address abuses of zero-hour and if and when contracts.
A progressive programme for Government would deliver on the promise of equality of opportunity for all, with a step change in investment in child care, the continued reduction of class sizes at all school levels, which we started, and a real commitment to end all discrimination in school admissions, regardless of religion, social class or family connection. It would recognise the need to truly grasp the scale of the housing crisis, with a new balance between the common good and property rights to allow for site value taxes and the protection of all tenants, including in the event of property sales. It would provide a clear and time-limited roadmap for the repeal of the eighth amendment and set new ambitions for delivering local democracy and the infrastructure local communities need. I suggest it would also include a commitment to hold a referendum to retain Irish Water in public ownership and protect the rights of those working for Irish Water. These are progressive policies. They would not bankrupt the nation, nor would they prevent progress from being made in other policy areas. Unfortunately, as the Labour Party has seen no proposals to address these issues, we have not been able to support a candidate for Taoiseach today.
As the Tánaiste stated, seven weeks have passed during which we have watched Independents refuse to support any party until Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil make a deal and Fianna Fáil demand Independents' support before it will continue talks with Fine Gael. We have watched and waited, but here we are with no one getting much support outside his or her own ranks. Those of us who have been elected to this House have a duty to reach beyond narrow self-interest. We have a duty to the people and the nation. It is about time those with the numbers required to form a Government got around to recognising this duty.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are holding the country to ransom. Citizens have been left stranded and are increasingly becoming angry and frustrated as for close to 50 days Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been playing out this really cynical spectacle.
This is motivated solely by the pursuit of political power, while the citizens are blighted with a diabolical housing and homelessness crisis that is worsening on a daily basis and a chronic situation in our hospitals. The blight of low pay, inflicted mostly by the last Government, but also previously by the Fianna Fáil-led Government, is now leading to workers rightly making pay claims and the possibility of very serious industrial conflicts, which we are already seeing play out at Luas, with Tesco workers also balloting for strike action.
While all of that is going on, there is the scandal of the Panama papers, in which we discover firms without nameplates hidden away up residential streets facilitating hundreds of Irish companies to engage in transactions offshore in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands and almost certainly involved in tax evasion or massive tax avoidance, robbing the suffering citizens of this country of millions, tens of millions or possibly hundreds of millions of euro.
We cannot discuss any of this nor do anything about it because of the spectacle of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael manoeuvring to be top dog and refusing to accept that the days when the political establishment could control both the Government and the Opposition are over. They cannot stand that history has moved on and that they cannot control both sides of the House. However, they will have to accept it. Things are changing. I heard Deputy Lisa Chambers talk about the fact that Fianna Fáil does not want to break promises and that the people demanded a change of Government. Yes, they demanded a change of Government, but not because they are interested in the personnel or the banner of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael or any other political banner. It was because they want changes in policies. Their anger at political betrayal is due to the fact that people make promises about specific policies and issues that affect them and then abandon those policies and promises. That is why the Labour Party has disintegrated as the political force-----
It has disintegrated as the major political force on the left in this country, not because of who it talks to or who it got into bed with, but because of the policies and promises-----
-----that they abandoned. That is what people are concerned about.
What I, and I believe most of the country, would like to know is what the difference is between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I consider myself reasonably studied and knowledgeable in Irish politics, but if someone were to ask me what is the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I would scratch my head and say, "I haven't got a clue". I defy any member of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to explain to me the difference between them. If the spectacle being played out at the moment were a debate about issues and policies, I believe the country could understand that and might even be willing to wait. However, there are no discussions about those. The only issue we have heard mentioned is water charges and the two parties have to talk about that because the people put it on the agenda. However, that is not an obstacle to forming a Government because there is a very simple arithmetic to it. The majority of Deputies in this Dáil promised, because of a mass popular movement, that they would get rid of water charges. No debate is necessary. That is not an obstacle to Deputies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael talking to each other. All they have to do is respect the democratic wishes of the people as expressed in the election.
Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have fired out little jibes at "the others", who are not willing to talk and address the issues affecting the country. Au contraire.Today Deputy Bríd Smith held a meeting, to which everybody in this Dáil was invited, where the Luas workers, who have been maligned and misrepresented regarding a very serious industrial dispute affecting citizens in this country-----
This briefing sought to resolve the dispute and end the industrial action on a fair basis. Interestingly, nobody from Fine Gael or the Labour Party turned up to that briefing.
We are interested and willing to co-operate with anybody on the issues that affect people, whether it is housing, health, industrial relations or whatever, but the fact is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are not interested in those issues. That is not what they are debating-----
I take exception, as one of the Independents 4 Change Deputies, to being told that we are sitting here not participating, particularly by the Labour Party, but also by other parties in this House. It has been about seven weeks since the election, and seven is usually a significant number. It was considered the age of reason for a very long time, certainly throughout my childhood, and we talk about the seven ages of man. It is usually associated with insight, but I have seen no insight from either of the big political parties here.
I have waited, watched and participated and I have not heard or seen one single policy document to deal with the housing crisis. I am not about to throw out figures because I am sick and tired of figures being thrown out. Let me quote a short paragraph for the attention of the House from somebody who is not known as a radical leftist, John O'Connor, chief executive of the Housing Agency. In it he states: "Affordable, high-quality housing provision will reduce poverty and inequality, improve quality of life, increase international competitiveness, increase disposable income, and will have a bigger impact on the lives of more citizens than almost any other policy intervention". Yet we have no policy document on housing. We have Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil talking about mechanisms of co-operation, that is, how they will save face.
A female Deputy to my right, who has since left the Chamber, talked about leaving egos behind. That is exactly what this is about, it is about two egos in competition, finding mechanisms to work with each other, but there is no policy document on housing. It is a disgrace that we have not listened to people such as Fr. Peter McVerry and all of the non-governmental organisations that have called for the recognition of a national emergency in housing, because that is what we face. Why do we have it? Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are part of the problem and, unfortunately, so was Labour. Under Labour and Fine Gael, the most fundamental change in housing policy was brought in under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, which introduced the housing assistance payment. Once in receipt of the payment, one was considered adequately housed - in private accommodation and with no security of tenure - and removed from the waiting list. I understand there was very little discussion-----
I did not interrupt the Deputy. She had plenty of time to talk.
I will quote from another organisation that is not known as radically left-wing, Sherry FitzGerald. It tells us in yesterday's newspapers: "The property market is in crisis". It goes on to state: "Rising housing prices mask true dysfunction of property market". I have not heard one single proposal to deal in an integrated way with the housing crisis. The most fundamental part of the solution is that we inform the local authorities and provide funding so that they can build homes for our people.
Time after time, on the doors, people asked us to do something about the health service. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been part of the problem. Both party leaders visited Galway and both said the hospital there was not fit for purpose, particularly the accident and emergency department. I am not one of those Independents who wants to highlight one hospital in Waterford as opposed to another hospital. I am here because I believe in public health for all of us. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, with the help of Labour, have systematically run down the health service. I am familiar with the issue as I have been a member of the regional health forum from since 2006. In the past there was any amount of money for the National Treatment Purchase Fund or the special delivery unit. Now there is money to send our patients abroad.
Would you, a Cheann Comhairle, like to travel abroad to receive treatment in France and borrow money in the credit union if you could get it, or would you like to spend a number of days on a trolley? I say, "Hands up," to see if any Deputy has spent three or four days on a trolley. We should have a sense of outrage about this and be in the business of doing something about it.
I ask the Independents who have gone over to Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil to stand with us. I am issuing that challenge. Let them stand with us and stand for, among other solutions, a public housing programme. There is a place for the private landlord, but it must be balanced by an active local authority building programme. Let them stand with us in favour of a public health system, regardless of whether it will take five or ten years. Let them stand with us in support of Luas workers, with whom we stood today and from whom we have learned about their scandalous portrayal by the media. Let us stand with the group we met on the last occasion, Peace and Neutrality Alliance, PANA, which alerted us to the figures showing the militarisation of Shannon Airport and the many other groups we have met in the past few weeks. I did not see Labour Party Members there. I also did not see Fine Gael Deputies there. We also met the representatives of the patients who had suffered symphysiotomy. We have used our strength in numbers on the left to support these vulnerable people.
