Ceann Comháirle, last month the Irish people chose to elect a highly diverse Dáil. Each member of this House carries a mandate and a duty to represent those who elected them and to fight for the policies they advocated when seeking support.
No one here carries the right to claim to speak on behalf of all of the people or to tell others what their mandates represent.
There is only one core message which we must all acknowledge and that is that a strong majority of the Irish people have voted for change. They have voted for a change of government. They have voted for a change of priorities. And of course they have voted for a different politics.
The Fianna Fáil party has emerged from this election with the support of over half a million people. I want to welcome my new colleagues and to acknowledge the incredible work of our members in every part of the country.
We have gained the largest increase in vote of any party and have more than doubled our representation. We did so based on a very clear platform of priorities for this Dáil and a specific approach to delivering the change we believe is needed. We argued that the outgoing government should be replaced and that Fine Gael policy in particular had been divisive and unfair. This remains our position.
Following this vote the most urgent question for us all as members of the Dáil is how we will move forward in addressing the desire of the people for change. It is our intention as a party to continue to work for the permanent removal of the now acting government. As we have been outlining in discussions with various parties, groups and individual TDs our immediate priorities are for urgent action on the housing emergency, addressing the growing inequality in the availability and quality of employment, reversing damaging health policies and implementing a series of measures to support communities and families.
We have been encouraged by the response in many of these discussions and have indicated that we will continue them after today’s vote.
There has been a lot of talk about strong government. I believe that what the people want first and foremost is good government. Some of the worst governments in the world are strong and the acting government was rejected by the people after five years of the strongest majority in our history.
We should all realise that one of the arguments which failed to persuade the people was the claim that there would be chaos unless we immediately had a new government with a solid majority.
If we respect the will of the people then it’s time to put aside the argument that speed of formation and the size of the majority are what matters in choosing a new Taoiseach and government.
Following this vote the situation we find ourselves in is far from unprecedented. Dáil Éireann has twice in the past failed to nominate a Taoiseach on its first day. There are also other examples of periods where a Taoiseach has lost support and there was a delay in electing a new Taoiseach.
In 1992 the formation of a new government took nearly two months. During that time urgent business was addressed including the passage of critical supplementary estimates and a Finance Bill measure.
Given the fact that the Budget has already been passed and there is no urgent government measure which requires Dáil sanction we clearly have the time to deliver a Government which respects the views of the Irish people.
In fact Ireland is relatively unusual in how fast it normally carries out the business of government formation. This may well be one of the reasons why so often the focus is placed on who holds power rather than what they do with it.
We have already talked about the need to reduce the excessive control of government on the work of our parliament. Let’s now show that we are serious by starting the 32nd Dáil by taking up this challenge in an inclusive and urgent way. Let us do this with a commitment to making this a Dáil where all members have both the opportunity and the obligation to contribute and be accountable.
Reform cannot just be about how we ask questions and the timing of legislation – it has to be much deeper. We need a Dáil which is more independent of government – but we also need a Dáil which is more expert in its work and where the proposals it considers, whichever part of the House they emanate from are subject to real scrutiny.
That is why I and my party took the initiative while many of the counts were still ongoing to call for Dáil reform to be the first item on our agenda. We welcome the fact that there is now a consensus on this.
The failure of Dáil reform efforts in the past has been founded on the fact that the process has been in the hands of a government majority. If we truly want to change the way we do our business then the best way to do this is to reach agreement on reform before there is such a majority in place.
This is an issue which we as a party have been addressed repeatedly in recent years and we have published a list of over 100 specific reforms. We have gone beyond general principles and set out exactly how procedures and structures can be reformed in order to implement those principles.
The consensus for a cross-House committee chaired by our new Ceann Comháirle is welcome. Certain reform efforts require consideration of constitutional issues as well as complex statutory provisions – however many simply involve the passing of procedural amendments. We believe that there is enough detail in the proposals which parties and deputies already have prepared for submission in order to ensure that specific immediate reform proposals can be ready within weeks.
In addition we believe that the Dáil is in a position to immediately take up urgent matters which were central to the election campaign.
If we want to break the dominance of government on all Dáil matters there is no better way to start than to schedule issues for debate without the immediate distortion which comes from the House being divided into two sides.
We accept that it would be a constitutional nonsense to expect ministers who do not hold the confidence of the House to be accountable for future policy. So let us begin our work by holding debates where all Deputies have an opportunity to set out constructive action on the issues which should dominate the proceedings of the 32nd Dáil.
Fianna Fáil is proposing that we schedule debates on the housing emergency and the crisis in our acute hospitals.
There is precedence for this – with at least one lengthy policy debate held on urgent European matters in the period of the acting government after the 1992 election.
Should other urgent business appear in the weeks ahead, and the outgoing government has so far not indicated that such business is likely, then there will be no difficulty in addressing them before the new government is formed.
In the past there has been a tendency for leaders and deputies to stand up and simply seek to rerun the election in their contributions following the vote on Taoiseach. I have chosen not to do so today but instead to be constructive about how we can make this a Dáil which delivers the people credible change in how we do our business and how we make sure that we are focused on the people’s concerns.
We have a strong democratic tradition. The situation after this vote is not exceptional. The situation now is as it was before – each of us has an obligation to work on behalf of the people who elected us and on behalf of our country. In doing this our first obligation is to operate in accordance with the mandate we sought.
In the days and weeks ahead I and my party will continue to do this. Our priority remains to deliver the change of government, change of politics and change of priorities which the people have so clearly demanded.