Saturday, 27 June 2020
Ceapachán an Taoisigh agus Ainmniú Chomhaltaí an Rialtais: Tairiscint - Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government: Motion
B'áil liom cead a chur in iúl, mar eolas don Dáil, gur chuir mé m'ainmniú mar Thaoiseach in iúl don Uachtarán agus gur cheap sé mé dá réir. I beg leave to announce, for the information of the Dáil, that I have informed the President that the Dáil has nominated me to be the Taoiseach and that he has appointed me accordingly.
The urgent and ambitious programme for Government which we have agreed requires a significant reform to the structure of Departments, as well as a new approach to how we work collectively to deliver for all of the people of our country. Following the formal nomination of members of the Government, I will give more detail about these changes and the work we will undertake starting this evening and throughout our term.
Go gcomhaontóidh Dáil Éireann leis an Taoiseach d'ainmniú na dTeachtaí seo a leanas chun a gceaptha ag an Uachtarán mar chomhaltaí den Rialtas:
That Dáil Éireann approve the nomination by the Taoiseach of the following Deputies for appointment by the President to be members of the Government:
As Tánaiste and to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar.
To the Department of Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, Eamon Ryan.
To the Department of Finance, Paschal Donohoe.
To the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath.
To the Department of Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney.
To the Department of Education, Norma Foley.
To the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Roderic O’Gorman.
To the Department of Agriculture and the Marine, Barry Cowen.
To the Department of Justice, Helen McEntee.
To the Department of Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands, Heather Humphreys.
To the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien.
To the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin.
To the Department of Health, Stephen Donnelly.
To the Department of Higher Education, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris.
I propose to nominate Paul Gallagher SC for appointment by the President to be the Attorney General. I also propose to nominate Deputy Dara Calleary as Minister of State in the Department of the Taoiseach as Government Chief Whip. In the coming week, I will propose further Deputies to serve as Ministers of State and will outline a series of special responsibilities to be assigned to them. These will be focused on delivering specific priorities.
The Government which I am nominating will be committed to working together in a new way and with both urgency and ambition. There is no time for quietly settling in. Each Minister has a substantial role to play not just in delivering the commitments for his or her Department but also in the Government’s collective work. The challenges we must overcome are both immediate and, in many cases, long-standing. They can only be met and overcome if we work together across our responsibilities. There is no question but that our first priority will be continuing the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and moving decisively to recover from its devastating social, economic and cultural impact. We will immediately begin the work of preparing an investment-led jobs and recovery initiative, which will be brought to the Dáil for approval next month. This will be a whole-of-government initiative about more than just the enormous task of getting our people back to work.
I, together with Deputies Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan, will lead this process through a special Cabinet committee which will begin its work in the coming days. The Cabinet committee will have a wider membership. The economic elements of the initiative will directly act to help businesses which continue to struggle and move forward with sustainable initiatives to save and create good jobs in every part of our country.
No one yet fully understands what the lasting impacts of the pandemic will be but we know for sure that these impacts spread deeply in every aspect of our families and communities. We must help schoolchildren so that they do not fall permanently behind. We must help people to cope with the personal impact of stress and anxiety. We must do everything possible to quickly recognise and decisively respond to groups and communities which show new and unexpected impacts from the pandemic. We have to continue to implement safe and proportionate actions to limit the virus. The shaping of a fair and inclusive recovery will be our absolute priority from today and until this work is done.
We have also committed to an ambitious and urgent programme which will define our work from today onwards and in the coming years. Ireland can achieve very little without a strong and dynamic economy. To have a strong and dynamic economy we must continue to transform it. We must have sustainable investment in good public services and in preparing the workers and businesses of today and the future for technological change, and we must play our part in tackling the existential crisis of climate change. In support of our programme to meet these economic challenges, we will restructure key elements of Government. The Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform will be led by separate Cabinet Ministers. Together the Ministers will lead action on a wide range of strategies for investment, reform and making sure that Ireland plays a leading role in shaping fundamental economic policies under discussion within the European Union and internationally.
Deputy Leo Varadkar will lead the restructured Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with its urgent agenda. The transfer of trade to the Department reflects the fact that the next few years will be unique with regard to the number and importance of the trade issues which will be decided. This requires an integrated approach. Equally, it is a statement by the new Government that Ireland believes that international trade is essential for helping countries to prosper. It has been central to our progress in the past half century and it will continue to be central to our progress in the years ahead.
All three parties in this new Government believe that climate change is a defining challenge not just of this generation but of human history. The programme we have agreed puts action on climate change into the work of every part of Government. We must not just overcome this challenge but we must turn it into a new opportunity. We must build an Ireland with a sustainable economy, an Ireland which protects and restores its wonderful natural diversity and which does not leave communities behind in this great transition. Deputy Eamon Ryan will lead this work with a major new portfolio. In addition to climate change and the natural environment, he will oversee other specific areas which are an essential part of the wider climate change agenda. This includes transport as well as communication networks.
Deputy Hildegarde Naughton will be the Minister covering international and road transport and logistics.
Agriculture, food and the marine will remain a priority, both as central to rural society and as a major economic pillar. I reject the false idea that one can either support agriculture or care for the environment. Farmers are the great custodians of our countryside. We owe it to them to work with them to ensure decent incomes and a sustainable future for them and our rural communities as a whole. Senator Pippa Hackett will be appointed as a Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
This new Government is determined that Ireland will be a constructive and effective member of the European Union and the international community. In the many struggles under way in our world, there is no doubt where we stand. We stand for strong international co-operation. We stand for humanitarian principles. We stand for a Europe which is stronger and has the ability to fulfil the great challenges that we face. We stand with those who share our belief in free democracy and strong, rules-based international organisations. Deputy Simon Coveney will serve as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence. He will do so in a challenging period during which we will carry the additional responsibility of membership of the Security Council of the United Nations.
Our international standing rests on many things, but nothing is more important than the tradition of peacekeeping which our Defence Forces have built over six decades. Óglaigh na hÉireann has served and protected our country with great honour and distinction. Eighty-six of its personnel have given their lives showing the world the values of our country. The new Government is committed to renewing our commitment to Óglaigh na hÉireann. Deputy Coveney will ensure that its voice is heard, not just here but in shaping the humanitarian policies which its members will continue to serve.
We are also committed to completing the work of reforming policing and ensuring that communities are safe. The Good Friday Agreement remains the defining blueprint for our island's future and a vindication of democratic politics. The new Government will move forward quickly to try to fulfil the vision set out in the agreement. We will work closely with the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. I will establish within the Department of the Taoiseach a new shared island unit which will begin a renewed push to use the potential of the agreement to deliver sustained progress for all communities. We will do everything to seek the full implementation of the agreements made by the United Kingdom with the European Union concerning Brexit. Helping businesses and communities to prosper in spite of the impact of Brexit is an urgent and ongoing task for us.
This Government will work to deliver early and sustained action on housing. We are determined to restore hope to people that they will be able to find a place to buy or rent. There are no easy answers. Action and investment are required across a wide range of measures. We are also committed to delivering a public health service which will care for people faster and to the highest standards. We will focus not just on long-term changes but also on immediate action on the most urgent issues. As we have all seen in recent months, we have a great national resource in the skills and professionalism of those who work in our health service. I have no doubt that we can achieve sustained progress on long-standing problems.
The single most important decision in delivering progress for modern Ireland involved a decisive move towards expanding educational opportunity. The new Government is committed to delivering further progress on education and is implementing the most significant modern reform in the structure of how Government oversees this area. The higher education sector will form the core of a new, separate Government Department and will be combined with other science and innovation functions, including the area of science funding. This sector is going through a major transformation and needs clarity and engagement from Government. Equally, we need to do more to acknowledge and build on the incredible base of scientific research which has developed in the past two decades and has played a central role in our economy and ability to respond to the pandemic.
The Department of Education will implement a series of measures to make education more inclusive and to complete important reforms. Educational welfare functions and school completion services will be returned to that Department.
We will expand the work of the current Department of Children and Youth Affairs in a number of important ways. The vital task of improving child protection services and expanding childcare provision will be accelerated. Co-ordination of disability-related issues will be handled by a senior Minister for the first time.