I proudly say I will take my role seriously, in government as soon as we have the numbers and in opposition in the meantime. If two parties or alliances on the left had the same numbers - 50 and 43 Deputies, respectively - we would be demonised in the media for not forming a government. Shame on them for not doing so.
It became obvious to most of us, not today, last week or four weeks ago but on the day of the count, that the numbers dictated that those in two large blocks would be the key players. Essentially, the numbers have not changed since. It is about politics, but, first and foremost, it is about the numbers. Today, as it was last week, is about an individual, Deputy Enda Kenny, as opposed to Deputy Micheál Martin. That was the choice we were asked to make. It is a charade. It has to be about political choices, but we have not seen any programme. We have merely been asked to vote for an individual, but, essentially, that is not what most of us thought the notion of electing a Taoiseach would be about.
Obviously, we are in a changed environment. We are operating in a polarised Dáil because society has been polarised by decisions made. There is a great wealth divide, with a significant level of child poverty at a time when there is significant wealth in the country. People have become millionaires by some of the choices made. We look at the choices made on housing whereby the market, not only in the past five years but probably in the past 20, has been the dominant means by which houses have been delivered, yet at the same time waiting lists have grown. I am dealing with a family - a father and a mother and their two young children - who have nowhere to go tonight and it is no different on other days. It is about political choices.
I listened to the proposer of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach who talked about Fine Gael believing in a fair society. The decisions made in the past five years were underpinned by an ideology that did not deliver a fair society. There were choices to be made. Throughout those five years many of us identified issues, particularly housing and the provision of health services, on which the choices being made, in fact, caused the situation to worsen.
I listened to the Labour Party - as if it was ground zero day - over-promise prior to the 2011 general election, but it under-performed hugely-----
-----and walked away telling us there would be a game changer in dealing with the debt issue. We are still waiting for the game changer. The Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, might talk about the price her colleagues are paying, but, my goodness, society is still carrying that debt, about which it thought something would be done. There was a big promise made in that regard.
The Social Democrats want to act constructively in this Dáil. About three weeks ago we said the inevitable was being postponed, that one needed to have Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael talking to each other because they comprised the two large blocks. That has to happen, but at the same time there is a constructive role for the Dáil to play. I am encouraged by the engagement taking place at the Dáil reform committee and the changes that might allow a more equal mandate in the engagement we will see in this Dáil if it carries through into the decisions made. No doubt there are differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, but what is not different is the ideology that has underpinned the policy decisions that have led to the health service, housing system and corporate governance arrangements we have in place.
I will make one final point. I have said repeatedly in the past few years that Irish Water is about much more. It is shorthand for a lot of other issues. There was hardly a doorstep in my constituency on which it was not mentioned. Pensioners told me about how they had been pauperised by various charges. People did not like the idea that others were gaining at their expense. They could name persons who they believed were gaining at their expense through the contracts that had been awarded. It is important, therefore, that we understand that it is about a lot more than Irish Water. As somebody pointed out, a majority of Members in this Dáil take a different view from that of Fine Gael takes on this issue.
I will reflect on what happened today. This morning the attention was on the statement which has been issued by 13 Independent Deputies, not all of whom who have been engaged in the talks. Reading the statement, they are looking for two things - that the two parties mentioned treat each other with equal esteem and that some agreement covering three budgets be reached between the two parties, in conjunction with whoever may enter into government with whichever party is able to form a minority Government. I heard the Taoiseach accepting that responsibility, as he has done in the past four or five weeks, to try to establish a Government. Having been partially involved for a period of time with genuine intent, I see no reason to question his motives or the approach made. He at least acknowledged in the response to the Independents that he will continue to try to do this. Unless my ears deceived me, I also heard Deputy Micheál Martin say that he, too, was so willing to step up to the plate, with his party behind him, even though some of the later speeches may have set a slightly different tone. I read between the lines an acknowledgement that in this instance it is more likely that a minority Fine Gael Administration may be formed, but he was willing to enter talks. I agree with his caveat in that regard, that, by and large, it would be better to do it without being in the full glare of the media and without people tweeting or posting comments on Facebook. That is what I heard in this Chamber, but perhaps I am wrong. If I have misread the basic intent of Deputy Micheál Martin, I ask him to interrupt me, but my sense is - the Deputy is nodding his head - that my assessment is not wrong.
