Since its first day in office this government has been obsessed with the next general election. Fine Gael and Labour know they are in a deep hole which is why they are throwing out endless promises. Over the summer they made promises amounting to billions and yesterday we saw the “one for everyone in the audience” approach taken to ridiculous levels with four separate groups being told that they are to be “the priority”.
Today their support is at basically the same level as it was on the day we defeated them in the Local Elections. They keep announcing that they have reached a turning point but the public keeps bringing them back to reality.
The simple fact is that this is a government of spin and broken promises which has presided over entirely avoidable crises and has been deeply unfair in its policies.
It has repeatedly broken trust with the people, it has blocked any real reform of public life and it is failing to address long-term problems. Their time will soon be up.
There will be an election either in late November or at the end of February – whichever it is we will be ready for them. We will be ready to challenge their record and offer a credible alternative.
As things are shaping up, Fine Gael and Labour will offer more of the same.
They will try and sell the fairy tale of a decisive government turning everything around and will keep promising enormous tax cuts and spending increases. Last week the Taoiseach confirmed that if the bribes won’t work they will campaign on the idea that if you vote against them you are voting for chaos and collapse. Such a negative and cynical campaign would be an appropriate end to this government.
On the other extreme Sinn Fein and other left wing groups will claim that no tough choices were ever required and will promise even more spending.
Between these extremes is where you find the majority of the Irish people. They want change, but they want to hear a credible plan for delivering it. This is what Fianna Fáil will do during the coming Dáil term and through the general election that will follow.
The biggest difference between us and the other parties during this Dáil has been that we have focused on being constructive and offering solutions to real problems.
In relation to health, households debts, housing, Northern Ireland, rural crime, waiting lists and many other areas we were identifying problems and offering solutions in some cases years ahead of the others.
While much of this work has not received a lot of media attention, the 136 bills and policy documents launched by our spokespeople have set the agenda.
There are many urgent issues to be addressed in the weeks and months ahead. The reason for this is that more and more issues have been allowed drift until they reached crisis point.
Of the many things which were laid bare in the Fennelly Report the clearest is the lack of genuine and accountable leadership in this government. All the effort goes into how to present information and deflect blame – none of it goes into seriously engaging with the real problems facing people.
The Taoiseach himself will rightly be the focus at the start of the Dáil term. His behaviour in relation to the effective firing of a Garda Commissioner is a disgrace. His evidence has been directly contradicted by a former minister, a commissioner and two secretaries general. His attempt to manipulate the media has been extreme even by their standards, with his only full interview being given before any journalist was allowed the time to read the report.
This and what we now know about the workings of his government mean that voting no confidence in him is the least that the Dáil should do.
However our primary focus has to be on the extremely serious issues confronting the Irish people.
Nearly three years into this recovery it continues to leave large numbers of people and communities behind. Because of the unfairness of this government’s policies the incomes of the most vulnerable in our society and the services they rely on have taken a disproportionate hit – and the culture of insecure, low-paid employment is growing.
Now that there is room in the Budget we believe the priority must be to undo some of the extremely regressive policies of Fine Gael in particular and to invest in the long-term future of our country.
In our pre-Budget statement we will set out exactly what we are proposing and detailed costings. In contrast to other opposition parties and in contrast to the government’s summertime spree, every one of our promises will be costed and affordable.
The recovery will only be secured when all sections of our society have an opportunity to benefit. A two-tiered recovery is in danger of becoming permanent unless immediate action is taken.
We will be promoting policies to create secure, well-paid jobs and to make them more accessible. A balanced and sustainable economy can’t fly on one wing, we need to support large, internal companies but we also have to have a strong and successful domestic sector.
The crisis in our high streets and for small businesses is still there and must be addressed. This neglected completely by the government in recent years and is a priority for us.
The housing crisis is getting worse all the time and now involves every sector from private rented to established homeowners. This has not happened by accident, it has happened because of a government which for years refused to listen as they were told a crisis was on the way.
They have launched and relaunched documents but delivered nothing. Their final tactic has been to try and hide the sheer scale of what’s happening in the explosion of the social housing waiting list.
Many thousands of families in homes continue to face real hardship because the government has refused to allow a genuinely independent body address unsustainable mortgage and household debt. We found out last week through FOI that there are over 130,000 families waiting for social housing. Thousands of families and over 1400 children are in emergency accommodation. Colleges have this month returned to face the biggest crisis in the history of student accommodation.