One of the greatest developments in our recent history has been how we are becoming a more diverse society. History teaches us that in the long term, one has to work hard to achieve a successfully integrated society which respects the culture of all. Cabinet-level responsibility for integration demonstrates our commitment to undertaking this work.
Today would normally be the most colourful and joyful day of the year on the streets of Dublin. Pride is a reminder of just how far we can come in a generation through valuing equality, incorporating it in our laws and changing how we behave towards others.
Equality will have a strong voice in this new Government.
A free, independent and professional media is vital for our democracy. We have set out our commitment to helping not just our public service media, but our professional media as a whole to be able to have a sustainable future. Deputy Catherine Martin will lead our work on this as a matter of urgency. She will also lead the critical work of helping to restart and strengthen key elements of what makes us unique as a nation – our arts, teanga náisiúnta, sports and tourism. Beidh an Teachta Martin freagrach as an Roinn sin agus tabharfar suntasacht nua sa Rialtas d’fheidhmniú an stráitéis fad-téarmach do úsáid an teanga agus spreagadh eolais.
At this moment more than ever, we have been reminded of the central role the State must play in supporting people at key moments of their lives and providing them with security, including during their retirement. The social vision of the new Government includes giving a new impetus to community development. This is a major reconfiguration of central elements of how Government is structured and it will be accompanied by a new approach to how Government works. Ministers and their officials will work more closely together in a series of Cabinet committees which will be established. The challenges our country is facing cannot be placed within the walls of individual Departments. They cut across Government and we must work across normal boundaries to overcome these challenges, including decisive and rapid action on recovery; immediate and ongoing work to address the central challenges of housing, health, education, Brexit and climate change; and a positive and outward-looking engagement with Europe and the international community. These are the principles which will underpin our work. Our country has achieved many incredible things in the past and I have no doubt we can and will do so again.
I take it the arrangements set out by the Government Chief Whip are acceptable to the House. Are they agreed? Agreed.
I call the spokesperson for Fine Gael to address the House.
Today, we broke with tradition by electing a new Taoiseach and Government in this centre rather than Leinster House. We found a new way of doing things, without sacrificing any of the things that really matter. Let this symbolise the mission of this new Government, putting aside the divisions of the past to find new ways of doing things, a new approach that is in the best interests of our country and a break with the past for the dream of a better future.
I offer my sincere congratulations to Deputy Micheál Martin on his election as Taoiseach. This is a special day for him, his family and the Fianna Fáil Party and a day that will be celebrated my many people, not least by the banks of the lovely Lee. I especially want to mention one person, Deputy Martin's wife, Mary, who has been alongside him for all his political career, through the worst and the best of times. Today is her day as much as it is the Taoiseach's, and I hope she and her family enjoy it.
The unique circumstances of today's meeting in the Dáil mean that, unfortunately, there is not the usual gathering of family, friends and supporters, but they are here in spirit for this occasion. I offer my warm words of congratulations not simply because my party, Fine Gael, supported this election. It is right that we wish a new Taoiseach well when he or she starts out, whatever his or her political persuasion, because when a new Taoiseach does well, our country does well too. Today is not a day for rancour or point-scoring but one to mark a new beginning.
When I first became a Teachta Dála back in 2007, I was my party's spokesperson for a Department called Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and I enjoyed many robust exchanges with the Minister of the day. These exchanges continued over the years across the different positions we held and in recent years that was twice a week during Leaders' Questions. From today, we will be working together in Government. We are very different people but we have some crucial things in common. One of them is a determination to do what we can to better the lives of the people of our country. I look forward to working together with the Taoiseach in partnership over the next five years.
I also congratulate the incoming Minister for Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan and the Green Party on their return to Government. What an extraordinary comeback. Like the Taoiseach, in 2011, Deputy Ryan became the leader of a party that was on its knees. It had no Teachtaí Dála, little public support and questions were being asked about its future. Today, the Green Party is helping to shape our future for the better and I know from the negotiations that this is definitely a party that knows how to play senior hurling. During the debate on ratifying the programme for Government, I was impressed by the passion, vision and determination of the members of the Green Party. The intensity of its internal debate reflected a seriousness about the issues and did credit to everyone on all sides. I congratulate the new Ministers on their appointment and look forward to working with the Green Party to deliver real and lasting change for the benefit of our country and our world.
For my own party, this is an historic day as we enter our third consecutive Government, something we are doing for the first time. On a personal level, it is of course tinged with real sadness to see so many friends and colleagues leave office. When we met before travelling over to the Convention Centre, we numbered just seven. It seemed like the room was empty. I know the Fine Gael Ministers appointed today will serve our country to the very best of their ability, working to build a better future in the best traditions of our party. I also pay tribute to those who are no longer Ministers and served our country faithfully and courageously over the past few years. I also pay tribute to their staff. People often forget that behind every politician and Minister, there are advisers and support staff, many of whom will be made redundant in the next few days. I am honoured to be appointed the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and I look forward to taking up a new role with new responsibilities. Today is not, however, a day for celebration for Fine Gael, far from it. We are doing what is right for the country but it comes at a cost.
Ag obair in éineacht le Fianna Fáil agus an Páirtí Glas beidh muid in an ann téarnamh geilleagrach ár dtíre a stiúradh, poist agus rathúnas a thabhairt ar ais, dul i ngleic le torthaí na paindéime agus gníomhú ar athrú aeráide atá riachtanach chun ár dtír agus ár bpláinéad a chaomhnú. Our country has been through a terrible emergency in which many people have lost their lives and more have had to live with illness and fear of illness. Jobs have been lost, businesses destroyed and our economy upended. Across the world, countries have been badly affected by Covid-19 and are being affected by the consequences of climate breakdown. This Government will take the transformative action required to rebuild what has been swept away, repair what has been damaged and renew what has been lost. The mission of this new Government is, therefore, a simple one. We seek to be a Government of action that will deliver the kind of change that people demanded in the last election, a change not defined by one party but rather by the policies, priorities and actions we take as a new Government.
We seek to be a Government of enterprise, creating jobs and preparing for the jobs and workplaces of the future, driving our economic recovery and improving quality of life for all our people. We seek to be a Government of engagement, engaging with our citizens and countries around the world, at the heart of the European Union and offering leadership in the United Nations. Our parties have very different histories and temperaments but we are united by a determination to help Ireland to recover and thrive. We have respect for each other's policies, beliefs and values and we will work through any differences that arise for the greater good.
This Government must hit the ground running, starting today. We must get places reopened and people back to work and repair what has been damaged. Next month, we will unveil the July stimulus to kick-start our economy. Its recovery fund will be targeted to increase domestic demand and employment and deliver balanced regional growth. I believe we have the opportunity to drive strategic change through our small and medium enterprises, accelerate job creation, decarbonise the economy, ensure Ireland is at the forefront of the digital future and bring about a more equal economy for all.
In autumn, around budget time, we will produce our national economic plan, a far-reaching and long-term vision to restore full employment. It will show how to secure public finances in a world that must live with Covid-19. The plan will also drive our efforts to decarbonise the economy and prepare for the next phases of technological transformation. We do not have any time to waste and must act now.
Over recent months, when things were at their worst, we saw our country and its people at their best. We have faced severe challenges but today is a day of new beginnings and therefore is a day of hope for the future.
It is a great honour to be a part of the acting out of our Constitution here today. Appointing a Taoiseach and being a part of the Cabinet appointed by him is the greatest honour in our democratic, constitutional Republic, and we seek to live up to that as best we can.
The Cabinet has a pivotal role in the Irish Constitution and political decision-making. We operate a system with collective Cabinet responsibility which also brings collective Cabinet authority. I may be wrong, but I understand that the traditional position is that the Cabinet does not vote "Yes" or "No" on issues. An issue that comes to the Cabinet has had a lot of work done on it in advance and three things can happen, namely, it can be accepted, it can be amended, or the Cabinet can decide to revert back to it again so that the issue is resolved. That system gives us great strength. That sense of common, collective ability in the Cabinet to come to a conclusion, while sometimes difficult, leads to good decision-making. The Green Party commits to working with the other two parties in a trusting way to make things work on behalf of our people, particularly because we are in such a difficult time. We are in the midst of a crisis that we have not seen before.