To a certain extent, the statements from the Independents are, aside from history, part of the process, given that we have moved on from the requirement for parity of esteem which existed during recent days. To a certain extent, it is moving to the next step.
As Deputy Micheál Martin is involved in the process, I will give him some advice. He is right to address the issue of Irish Water first and remove it from any programme for Government negotiations that may take place in the establishment of a minority Government. I listened to what Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and others said, that holding a referendum on public ownership might be one of the ways of addressing some of the fears about which Deputy Catherine Murphy spoke, that it is about something much wider. I hope it is possible for some sort of agreement on it.
I also have a sense from all sides that there is widespread agreement that if we can form a Government and avoid an election - Deputy Coveney said an election would be a failure on all our parts - we want a greater degree of social equity and justice and a new Government to tackle income inequality and poverty. If there is one outcome of the election, discerning what people were saying, I sense this in the result. Given the statements here, I do not sense that people disagree with it. If some sort of minority Government is formed, let this be at the core. The Green Party's vision is that an ecological and social justice approach go hand in hand.
How we engage in the process and strive to seek such social justice is also important. I am glad we do not have an adversarial Chamber but that there is a bit of a curve in the House. If, as Deputy Micheál Martin said, we are going to reach an historic moment in which we take a minority rather than a majority approach, facing each other and shouting and screaming at each other will not work. If, as Deputy Catherine Murphy said, we are to take the changes we are agreeing in the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, it requires that all of us, in opposition and in government, start addressing each other and working with each other in a consensual manner. As just one reflection of what I have heard this afternoon, I quote from Bertolt Brecht's poem "To Posterity":
For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.
Let us be slightly kind to each other in the next week, give each other a little space, talk to each other with a little respect. We all have social justice in our hearts and aspirations. Let us try to achieve it through co-operation in whatever evolves during the coming weeks.
Today, I reached a decision on Government formation and voting for a Taoiseach. My Independent colleagues issued a statement that went otherwise. I was not invited to the meeting from which the statement came, which I believe was inadvertent. I agree with the statement that we need to hasten the formation of a Government and give stability to the people. I also agree with the statement in that I hope Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can agree to give mutual support to each other. I hope what Deputy Eamon Ryan said and what we heard from both leaders is true. I also agree that we need a minimum of three budgets to give stability.
While I am in agreement with my fellow Independent Members, I believe the best way to move forward with this is to identify which minority Government we would be willing to support. This is the way to practice the new politics about which we are all talking. The housing agencies, one of which Deputy Connolly quoted, the business leaders, disability groups and medical professionals are all calling for a government. The Opposition is calling for a government. The people are calling for a government. It is time for us to act on these calls. Given that a second election will not change the outcome, we must examine how to deliver our promises through a minority government.
Since I was elected, I have worked tirelessly to assist in the formation of a government. I have never accused those who were not at the talks of not doing so. Almost 100 hours of talks have taken place. It has been an incredible experience to hear the views of the constituents of other Independent colleagues which are coming onto the table and of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies. During the election, I promised to share the views of my constituents with everybody who would listen and to talk to anyone who was willing to form a stable government. Therefore, I vigorously shared, and continue to share, the concerns and issues of the people of Dublin South-West and passionately represented the voice of those facing inequality due to social background, gender or minority status, concern with housing, child care, health, disability and the referendum on the eighth amendment. I vigorously and passionately argued these issues and learned a considerable amount in the discussions from those who shared them, listening to the diversity of views.
Full equality is possible, but not without a Government that is willing to consider it as an integral part of its vision to build a vibrant economy and a just society. I stand with the groups which Deputy Connolly identified, as I have demonstrated. In light of my decision today, I think Fine Gael is willing to take on, and make integral to its vision, a belief that full equality is possible. This is the future, if it is not the past, to which Deputy McDonald referred. I hope my vote today for Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach brings us closer to forming a minority government so we can get on with the work which all our constituents want us to do. After seven weeks, while the public has waited, I believe it was the right thing for me to do.