Caithfidh polasaithe an Rialtais agus a Airí a bheith mar threoir bhunúsach nuair a dheantar aon athru ar mbhinse tosaigh. Seo croílár na hoibre inniu.
Gan amhras, caithfear a thuiscint agus a chur san áireamh cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an lá inniu do Theachtaí Dála áirithe.
Dóibh siúd atá ag fágáil an Rialtais, tá sé mar shólás acu go raibh sé de phribhléid acu freastal ar mhuintir na hÉireann ag an leibhéal ab airde.
Dóibh siúd atá le ceapadh mar Airí Sinsearacha, tá cúis mhór agaibh a bheith bródúil as a bhfuil bainte amach agaibh agus as an ardú céime seo inniu.
On behalf of my party I would like to congratulate those who have been promoted .I know that each of you has behind you family, friends and supporters who have the right to proud of your nominations to serve in government and also of their roles in helping you reach this day.
Our new Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, secured an overwhelming endorsement from the activists of the Labour Party to lead her party.
This is the pinnacle of a long career. It is absolutely clear that she has benefitted from the exceptional support and encouragement of her family. We extend to her our congratulations on her achievement.
It is natural that much of the coverage of today’s reshuffle will be about personalities.
The winners and losers will be raked-over and undoubtedly stories will emerge of deep arguments and disappointments.
However, this must not distract us from the substance.
It is not the personalities that matter but the policies they implement.
And all the evidence is that very little will change because of this reshuffle. It is a bit like cosmetic surgery nothing major has changed.
The public want a new direction not just new faces – but they have not got that new direction.
As the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have just said, they believe that they have been fundamentally correct in the last three and a half years.
Yet today they are publishing a new policy document after spending the last few days essentially tinkering around the edges of the Programme for Government rather than making any significant policy changes.
They think that they may have communicated badly, they may have made a few mistakes, but they do not see what the rest of the country sees – a government which has been deeply unfair and which has created a two-tiered recovery.
A government which abandoned most of its promises on the day after the election.
A government which has put politics first in everything it does.
According to them they are unpopular because of tough decisions. This is nonsense.
They are unpopular because so many of their decisions have been unfair, have caused avoidable damage and have been about managing the news cycle rather than shaping a better future for all parts of our society.
If you look back at the budgets and major announcements of this government you find a constant effort to make claims which were the direct opposite of the truth.
Every one of them has been sold as being fair. Protecting the weakest. Spreading recovery. Decisive and visionary.
To be fair to the government, its emphasis on spin has often succeeded in terms of headlines and commentary.
However this immense campaign of spin has rebounded on the government.
The people who claim to have delivered a democratic revolution while at the same time actively and significantly tightening government control over the Oireachtas are not being listened to by a public which has grown cynical of everything it says.
The long list of issues which the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have sought to claim credit for in their speeches is yet more of the same.
As the OECD recently reported, the overwhelming reason for improvements in the economy has been a combination of international circumstances and the long-term strengths of the Irish economy – particularly the skills of our people.
Public finances have benefitted from a series of major changes in European Union policies – particularly interest rate cuts negotiated by other countries and extended automatically to Ireland.
The OECD itself, in a report requested by the government, exposed the spin when it said that it could not point to a specific effect the government’s jobs plans have had on employment. That was a diplomatic way of saying “don’t try and use us to back up your claims to have created thousands of jobs.”
However both Irish and international studies do agree that Fine Gael and Labour have had a significant impact in one area – they have made fiscal policy dramatically more regressive.
They replaced a policy of putting the biggest burden on those with the most to one of putting the biggest burden on those with the least. As new taxes and charges mount the one thing which is always absent from government budget policy is a concern for ability to pay.
The facts are so clear that this year, for the first time in twenty years, the budget documentation did not include figures on the impact of changes on different income levels.
Fine Gael and Labour sent out hundreds of press releases claiming to be fair and to be helping ‘the coping classes’ but tried to hide the details of yet another regressive budget.
For three and a half years much of the government was living in denial, operating under the belief that the public would give them credit for every positive development whether or not they had made it happen.
They also hoped that they could keep running their speeches from the last election so people would blame the last government for everything negative, no matter how much the policies were linked to decisions of Labour and Fine Gael ministers.
In May this strategy came to a crashing halt. For the first time even its most uncritical and naïve supporters understand that the public is angry with this government.
The public doesn’t just want a change of faces; it wants a major change of direction. It is not getting it.
As confirmed last Monday by Minister Noonan all the public is getting is another public relations campaign.
He let the cat out of the bag when he said that all that was being discussed was a ‘nuancing’ of the programme for government agreed three and a half years ago.
There will be an effort to show some concern on a handful of areas but the core policy programme remains the same.
The Tánaiste has talked at length over the last month about a new approach to Labour’s participation in this government.
She has implied that major changes are on the way. The detail of what has been announced shows this to be more empty rhetoric.
What is most striking is that she has identified as priorities areas where she has personally played a significant role in creating the problems in the first place.
Since the election, the Tánaiste specialised in a major conjuring trick of being both part of the government and distancing herself from it.
Most journalists have at some point printed articles about how unhappy she has been with Labour’s performance in government and she has encouraged the idea that the worst policies would never have happened if she had been in control.
If you look at her record as Minister for Social Protection the false claim that she has been a lone fighter for greater fairness is exposed.
Time after time she has implemented changes and cuts while trying to pretend that they were socially progressive when they were the exact opposite.