We will continue to listen to people and to highlight what’s happening and push for the vital resources which could start delivering relief to be handed over to bodies which are waiting to help those in need.
The same pattern of a problem neglected until it becomes a crisis has been seen in Health. For four years we had been saying that the inevitable outcome of Fine Gael’s health policies would be the undermining of services and steadily rising waiting lists. This is exactly what has happened.
First they tried to manipulate the figures and claim that everything was fine. Then they tried to blame James Reilly for everything. Now they’ve run out of room for manoeuvre. Their headline reform policy has collapsed, they are taking medical cards away from people in need in order to give them to others, waiting lists are climbing and their minister has announced that a massive supplementary budget will be required.
Fianna Fáil is the only party which has set out a credible policy for improving our public health services. It involves ending political initiatives which are causing immense damage, supporting core services and developing a service which gives genuine universal access.
When it was looking for votes Fine Gael promised it would protect rural Ireland from Labour’s agenda. In office it has led the way in dramatically undermining key foundations of rural Ireland.
It was Fine Gael which pushed forward with a nationwide programme of closing 139 rural Garda stations. It said that it would actually lead to better policing. We warned that it would have a long-term impact. Now that there is an epidemic of burglary it still cannot admit its error and recognise the importance of Gardaí being based in the communities they serve.
The wider agenda of indifference to rural Ireland has shown itself in cuts which have specifically undermined rural schools, rural health services and community supports.
Added to this is a farm income crisis which we had warned about in advance and where a much greater urgency is needed.
The neglect of community level services in all areas is a constant theme in this government’s policies and it will be an important issue in the election.
Of the many areas where this government has failed one of the most complete has been the area of political reform. Every party went before the people in 2011 promising deep and meaningful political reform. For our part we published detailed proposals to overhaul the effectiveness of our political institutions. Every important reform has been rejected and the situation today is worse than it has ever been.
We’re not going to back off on this issue, in fact we are going to redouble our efforts by publishing revised proposals which follow public and party-wide input. We are going to show what could be done by a government willing to do more than just talk about reform.
The appalling humanitarian situation with refugees from the Syrian conflict requires a generous and urgent response from Ireland and from all European countries. For three years I and Brendan Smith have been raising the Syrian situation in the Dáil and calling for an intervention to help refugees. It is a failure of leadership by governments, including ours, that refugees were left with no option but to flee the region.
I have no doubt that the Irish people will show a warm welcome and support for these refugees. Fianna Fáil will continue to push for a comprehensive response which includes vital help for the over 2 million refugees living in camps in the countries bordering Syria. These people ultimately want to return to their abandoned homes, but while they are refugees from this bloody conflict they need decent shelter, food, health facilities and a place for their children to go to school.
The current crisis in Northern Ireland has in recent years been a slow-motion crash obvious to anyone paying attention. The two governments came to office and, without doing anything, hung up ‘Mission Accomplished’ banners and decided to leave everything to the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Those parties have presided over an ever more dysfunctional and ineffective set of institutions which have alienated the public and directly destabilised the first set of democratically legitimate institutions the North has ever had.
Sinn Fein has increasingly played sectarian politics and failed to acknowledge let alone address issues with the Provisional movement to which they belong. They can find people to expel when a TD is challenged at a convention but do nothing when child abuse, criminality and murder are exposed.
Fianna Fáil led the search for peace and delivered a series of historic breakthroughs for constitutional republicanism. The institutions must not be allowed to collapse and they must be rescued from the partisan and sectarian behaviour of the DUP and Sinn Fein.
There is also a huge potential for economic growth and service development in the Border region which is being wasted because of a neglectful Executive and disinterested governments. We intend putting the reinvigoration of the process of peace, reconciliation and development as a key part of our agenda for the next Dáil.
We are committed to offering a constructive and credible alternative to a government which puts politics first in everything. They are stumbling from crisis to crisis, most of their own making.
Their entire election strategy will be to say that there is no alternative – that we have to accept more of the same.
We believe that there is another way – people don’t have to accept the steady drift to a more unequal, more divided country. There is the need and the opportunity to build and Ireland which serves all its people – and this our agenda.