Ceann Comháirle, following these votes I would like to outline Fianna Fáil’s approach to the both formation of a government and the fundamental challenge of reforming our politics. One of the greatest failings of Irish politics is that the need for change gets quickly diverted and we end up carrying on as before. This must not be allowed to happen again.
The deep loss of trust in the ability of our politics to deliver progress on the issues of most concern to people will not be reversed by slogans and partisan posturing. We can achieve nothing if all we do is change the form rather than the substance of how our government works and how our parliament works.
Given the scale of public disillusionment and the mounting crises facing our country the very worst thing we could do, would be to keep repeating the practice of the past where the sole focus is on a rapid change of government members – with everything else carrying on regardless. The priority has been power rather than policy.
From the first day of the count when the scale of the rejection of the outgoing government became clear our position has been entirely consistent. It is also the same position we outlined before the election and which formed the basis of a mandate we won with the support of over half a million people.
Our core position remains consistent with our promise: We want a change of government, a change of priorities and a change in how politics is carried out.
Irrespective of the ongoing clamour of self-appointed spokespeople on behalf of the national interest, we insist on our right and our obligation to work to implement our commitments to the people.
Since the election we have sought and have carried out discussions with a range of deputies elected as independents and for smaller parties. At the very start of these discussions we tabled a detailed proposal for the policies which we believe should shape the next government. Within this, and to avoid the vague generalities too often found in these documents, we identified specific actions which could be taken within six months and within twelve months.
Our priorities are focused on six specific areas for action:
- Making the recovery fairer and ensuring that secure, well-paid jobs are created in all communities.
- Urgent action on the housing emergency across all sectors, from home ownership and social housing to private rental.
- Introducing a progressive approach to cutting costs for families.
- Aid for communities under pressure including a guarantee of key services and strengthening of community policing. While this includes substantial action for rural communities, it also addresses the urgent needs of urban communities, especially those facing a growing drugs menace.
- Support for reforming and investing in essential public services; and
- A genuine reform of both government and politics.
We welcome the constructive discussions we have had and we would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by departmental officials.
As our proposals were independently reviewed and costed we have not had to revise their costing. However, we must put on the record our concern that important fiscal information was not reflected in data published by the outgoing government before the election.
The underfunded budgets were not acknowledged by ministers before the election. This is a matter which should be taken up by a reformed Budget Oversight Committee when it is established through the Dáil reform process.
Our approach to the negotiations has been to demonstrate our good faith. There has been no constant briefing. No leaks. No spin. No manoeuvrings and no attempt to deny the right of others to act in accordance with their mandates.
The negotiations have been constructive but not conclusive so far. However I believe that we are close to a position where Deputies will be in a position to state what government option they will assist and support.
The primary focus is on the option of what would be a minority government. It’s important to address some of the comments which have been made about how a minority government might work.
The past approach to government formation in Ireland is by no stretch the dominant model in successful democracies. In fact, the insistence that we hear from some that government can only be successful if it is assured that it can win every vote and get its way on every issue is nonsense.
The casual and repetitive demand of commentators, many of whom completely failed to understand the mood of the public before the election campaign, that the only good government is a majority government simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
We have just had five years of a government which had the strongest majority in our history and was only became unstable when it came to arguing over delaying the election by a few months.
Independent studies show that up to a third of governments in Europe since 1945 have had minority support in parliament. They have also shown that these governments have shown more respect for consultation in policy formation, have worked with real parliamentary oversight of all stages of the budget process and can encourage more fiscally responsible policies than many majority governments.
Some countries with the highest standards of governance in the world regularly have minority governments which are enabled to be formed by opposition parties. The key to this is that their parliaments assume a more professional and accountable role. Everything does not rise or fall on whether or not there is an all-powerful executive.
It is my intention to avoid the type of partisan comments which defined many of the contributions when we last discussed this matter.
There is no purpose is served by the aggressive point-scoring.
What does have to be said is that we now have the position where some are busy lecturing others about what they are and are not entitled to seek to do with their mandate.
We have the bizarre situation where some parties are demanding that others form a government so that they can get on with denouncing it.
Never before have so many spent so much time calling for a government they will vote against.
The process being followed at the moment by parties who want to lead government is new for Ireland but common internationally. After today it will move forward.
Our parliamentary party will meet to discuss the issue .It is our intention to continue the other ongoing discussions which are already underway.
It is important to say that one of the things which was rejected by the people in the election is an approach to politics driven by constant hype and spin. The never-ending stream of unattributed comments designed to influence perception rather than fairly reflect reality has only served to damage public perception of politics. There can be no trust and no real change if this approach to politics continues.
As I have said, we are working to implement the mandate which we received. We want to rebuild trust based on a new government, new priorities and reformed politics.
This is not just a challenge for us. It is a challenge to everyone here.