To consider how to approach that crisis, I will briefly look back on the history of the State because there are lessons from the past that this Government, Cabinet, Ministers of State and the wider Members of the Dáil and Seanad can try to apply as they engage in the process that will unfold in the next four or five years. We should look to some of our past successes, including the strategic decisions that were made in the early part of the past decade when we decided to invest in Science Foundation Ireland and research, and became a country that is good in industries such as digital technologies and medical devices, and that focused on new, advanced technologies. That was a strategic decision made by politicians at the time, implemented by public servants and lived out in the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Irish people who took part in the transformation that saw our economy and society become remarkably successful in advanced manufacturing, advanced services and technology. We should keep on that path. In fact, we should double down to try to become even better in those areas by asking what the new technological changes and investments will be.
Some of the Departments that have now been set up are aimed at innovation and connecting our academic and business communities, our civil society and the Government. That will be pivotal to the success of this country. We must be willing to take risks, make mistakes and fail because that is the only way we will succeed. We will learn lessons from the things that do not work and we can multiply and roll out the things that do work. We must be open to, and invest in, innovation in our education systems. We must invest in a State that is willing to be enterprising and take risks, that will not hammer a public servant who makes a creative decision that goes wrong because we can learn from that mistake.
Another example of how to get out of a crisis dates back to the late 1980s. We had gone through a long and deep recession at that time. The history books will give various versions of what happened and credit for the emergence from that recession is sometimes given to cultural events, such as the Irish football team beating England in the 1988 European Championships and Mary Robinson calling people to dance. Various things lifted our spirits. I think that central to the recovery of that time was a social partnership that went right down to community level. It was a result of the work of the National Economic and Social Council and others, including politicians of the time, investing in community development and leadership. Investing in communities was seen as a way of helping to eradicate poverty, and community leaders were built up. It was not all the work of the State. The State facilitated communities to come out of bad times, and it worked. We were good at that. We were seen as one of the best examples in Europe of how the LEADER programme and community enterprise schemes could work. I set up a small business through a community enterprise learning scheme with the help of Mr. Tommy Simpson in Cabra. He helped me up in the first days of getting a business going. That community approach really worked and I think that, in every Department of the Government, we should be looking to put a focus on community and encouraging a bottom up recovery. The State should not do everything for people but should facilitate community groups to thrive. We lost some of that orientation during the past decade and it is time to bring it back at scale and everywhere.
Another lesson we can learn happened before my time. How does a country change strategic direction? I believe we can see an example in the period of T.K. Whitaker and Seán Lemass, both public servants and politicians. They, and others, turned Ireland from a closed economy to an open one. That brought a lot of our success. That change came because there was broad political agreement at the time, following crises of the 1950s that included mass emigration, unemployment and widespread poverty. There was an agreement that the country had to change. In that agreement, which lasted 20 or 30 years, we were able to make strategic decisions that helped us to change our path and become a country that is open to the world. There was collective agreement around investment in education, joining the European Union and being good at foreign direct investment. It took 20 or 30 years for the rewards of that consistency to come through but it worked for the country and we need the same today.
We need agreement that we are going to move from an unsustainable to a sustainable model of the economy, that we are going to go green. We can do so with confidence because most parties in this House agree with that proposal. Parties of the left and right, or whatever their position, and Independents agree. They realise that Irish people think that we are going to be good at making the necessary changes and it is time to do so. We are well placed to make that strategic change.
Europe is also making changes with the Green New Deal. That is the direction the new economy is moving in and, therefore, it is the way that innovation is going. More than anything else, we know that it will not work if it is not community first and from the bottom up. We need community energy and agreement on how we build houses, run public transport, provide safe routes to schools and other things that help us build communities as well as cutting out the carbon in our society. We should create a local environment that is healthy in every way.
We will set about this task with pride on this weekend when, in non-Covid-19 times, the Pride parade would have passed along the quays outside this building, as people from Dublin know. Pride is an incredible occasion that gives one pride in this country. We should be a Government that adopts that as our approach. We must welcome diversity, be open and creative. We seek to do whatever we can to get this country out of a deep recession using lessons from the past but facing the future in a way that will serve our country with pride.
I extend my good wishes to An Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin. I have no doubt that this is a proud day for him, his people and his community. I also extend good wishes to all those who have now been appointed to ministerial offices because this is a cause for celebration for all of them.
In February last, we presented a manifesto for change to the people and we asked them to give us a chance to deliver that change, to lead. The people by way of response gave us a record mandate to enter government. That was not to be on this occasion but, nonetheless, we have witnessed a realignment of Irish politics. Sinn Féin, for the first time, will now lead the Opposition and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have formally come together. The widespread expectation that a change election would be followed by the formation of a new Government that could deliver the new politics that people are crying out for was not to be. The century-old impulse to grab power, to maintain the old political order, to push back against the instinct and energy for change so powerfully demonstrated at the ballot box, drew Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together. The truth is they have coalesced and colluded in frustrating the voice of change. A Cheann Comhairle, excluding the representatives of more than half a million citizens is nothing to be proud of in my book. I do not think it is something any democrat should boast about. Indeed, succeeding in stalling or stopping necessary change is really no success at all. It is the mark of narrow, failed politics of the past.
That narrow kind of thinking is reflected in the unambitious programme for Government. This will be a Government of more of the same. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government is no historical departure. However, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forced into a loveless embrace by the hopeful vote of the people; that now is the historical point of departure for their Government. Some have described this as the end of so-called Civil War politics. The reality is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael today have precious little to do with anything that was at issue in that tragic conflict. The words of Liam Mellows, a patriot himself executed by the Free State, in his speech against the Treaty, ring very true today: "Men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed." For decades, the issue between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was supposedly, mar dhea, about Civil War issues. In reality, the ancient quarrel between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has long since descended into a race for power and privilege in this State. Forgotten, abandoned in all of this were those who suffered most from the partition of our country, the people of the Six Counties. Forgotten and abandoned was any plan to achieve full democracy, self-determination and unity for Ireland; and so, the great national project of reunification is not included in the programme for Government. There is not a whisper from this Government, while the conversation about constitutional change happens all across our island. This is especially concerning during the age of Brexit, when the imperative to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts has never been greater. A united Ireland is the very best idea for the future of our country. It is essential to the prosperity of all our people because growing our economy requires an all-Ireland approach. Protecting our health services requires an all-Ireland approach. Getting ahead of Covid-19, protecting public health and protecting our people's health requires an all-Ireland approach. No Government, not least an incoming Government, in this period should ignore the imperative of unity. It should be planning for change and reunification and for that referendum on Irish unity as per the Good Friday Agreement.
A Cheann Comhairle, the society shaped by the old establishment divides us between the haves and the have-nots, the insiders and the outsiders, the entitled and the rest. That is why Government after Government has presided over a housing crisis. It is an indictment of successive Governments that housing is so unaffordable for so many. It is also why our health system is broken, crippled by hospital overcrowding, a never-ending trolley crisis and record-breaking treatment waiting lists. It is also why the principle of fairness is breached daily in every aspect of Irish life. The Ireland of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is a place where 65 year olds cannot retire in dignity with their State pension. It is one where working parents cannot afford childcare, where educational disadvantage is all too prevalent, where citizens living with disabilities and their carers are forgotten, and where those with mental health challenges are left to fend for themselves. None of this is accidental. All of this is the consequence of bad politics. It is why Governments come and go but nothing really changes. Irish politics is broken and the way of fixing it is by heeding the people's demand for change. The people know this and they have said in record numbers that the time for change is now, and people are ready for a fresh start. Those who drafted the programme for Government, I feel, must live in a different reality from the rest of us. The crises in housing and healthcare dominated the election and both have deepened during the Covid crisis. On top of that, many families are now facing what has been described as a tsunami of debt, as insurance companies were allowed to continue their rip-off, as banks charged interest to 80,000 families who had to take a mortgage break.
People need homes that they can afford. I call on the Taoiseach and the new Government to build the affordable homes and make sure they are actually affordable in the real world. People need to be able to see a doctor when they are sick, so the Government must invest in public hospitals and our public system and end the privatisation agenda. What is proposed in the Government's plan, far from tackling these challenges, will only deepen our problems. The issues that mattered most to ordinary people in the course of the election are dodged or fudged. However, the Government has managed to include tax breaks for those at the top in its programme. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil from the get-go have copped out on delivering common-sense solutions for workers and families. The brief enlightenment in which we saw a turn to more progressive decisions during the Covid-19 emergency has been extinguished by the programme for Government. For Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, fairness can only ever be a temporary thing, a reaction rather than a principle of good government.
Because of its lack of ambition, this is a Government already on borrowed time. Workers and families know that they deserve so much better. It is that belief that will drive Sinn Féin's determination to deliver effective Opposition. We have the policies, a Cheann Comhairle. We have the team. Deputy Doherty has the plan to shape a fair economy, Deputy O'Reilly that for a national health service. Deputy Ó Broin has the plan to make housing affordable. We are happy to share those plans with the Government and if it is serious about tackling these issues, it will work with those plans. I am very proud to lead our team of 37 Deputies, a team committed to realising a changed Ireland, a fair Ireland and a united Ireland. We will stand up for all of those who voted for change. We will work hard for them and it is in their name that we will hold the Government to account.
I am sharing time with Deputy Ó Ríordáin. I want to congratulate formally the Taoiseach on his appointment. It is an extremely special day, particularly for his wife, Mary, his children and wider family, and definitely his community. During his contribution earlier I could feel from the emotion in his voice how important his community is. I am sure he is looking forward to getting back among them in the coming days and I wish him well, sincerely.
The Taoiseach brings huge experience to the role given the length of time he has spent in different ministries. I am someone who very much admires the legislation he introduced in 2004 on the smoking ban. It changed a great deal of health and social issues in Ireland, it changed thinking and was very formative and ahead of its time. More of that thinking would be really appreciated in these difficult times. The Taoiseach also has a special interest in education. He, like myself and unlike his predecessor, comes from a public school background. Indeed, I think that we are in a minority as his predecessor, the leader of Sinn Féin, the leader of People Before Profit, and the leader of RISE all come from private schools. I am glad that the Taoiseach comes from the public school side. It is to be hoped it will bring an increased interest in education. That there are two Cabinet Ministers also shows a determination for the area, which I very much welcome.
I wish to acknowledge the outgoing Taoiseach and current Tánaiste whom I look forward to working with. He is someone I have worked quite closely with in the past. I have not often agreed with him, although I have on some occasions, but he is someone who has always been very direct and straight and easy to deal with. I wish him well in the challenges ahead of him. I wish all the new Ministers the best of luck in their portfolios, many of which I know very well and some that I, and my colleagues, do not. I can assure them we will get to know them very well in the coming months and years.
While Covid has caused this country extraordinary pain and suffering, politically it creates opportunities because it has been a disrupter, and I am asking the Taoiseach to use it. In health, why limit free GP care to under 12 years? Why not just introduce universal care? On Sláintecare, we need public beds quickly. We need to build hospitals, but in the interim, let us nationalise one of the private hospitals. We should radically introduce profound changes in education across primary and third level, something in which the Taoiseach has a profound interest. Why not fast-forward some of the ambitions around climate change that are labour intensive, pushing shovel-ready projects and employment. For jobs, stimulus must concentrate on key areas such as tourism. I have said before that this programme for Government is weak on workers' rights. I ask clearly, as it now comes under the Tánaiste's area of responsibility, that an immediate priority of the Government be an appeal to the Supreme Court of the recent decision on sectoral employment orders that protect tens of thousands of ordinary low-paid workers in many areas and sectors in this country. If it is necessary to introduce emergency legislation, let us do that. We will make it easier for the Government. My colleague, Deputy Nash, who inspired these orders through legislation, has already written a Bill. I ask the Government to please look at it.
There is speculation that the Taoiseach will appoint 20 Ministers of State. This would be his first mistake. I was a member of a Government during very difficult times when 15 Ministers of State were appointed. That was plenty. There were no ministerial advisers either. Taxpayers of Ireland would not appreciate such lavish and indulgent behaviour at this difficult time. I am sure that when the Taoiseach reflects, he will agree. The Taoiseach is rotating with the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance is rotating with the Minister for Public Expenditure, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is rotating too, but in addition the Attorney General will rotate. That is not good practice. To have an Attorney General rotate in the middle of a term of office because of political preference is not right and will not lead to good, consistent interpretation of legislation for the needs of Government or the Houses of the Oireachtas. I brought in rent freezes, which others said were unconstitutional, yet all of a sudden during the Covid crisis, they were constitutional and were introduced. We need consistency.
I have many questions around Departments but one is glaring. We have a new Government. I congratulate everyone and congratulate the Green Party in particular for being part of it. However, nowhere is there a mention of a Minster with responsibility for the environment. Who has the responsibilities for environment and planning? Who is responsible for all the wider areas of environment outside of climate change? Who, in particular, is responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency and all other planning reform?
It feels almost as though a wartime Government has just been assembled. We meet here because 1,700 people have lost their lives as a result of a virus that has hit our country. That should remind us all of our collective endeavour to beat this virus and return the country to some level of normality. Politics can be a harsh business, it can be quite personal at times, and in that environment the country needs to see politics working better. That is why it is disappointing to hear words such as "betrayal" and even "hatred" mentioned earlier today. My party tries not to trade in hatred or division but to oppose the elements of what Government does that we feel are wrong and support what it does that we feel is right.
I want the minds of Dáil Éireann to turn to the words of Thomas Johnson who, just over 100 years ago, wrote in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919: "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter". We are in Dublin's north inner city. The great thing that has liberated those who have been disadvantaged in this country has been education, but what has enslaved them has been inequality and drugs. This Government proposes two citizens' assemblies, one on education and one on drugs. I and my party say that if the Government is genuine about radically overhauling the education system, if it is going to treat the 17.9% of Irish adults who are functionally illiterate as a scandal and realise the 30% of children who leave disadvantaged schools have basic reading problems, if it is to understand the difference between one three year old and another is a 66% differential in their oral language capacity, and if it wants to tackle all those issues in its education citizens' assembly, then we will work with the Government and support it because we believe that education is the great liberator. However, what has enslaved working-class communities is the drug issue, which goes right across the land. It is the issue of addiction and the criminalisation of those in addition. Let us treat the drugs crisis as a health issue and use the resources of the State to tackle the drug gangs and not those who suffer from what they do.
We will disagree on tax, the role of the State and its size, and on many other things, but if the Government's endeavour is to eradicate educational disadvantage and illiteracy, and to have a radical change in drug policy, then it will get agreement from the Labour Party on those areas. It is not about talking about betrayal or about hatred, it is about making politics work for people. There is so much that can be achieved in these Houses of the Oireachtas if we put aside the pre-written scripts and actually do something for the people who sent us here.
I congratulate the Taoiseach. The idea of the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, will take a bit of getting used to, but on a personal note I wish him well.
He has waited for this for a long time. There is no doubt that today must be a very proud day for him and his family. I also congratulate the Cabinet Ministers who have been appointed today.
The election of a three-party coalition Government is taking place in what are the most inauspicious of circumstances. As a result of Covid-19, the country is going through a devastating period in which, tragically, 1,736 people have lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and countless lives have been changed forever. Worldwide, we must remind ourselves that we are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Here in Ireland, we must recognise that it remains a real and ever-present danger.
I thank our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, and all of those working on the front line, in particular, in the health area, but also across retail and other essential services. These people have done exceptional work over recent months and continue to do that work on behalf of us all. I also acknowledge members of the public who have adhered magnificently to the advice, despite many having lost loved ones or their jobs and making so many huge sacrifices over recent months.
Today, we must recognise that in February’s election the electorate roundly rejected the kind of politics provided by the outgoing Government of Fine Gael supported by Fianna Fáil. Rarely before had people been so exercised by and so conversant with Government policy and the harmful negative effects much of it was having on their quality of life and that of their families. People had enough of the high cost of living and the difficulty in accessing those public services which are so essential to living a decent life. On top of that, there is a raft of other charges and costs, such as insurance, energy costs and mortgage interest, which the Government had failed to control. All of this was happening in the context of 25% of the workforce being on low pay and an increasingly precarious and insecure world of work.
The cruel irony is that the very people who created those problems are today back in power. During the election, the most common response on the doorsteps to the question of who people would be voting for was, "Not Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael anyway". When the votes were counted those once large parties, the Civil War parties, mustered just 43% of the vote between them. People voted predominantly for a different kind of politics. They voted for a new approach and a different value system or ideology. The general election result strongly signified the desire of the Irish people for a fundamental shift towards a more equal, fair and inclusive society.
In mid-April, as the pandemic had taken hold, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agreed a framework document. It contained many worthy aspirations and in an apparent candid admission of mistakes made, they made a remarkable statement. They said:
We know that there is no going back to the old way of doing things. Radical actions have been taken to protect as many people as possible, and new ways of doing things have been found in a time of crisis. The importance of the well resourced, properly functioning and responsive State has never been clearer.
For a moment, we thought that lessons had been learned, the penny had finally dropped and there was a realisation that a strong State is critical to the well-being of a society and to people’s lives. When the pandemic struck the frailties of our State were all too graphically exposed in an under-resourced public health service with nowhere near enough staff or hospital beds; our arm’s length privatised model of social care; the prevalence of low-paid, low-hours work with limited rights and protections; our disjointed, underfunded, mainly for-profit childcare services; high rents and lack of security for many tenants; overcrowded and overpriced housing; inhumane conditions in direct provision; and so many other weaknesses.
In responding to Covid-19, the Government moved to socialise many of these essential public services because that was the only way we would survive. Initially, it seemed as if the Government was serious about radical change. However, very soon it became clear that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael fully intended going back to the old ways of doing things as soon as Covid had been brought under control. People had voted for permanent change and a genuine social contract where people pay taxes according to their means and, in return, have access to universal public services and where Government works for the common good. That was never the Fine Gael way, however. It is a party which operates on the basis that the market is king and that if one cannot afford to pay for the essential services that are available as of right in most other European countries, it is tough luck and one does not get access to those services. That is one of the reasons that, when Fine Gael approached the Social Democrats with a view to coalition, we knew it was not going to change its spots. It was clear that while Fine Gael talked the talk of inclusion and public services, there was no financial underpinning to the aspirations. So it is with the programme for Government. There is continued reliance on developers for the elusive affordable housing that we have been promised so often. We will have another 18 months of free rein and poor planning standards with strategic housing developments. Sláintecare is supposedly to be accelerated but without any budget until at least 2022. The diversion of funding from the public healthcare system through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, will continue. There is no indication of a public model of childcare and no reform of corporation tax or other taxes, and on it goes.
The lack of any real funding commitment to change runs right through the programme for Government. It is clear that following the immediate crisis, the intention is to get back to business as usual. Key questions about the size and duration of the stimulus package needed and the extent of the borrowing required are kicked down the road.
Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, had choices about where it would go. It knew very well that the market-led politics of Fine Gael, which it supported for the past four years, had done the country and both parties much damage. However, when it had an opportunity to make a break with the past, shift to the left and lead a genuine social democratic Government that people had voted for, it eschewed that opportunity and instead locked itself into Fine Gael. That is an utterly retrograde step for the country.
I genuinely hope the Green Party is successful in furthering the climate change and biodiversity agenda but I have to express concern about that being possible to achieve within the prevailing agenda of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The lack of any commitment to a reduction in carbon emissions in the context of the national herd is reflective of just that challenge.
For our part, the expanded Social Democrats group will play a constructive and positive role in this Dáil. We will fight unapologetically for a fair society based on high quality universal public services and for the kind of politics which challenges the many vested interests in Irish society and hold us back so much. We will provide strong opposition in order to hold the Government to account and we will work tirelessly to further the ideals of social democracy in order to create the kind of society we believe will serve the best interests of all of the Irish people. Go raibh maith agaibh.
I also will share time with Deputy Gino Kenny.
I will start by saying I have absolute confidence in this Government and that confidence is based on what we know about the parties in government and what they did in the past decades when they were in power. I am confident that Fine Gael will look after the very wealthy in this society. I am confident that Fianna Fáil will look after the developers and the builders and I am confident that the Green Party will act as a mudguard for both of them. We know from recent history that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party had no problem punching down when they needed to make cuts and we know that Fine Gael have no problem enriching the 1%.
People Before Profit will make sure that the next Dáil remembers those who the previous Government forgot and those who this Government will try to ignore, namely, working people, the homeless, tenants in rented accommodation, pensioners who have lost out and our older citizens in the nursing homes, to mention but a few. We will bring them into the Dáil each day the Dáil sits, just as this Government will bring in the rich, the investors, the bankers, the vulture funds, and the lobbyists that they employ.
Among those forgotten by the previous Government, I want to ask a few questions of particular Ministers.
Will the new Minister with responsibility for justice, who happens to be female, do what the previous Minister failed to do, and indeed what the previous Taoiseach has ignored, and extend the maternity leave and benefit for women who have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis? Will she end the flagrant injustice visited upon the O'Farrell family and commission the independent inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell as voted for in the previous Dáil?
Will the new Minister with responsibility for education act on the recommendation of the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and ensure that young people receive a non-ethos-based sex education?
I call on the new Minister with responsibility for trade and employment and former Taoiseach to act without haste and to save the sectoral employment orders threatened by the recent High Court judgment. I call on him to appeal that decision to ensure workers in the electrical and construction trade, as well as further workers in security and contract cleaning, do not have their wages and conditions minimised. Will he act now to ensure that workers who are being dumped on the scrapheap by the insolvency Act, like the Debenhams workers, workers in Instant UpRight and other companies, are put at the top of the list of creditors in those situations?
Will the new Minister with responsibility for housing please end the trauma and stress facing many thousands of renters by immediately extending the ban on convictions until at least 2021?
I will end my contribution by congratulating the Green Party, because it has succeeded in reintroducing the wolves into one habitat, that is, the wolves of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael austerity back into the Government. I hope not but that may be one of its most prominent achievements.
There are times when one has to make a stand, not because it is popular or unpopular but because it is the right thing to do. The omission of the occupied territories Bill from the programme for Government was the time to make that stand. The people of Palestine are tired of platitudes from the EU and the international community. My appeal is that the occupied territories Bill be passed and legislated for by this Government. The time for platitudes is over. The time for showing solidarity to the Palestinian people is now. We have let down the Palestinian people because of the omission of this occupied territories Bill. It is time to pass this legislation.
There has been some discussion in the media over the course of the day about what the character of this Government is. Brian Dobson on RTÉ asked whether we might put the label "centre-left" on this Government. If he is watching, the answer is "No", we might not put the label "centre-left" on this Government, because if one puts together the two right-wing parties that have ruled this country in the interest of the rich for almost a century, if one adds the Green Party, which signed up to a neo-liberal programme for Government, and then one throws in some of the most right-wing Independent Deputies in this Dáil, what one gets is not a centre-left Government. What one gets, very clearly, is a right-wing Government.
I want to use my speech to appeal to the left-wing green activists who put up an impressive fight against this coalition to leave the Green Party. The fact that the deal passed does not change one single fact and the truth they spoke about the programme for Government. It is still a programme for austerity. It is still a programme that will worsen the housing crisis. It is still a programme that gives a tax cuts to the very highest earners with one hand while preparing for eco-austerity taxes for working-class people with the other.
The point has been made that this Government brings to the fore a left-right divide in Irish politics. The question to green activists is which side of that divide do they want to be on? Entering into government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ends any possibility that ever existed of the Green Party being a vehicle for the radical change that we need. It will be wiped out at the next general election. More importantly, those young people, the people mobilising on the streets demanding system change, not climate change, will not be attracted to a party that is managing the capitalist system. We need their involvement in social movements that will drive change. We will need to work together to build movements for climate, housing and social justice, because even with a right-wing Government in power, we can win victories. We need also to build a broad party of the anti-capitalist and eco-socialist left. Left activists who leave the Green Party could play a crucial role in that. There should be a space in that party for all who share a commitment to people power movements to drive change, for all who oppose environmental destruction, austerity and oppression and for all who rule out coalition with the establishment parties. Leave the Green Party. Join with the left in fighting against this right-wing Government. Do not be a mudguard for it. Help us to fight for a left Government to implement a socialist green new deal.
The former Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, told the House this morning that Civil War politics has now ended in Ireland's Parliament. I do not often agree with Deputy Varadkar but I think he is right on this one and the official end of Civil War politics is a significant moment.
Irish capitalism has had two key parties down the decades. For almost 100 years now, there has not been a single Government that has not been led by one or other of those parties or their direct predecessors. When Fianna Fáil lost popularity, Fine Gael could fill the breach. When Fine Gael dropped the ball, Fianna Fáil could step in and save the day. That strategy has run its course. It is a game that can no longer be played. I suspect that the more far-sighted strategists of capital may pay more attention now to courting Sinn Féin in an attempt to make it a safe alternative if and when this Government's time is done. Before the last general election, IBEC's Danny McCoy said the business community absolutely could work with Sinn Féin. Johnny Ronan, no less, described Sinn Féin's investment policies as sensible stuff. Sinn Féin received a big vote from working people in February, a vote for real change, but, of course, one cannot deliver for working people while keeping IBEC and the Johnny Ronans of this world onside. If there is a charm offensive from big business on that front, Sinn Féin should not succumb to it.
For our part, we will promote the politics of class in this Dáil. We will vigorously promote workers' interests on issues such as jobs, taxes and the defence of public services. We will approach the July stimulus and the new economic plan in October from the point of view of vigorously promoting those interests. On green issues, we will oppose attempts to make working people pay for the environmental crisis, as shown by increases in the carbon tax, while advocating for environmentally-friendly policies that benefit ordinary people, such as free public transport. We will seek to expose the profit system as being the central danger to the environment in the world today. Finally, we will seek to advance the socialist ideas of Connolly and Larkin in a suitable way for the 21st century and to provide a vigorous socialist opposition both inside and outside this Dáil.
I am sharing time with Deputy Tóibín. I wish the incoming Government the very best of luck in what will be a very challenging time for our country over the coming years. The programme for Government is ambitious, and while I do not agree with everything in it, I will support it as long as it means our country is on the road to recovery. In recent Dáil terms, my constituency of Louth and east Meath has been neglected at ministerial level. As a result, we have lost out on valuable resources and supports. As an Independent Deputy, I will always put my constituency of Louth and east Meath first and fight to ensure we receive our fair share of resources.
I wish the incoming Minister for Health the very best of luck in his new role. My commitment to the restoration of full services to Louth County Hospital will continue in this Dáil. Unless the Minister can give me his full support in returning services to Louth County Hospital, I cannot guarantee my ongoing support for the Government. I gave this commitment to the people of Louth and east Meath during my time in the House and I intend to keep up this fight. To this end I look forward to working with the incoming Minister to ensure that Louth hospital will be supported in terms of both resources and services during this Dáil.
Our country has suffered greatly in recent months as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Everybody has been affected in some form or another. Many have lost loved ones or their livelihood or face a very uncertain future. Every sector has been badly affected, none more so than that of tourism. Coming from the north east, I know more than most the importance of tourism to the local economy and the livelihood of local people. I congratulate the incoming Minister with responsibility for tourism and look forward to working with her as we try to rebuild the tourism sector. Areas of great natural beauty such as the Cooley peninsula and the Boyne Valley rely heavily on tourism, and we must ensure we support businesses in order for them to open again. Such businesses employ thousands of people, not only directly but also indirectly. They are vital to their local areas and must be supported.
I take the opportunity to highlight the importance of sport to this country. We have seen during the lockdown how important sport is. In this regard, I want to work closely with the incoming Minister with responsibility for sport to ensure the level of supports required to bring back the sporting organisations. As chairman of Louth GAA, I know personally how important the GAA is to local communities. The extent of voluntary work carried out by members of local GAA clubs needs to be acknowledged and praised. We in Louth GAA are fighting hard to get our own county grounds in Dundalk, and all the clubs and their members are putting their shoulders to the wheel to bring this dream to a reality. I make no apologies for stating I look forward to working with the incoming Government and the GAA to ensure that this badly needed stadium is completed.
Coming from the Border area, I understand the devastating effect that Brexit will have if we do not put in place the measures necessary to deal with it. There are still so many unanswered questions. I am deeply concerned that the effects could be disastrous for Border towns such as my town of Dundalk. I am also very concerned about the lack of clarity on many issues, such as the information available to businesses. We still do not have a roadmap. We have constantly been told there will be no hard border, no issues for cross-Border workers and no checks at the Border. The people of the Border counties - Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Leitrim and Donegal - need answers now so they can prepare properly for Brexit.
I again wish the incoming Government the very best of luck in this Dáil term. I have supported it today, and voted for Deputy Micheál Martin as Taoiseach, because I believe that the country needs a strong and stable Government at this crucial time. The country does not need another election, just a stable Government. My support, however, is not unconditional. I will vote against the Government if I do not agree with it. The people of Louth and east Meath elected me as an Independent Deputy. I will support the Government when I believe that it is doing what is right but, equally, will vote against it if I consider that the right thing to do.
Finally, I congratulate the new Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and all his Cabinet colleagues. I look forward to both working with them and holding them to account throughout the lifetime of this Dáil. I commend the outgoing Government on its work in the face of Covid-19. The then Taoiseach, the then Minister for Health, Dr. Tony Holohan, all the front-line staff and everybody else involved made a team effort and the golden word was "communication". If the new Government communicates to the people in the same way that was done for the past three or four months, it will have a good chance of going the whole way.
Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Taoiseach nua, an Teachta Micheál Martin. Is onóir ollmhór é a bheith tofa mar Thaoiseach ar an tír. Is lá iontach é seo don Teachta agus dá chlann agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh siad taitneamh as. I also congratulate the newly minted Ministers. The role they have been given is a massive opportunity for them, but if it is used properly, it will also be a massive opportunity for the country. My advice to them is not to be passengers on the bus they are on. They should drive their Departments in the direction they need to go. Nevertheless, I am amazed that, from what I can work out from the list of Ministers, there will be no Minister from counties Donegal to Clare on the west coast of Ireland. It is quite clear that the centre of gravity of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is moving eastward all the time. There was a saying when I was growing up: the west is awake. It is clear the west is not awake in either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael at the moment.
People have said this is an historic day, but the parties that have ruled Ireland since the foundation of the State are still ruling the State. What we are witnessing today is the creation of a Government that nobody wanted. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party did not want this Government. We in Aontú have been saying since January that if one votes for Fianna Fáil, one will get Fine Gael, and we were hammered by those in Fianna Fáil for saying so, but we were right. Deputy Micheál Martin has become Taoiseach, but at the cost of deleting the core principles of Fianna Fáil's founding fathers, of Irish unity and economic justice. Many of the thousands of people within Fianna Fáil who voted against this will see it for what it is, namely, a swap of power for principle. It is also noteworthy that this building, in which Deputy Micheál Martin was elected Taoiseach today, was bailed out by the National Asset Management Agency as a result of decisions made by Deputy Micheál Martin's previous Cabinet. The big wheel keeps on turning in this country.
Ireland finds itself again on the verge of a very significant crisis. The programme for Government is completely oblivious to the economic tidal wave currently hitting this country. The State is likely to have a budget deficit of €30 billion this year, yet that mountainous debt, which casts a radical shadow over everything the incoming Government will do over the next five years, has hardly been mentioned in this Chamber. Not only does the programme for Government, the founding document of this Administration, not deal with that fact, but it hardly recognises its existence.
When we in Aontú sat down with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to test whether they were really about change in this proposed Government, it became blindingly clear to us that only vague generalities about finance would be discussed. It also became clear to us that signing up to the programme for Government would be akin to signing a blank cheque. It also struck us how promises made before the general election by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies throughout the country have disappeared like snow off a ditch from the programme for Government. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates just five months ago made serious promises on housing, health, fair income for farmers, protection for workers and regional development and, in my constituency, the undergrounding of a North-South interconnector and the Navan to Dublin railway line. These promises are impossible to find within this programme for Government. As one political cynic said, it is not about what one does in election campaigns anyway.
I have heard Fianna Fáil representatives being questioned about the lack of Fianna Fáil influence in the programme for Government but I disagree. Fianna Fáil's fingerprints are all over it. The proposed coalition Government has pledged to establish no fewer than three citizens' assemblies, two working groups, four committees, at least four task forces, an expert group, at least two councils, two forums, seven commissions and at least 73 reviews. This is the hallmark of a can-kicking Government. It is a manifesto for indecision. We, the people of Ireland, are better than this. The will, the skills and the passion of the people of Ireland are better than this.
The best of this nation has burned most brightly in the most difficult times, from the United Irishmen right up to 1916. If we were able to remove the largest empire the world had ever seen from this country 100 years ago, we in this generation can build a prosperous, united, fair Ireland based on liberty, equality and fraternity, but it is clear this will not be done by a political class built on career politics and personal ambition.
I am sharing time with Deputies Michael Healy-Rae and Richard O’Donoghue.
From the outset, my colleagues and I in the Rural Independent Group made ourselves available for talks with all parties to try to form a Government. We met Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin but sadly there was no follow-up. I said at the outset that the wish of the electorate was for change and that its wish should be respected, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael refused to engage with Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin failed to come back with an alternative despite promises of further meetings, partly with our group. I consulted my constituents widely in recent days on this Government and noted there were other opportunities and possibilities. A national Government could have been formed. We had the perfect scenario with Covid and the co-operation that existed in that regard.
The focus in the document on urban centres and the uneven focus on agricultural development are crazy. Consider the number of Ministers we now have from Dublin and Cork. From Cork and Dublin, and out as far as Greystones, I believe I counted ten. What about the rest of Ireland? Deputy Tóibín mentioned the stretch from Donegal to Clare but he can continue right down to Limerick and from there to Tipperary on the N24 and indeed down to Waterford, Contae Phort Láirge in the south east. The south east has been abandoned. The east has not been; it is all about Dublin and there is nothing about the country. I am very disappointed in the Taoiseach over that: so rural Ireland does not need development because it is the right thing to do. I refer to the fact that the Government wants to give us crumbs and put some little things out to us because it wants everything in Dublin.
Rural affairs is now mixed up with social protection. That is a crazy scenario. It tells us how little the Government thinks of rural Ireland.
The position on disabilities is even worse because responsibility has been transferred to the Department responsible for children. Deputy Micheál Martin was Minister for Health and Children. I remind him that disabilities are not confined to children. Unfortunately, they go from the cradle to the grave. It is a shocking indictment of the Taoiseach's judgment.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen the great advantages of living in rural Ireland. The Taoiseach drives through it every day going to Dublin. Maybe he did not see it in the past 12 weeks. We experienced a wonderful rejuvenation by our people, not by the Government. All we need is our fair share of Government supports. I feel that the programme for Government will not deliver for rural Ireland. As Deputy Tóibín implied, there are 102 actions, or inactions, and talking shops – in other words, fudges.
I worry about some other points in the programme. Incidentally, I do not believe they were in the document that went to Fianna Fáil. The Taoiseach said today he is delighted to be the Prime Minister of a free nation, yet he is going to have an exclusion zone around places where abortions are carried out. Where is the freedom there? Where are the freedom to protest and the freedom of speech?
The Taoiseach states he is going to deal with legislation on hate crime. Who is going to decide what hate crime is? What elite group? Where is the free Ireland in this regard? We have not been free since we kowtowed to Europe and the banks. The banks are our masters along with our European masters and those further afield. This all happened when Fianna Fáil joined up with ALDE in Europe. It sold its soul and everything else with it. We have the result of it here today.
On the last occasion, we spent six weeks engaging in the negotiations on the programme Government. This time, we had no consultation. I accept the Government parties did not need us but they may need us yet.
I wish all the Ministers well in their roles but I am concerned about agriculture. One of the Ministries includes culture, the arts, media, tourism, sport and the Gaeltacht and I am sure whatever you are having yourself when the pubs open on Monday. My God, such a portfolio. Who has it only a Deputy from An Comhaontas Glas? It covers greyhound racing, coursing and indeed horse racing, huge industries that are important to my county. Deputy Catherine Martin and others have expressed a wish to see the demise of these sports. These are sports but they are also industries in rural Ireland that are of the people and run by the people. I say "Hands off" because the people will not tolerate this. We have lost enough.
I wish the Taoiseach and Ministers well in their roles but I am very concerned about the programme for Government. There is no costing for any action. It is a matter of kicking the can down the road and saying, "Live horse and you will get grass." The people are not eejits. They are very smart and intelligent-----
I congratulate all the Ministers. I am especially delighted that the county I represent, County Kerry, has an excellent representative at the Cabinet in Deputy Norma Foley. I know her late Dad, Denis, is looking down privately today, and rightly so. I wish her nothing but success in her role. I remind her, starting today, that many of the schools in my county are in danger of losing teachers or are desperately trying to hold on to them. I remind her of Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn, schools in Glenbeigh, Aghatubrid and the Black Valley, and other schools like them around County Kerry and the rest of the country. There is a massive job of work to be done. With regard to SUSI grants, the whole system will have to be overhauled to make education more accessible and affordable. That is desperately important.
Why has rural affairs been lumped in with social protection? I have every confidence in Deputy Heather Humphreys, whom I know is excellent, but I just do not agree with treating rural affairs in this way. I do not believe it is right.
I challenge the Green Party and ask it to prove me wrong. The people of rural Ireland are afraid of the Green Party and of what its policies are going to cost and they are afraid they will be adversely affected. I ask the party to prove me wrong, if it can. I do not want it to attack our family farms or live exports. I do not want it to make it impossible for family farms to keep going.
I thank the outgoing Ministers who are no longer Ministers in the new Government. I sincerely look forward to working with the new Ministers.
I ask Deputy Catherine Martin, in particular, to consider the VAT rate in the tourism sector, which is desperately trying to get back up on its feet. She should remember County Kerry is the tourism capital not of Ireland but of the world.
I congratulate the new Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I ask him not to forget the name of the young man I named here earlier today. I ask the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, to remember Ronan Foley, Dungeel, Killorglin, who has a 90-degree curve in his spine and who is in agony as we speak. He has been waiting for 20 months for an operation that he should have had within four months. I say respectfully to the new Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, that if he can start off by looking into that case and trying to get the young man his operation, I will be forever indebted to him.
I am not a negative person. On a day like today, I wish the Government and each of its Ministers success. I will do my job diligently in opposition, keeping each and every one of the Ministers and their Departments on their toes in the best and most workperson-like way possible for the betterment of the people of Kerry and the rest of the country.
I acknowledge the work of the outgoing Taoiseach and the former Minister for Health during the pandemic. I congratulate the new Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the new Ministers.
I have listened today to Members in this Chamber talk out of both sides of their mouths. We met Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party and Sinn Féin but the only parties that wanted to talk about government were Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, even though they limited the amount of talk with us. Sinn Féin Members were talking out of both sides of their mouths. People Before Profit and all the parties could have made a programme for Government and come to the Rural Independents but they did not; it is easier for them to stand on the fence and to be critical of everyone else.
Your country elected you to form a Government but you did not even contact the Rural Independent Group. There was a reward offered for Sinn Féin after four weeks for information on where the party was with its mandate. There is a mandate for Independents to stand up here today but Sinn Féin ran and its Deputies were missing for four to five weeks. I understand Deputy Mary Lou McDonald was sick but where was the rest of the party? They ran and left the country by itself.
The Rural Independent Group did not lose out because we stood our ground and every one of us has an independent vote. I voted for the Taoiseach today and the rest of the Rural Independent Group did not; it is their choice. I am not happy the Green Party is in power but it was the only party to stand up. I hope it is responsible and listens to the Independents when we raise concerns about rural affairs. There is no infrastructure in rural Ireland. People are talking about building houses but we have no foundations. Fix the foundations first and then come back to build the country.
Tá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Taoiseach nua, an Teachta Micheál Martin, agus leis na hAirí nua. Guím gach rath orthu go léir. Is onóir iontach í dóibh a bheith mar Airí agus mar Thaoiseach ar an tír álainn seo. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an iar-Thaoiseach, an Teachta Varadkar, freisin. Go pearsanta, cheap mé go raibh sé díreach agus go ndearna sé iarracht ar leibhéal pearsanta ó thaobh na Gaeilge de ach tá i bhfad níos mó i gceist ná iarracht pearsanta a dhéanamh agus b'fhéidir go dtiocfaidh mé ar ais go dtí sin.
I could make the same speech today as I made in May 2016. I and my colleagues in Independents 4 Change have since that time consistently asked for a change. We asked the Government to declare a housing emergency almost five years ago and we asked it to look at public health. We asked the Government to declare a climate emergency and speak in an honest and open fashion to the people of Ireland, as that is what they have asked of us.
Deputies today have spoken about messages from the electorate and the people are ahead of us in almost everything. They were ahead of us in demanding change in Galway with respect to an integrated public transport system and 24,000 people asked, at the very least, for a feasibility study for a light rail project. The people are ahead of us in their demands for public health but the theme has been that they do not want spin. The language should mean something.
Since that time, the housing crisis has deepened and the health crisis has worsened. The Covid-19 crisis, if it has done nothing else, exposed how badly we had run down our public health service. In March, when we first began to speak about the Covid-19 crisis, I read aloud some of a letter that we had all received from Fórsa pointing out that prior to Covid-19 an emergency had existed in our primary care services.
We will agree with the new Cabinet on some matters and not on others but let us make language mean something. When we look at mental health, as a mark of the Government's bona fides, it should immediately establish an independent review panel. It sat previously for two three-year periods and it was extremely successful. It should be re-established immediately as a matter of urgency. As a mark of the Government's bona fides in tackling domestic violence, it should immediately roll out a sufficient number of refuges for women so they can have a safe place to go.
Let us roll out a public childcare system. People have spoken about learning from the Covid-19 crisis and not going back. I look at the programme for Government and there are some very good elements in it, including a commitment to ending direct provision. It would be nice to have a timescale attached to that.
There are nonetheless many internal contradictions in the programme. There is mention of a public health system but there is also a commitment to private medicine. There is mention of climate change but the document fails to acknowledge we will fail to meet our progressive targets; we will fail abysmally to meet them in 2020.
Deputy Eamon Ryan spoke about an ethical basis of doing business and I suggest the Government begins with a discussion on the ethics of where battery materials for electric vehicles come from. Where does cobalt come from? It would be a good start to an ethical discussion. Let us have a date for the publication of the policy being promised on the islands and the enactment of the legislation relating to the Irish language.
We cannot sort out the housing crisis without the commitment to public housing on public land. It is simply not possible. We must give a message to the market. If there is a serious interest in this, it must be done. Finally, bhí Fianna Fáil agus Fine Gael ag siúl amach le chéile le fada. Faoi dheireadh tá deireadh leis an gcúirtéireacht agus atá an pósadh ann, tá siad pósta anois. The courtship is over and the parties are now married. It is an open question as to how the Green Party will fit into that marriage. I look forward to it and I will certainly be monitoring it very carefully.
I congratulate the new Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and I wish him and all the new Ministers well. I wish the Minister with responsibility for agriculture, Deputy Barry Cowen, well and there are a few pressing matters for him to address straight away, especially with regard to farmers under the new farm to fork initiative in Europe. The Minister comes from a fairly peaty area and there is an effort to block farmers from farming areas like that. The Minister will need to put the foot in straight away. I know him well as I have worked with him through the years. I wish him the best of luck in that.
We must also ensure the beef and sheep sectors are looked after. They have gone through turmoil and we must ensure these matters are sorted out immediately. I wish every new Minister the best of luck.
Deputy Darragh O'Brien is the new Minister with responsibility for housing. We have often discussed how €100 million was cut from the Irish Water budget. If we do not have the roads, the water network or sewers, we cannot build anything else. I hope the new Minister will get a grip on that straight away. Cutting funds, as the previous Government did, will not solve anything.
It is really disappointing to see that a Department that was fought for in 2016 is being changed. I compliment the former Minister, Deputy Michael Ring. It is the Department of Rural and Community Development. I am not referring to the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and I wish her well in her new position. With Covid-19, social protection is one of the busiest parts of governance, and lumping rural affairs in on top is neither fair to the Minister nor the people in rural Ireland.
I have a map of Ireland with a significant area marked in red. The Taoiseach did not deem it fitting to have one senior Minister from the top of Donegal to the bottom of Limerick. I am baffled that the west and north west will not have a senior Minister. I am throwing down the gauntlet to the Taoiseach. It is his job to have equality in all parts of the country, ensure regional development takes place and see that people are treated equally no matter where they are. There are 1.2 million people in the area I have marked in red, which is the same as the number of people in the city of Dublin, which has eight senior Ministers. The gauntlet has been thrown down for the Taoiseach to treat those people in the red area properly when they do not have a senior Minister representing them.
Earlier I stated I would work constructively with this Government and hold it to account. To be honest, I did not believe I would have reservations quite so soon.
I will start by wishing all the Ministers well as they face significant challenges. I look forward to working with them for the good of the country. Like many others, however, I am extremely disappointed there are no senior Ministers appointed from Connacht, Donegal or Clare.
A balance of development between the regions is at the core of my political philosophy and, I believe, the political philosophy of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The problem is that we have been promised it time and again, Government after Government, yet it does not happen. The most recent report from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly shows the economic gap between the regions, with lower levels of per capitainvestment in health infrastructure, third level education infrastructure, local, regional and national roads infrastructure, high-value job creation, and research and development in the Northern and Western Regional Assembly area. A balance of development allows the regions to play to their strengths but it is very difficult for that to happen if there are no voices around the Cabinet table representing those regions that have slipped behind. Geography matters; that is the reality. We might like to say it does not matter but it does. Ministers represent the national interest but a specific interest in and passion for the region they represent really matters. I said I would loan my vote for today and I will not walk back from that commitment but the Ministers appointed today have a huge responsibility, individually and collectively, to ensure the economic gap is closed. They can do that both in their own Ministries and by co-ordinated Government action. I await to see what will happen.
Anois, is é sin deireadh leis an díospóireacht mar gheall ar ainmniúchán Comhaltaí den Rialtas. Tá orm an cheist a chur anois: "That Dáil Éireann approves the nomination by the Taoiseach for appointment by the President to be members of the Government."
Members should be aware that the division bells will ring for six minutes and the doors will be closed after a further four minutes.
Before proceeding to this division, it would be appropriate to express our thanks to our Superintendent, Ms Teresa Doolan, the Captain of the Guard, Mr. John Flaherty, and the exceptional Mr. Colm O'Rourke and his team of great ushers, who have worked so hard on our behalf today and who have been involved in the preparation for today's sitting over a period of time.
The Clerk will proceed to conduct the division by roll call. As advised earlier, when each Member's name is called, Members are requested to stand in their places to cast their votes. The microphone switching is controlled centrally, so each Member is asked to wait until the light on his or her microphone is on before casting his or her vote.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Marian Harkin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
The nomination by the Taoiseach for appointment by the President to be members of the Government has therefore been agreed by the Dáil.
Tá gnó an lae inniu tagtha chun deiridh agus de bhun Rún an Tí, Dé Céadaoin, tá an Dáil ar athló go dtí meánlae, an Mháirt seo chugainn. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
I ask Members to remain in their seats while the nominated Members of the Government are escorted from the auditorium. Members may then vacate the auditorium block by block as directed by the parliamentary ushers. I think the Taoiseach is going to be asked if he will lead his Ministers out at this point. I ask other Members to remain in their seats. Could we have the cooperation of Members so that the Taoiseach might lead his Cabinet from the auditorium? Go raibh maith agaibh ar fad.