Not only has she agreed policies at cabinet which have imposed new charges and taxes on people below the living wage, she has led the charge in her own Department.
Because they were missing from the speeches we have just heard, we should remember the sheer scale of her targeting of low-income groups.
- Cut Child Benefit
- Cut Jobseeker’s Allowance for young people
- Cut Maternity Benefit.
- Cut The Back to School footwear and Clothing Allowance
- Abolished the Cost of Education Allowance
- Cut the Respite Care Grant
- Abolished the Redundancy Rebate
- Slashed the Household Benefits Package
- Abolished the Telephone Allowance
- Cut Job Seekers Benefit
- Cut Disability Allowance for young people, though this was reversed under pressure
- Cut Fuel Allowance
- Cut One Parent Family Allowance
- Undermined Farm Assist
- Abolished the Bereavement Grant
Whatever the Tánaiste has been in this government, a dissident from its unfair policies is not one of them.
Last Tuesday the St Vincent de Paul Society told us that households with children and lone parent families are now top of the queue looking for their help.
There is a sense of despair and hopelessness out there which blights life for many unable to see a better future for themselves or their families.
We have been told that social housing is to be a new priority following the Labour election. There is no doubt that there is currently a major social housing crisis which has escalated dramatically in the past year.
As every Deputy knows the biggest driver of this has been the restriction of the rent supplement scheme. Every day new cases emerge of families being forced into critical situations.
The minister who proposed and implemented this policy is now Tánaiste and telling us how concerned she is about social housing.
Instead of getting the enterprise portfolio we are told that Labour is getting Environment to control the housing agenda. So they will now be responsible for the property and water taxes both of which they campaigned against prior to the 2011 election.
This must be a surprise to Deputies Penrose and O’ Sullivan who have held responsibility for housing at the cabinet for the past three and a half years.
If the government were sincere on social housing the first thing it would do would be to abandon their policy on the rent allowances. This policy is causing huge problems .The rent allowance changes are forcing people into squalor and away from their communities.
This is the same government that has introduced the property tax and which is doubling it this year despite over 93,000 mortgages being in arrears for over 3 months and the fact that 35,314 home owners have not been able to pay their mortgage for over two years.
Despite this Fine Gael and Labour insist that the mortgage issue should be left in the hands of the banks rather than introducing an independent mortgage resolution office that Fianna Fáil suggested over three years ago.
The much heralded Insolvency legislation has not delivered tangible benefits. At the end of March there were only four insolvency arrangements concluded.
This brings into clear focus the warning Fianna Fáil made at the time the legislation was going through the Dáil.
The Tánaiste may well have stored her “Gilmore for Taoiseach” posters in the garden shed, but she has no such alibi for the large and still growing list of broken promises and unfair decisions which she and her colleagues have been responsible for.
One of the great challenges remains not just the creation of jobs, but the creation of decent and sustainable jobs. The government’s jobs policy to date has been about claiming credit for jobs rather than actually making an impact.
This is the government which went around the country closing local enterprise centres so that they could be renamed and reopened with a fanfare.
The same has happened with many enterprise and innovation initiatives.
The most recent government report on action on jobs goes as far as to claim as a ‘new action’ research centres which have been open for over a decade.
We need a minister who puts aside the spin and gets serious with the crisis still faced by SMEs. They have no access to finance, face punitive charges and are tired of a government which claims everything is fine when it manifestly isn’t.
The two-tier recovery will be entrenched unless our SMEs are supported and it is significant that this is not a priority for the reshuffled government.
Retailers and business in towns across Ireland are in deep trouble and no radical change in direction has heralded for them.
I wish Deputy Alan Kelly well in this role. He has already set himself the goal of reorganising and rebuilding the Labour Party organisation and announced his own elevation to cabinet. Maybe some of this energy will show itself in his new Department.
The Tánaiste served as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party for the last seven years and I’m sure she will be looking forward to Deputy Kelly carrying out his function and providing the support which Deputy Gilmore relied on so much.
Deputy Reilly has every right to be annoyed with being presented as the scapegoat for a health sector which is engulfed in crisis at every level.
The policies which he has implemented, and against which there has rightly been a growing public backlash, were government policies not just James Reilly policies, although he has to bear significant responsibility as well.
When the campaign to remove medical cards was cranked up it was on the orders of the government.
When hospitals were given unsustainable budgets it was on the orders of the government.
When scarce resources were diverted to damaging reforms it was to implement agreed Fine Gael and Labour policy.
When one million health insurance policies were hiked it was not Minister Reilly alone who did it, it was a government which claimed that it was only hitting “gold plated policies”.
This year’s funding crisis has at its core a decision taken by other ministers at cabinet to censor the HSE annual plan by insisting that services be maintained even where funding was being withdrawn.
A system which had been delivering major improvements in services and doing so within budget has been undermined by a government which will not even acknowledge the cutbacks it is imposing.
The announcement on Wednesday of introducing free GP cards to over 70’s while at the same time removing full medical cards from the same age group just because they are slightly above the new income criteria that this government introduced is deeply cynical.
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste have not announced any new direction in health policy; they have not announced the abandonment of the compulsory insurance system or given any credible commitment to protect services.
We also need a new direction in the education sector where cutbacks and ill-judged changes are causing real damage.
In education Labour didn’t just break its promises it did the exact opposite of what it said it would do.
Its first cutbacks were against services for disadvantaged pupil and special needs children. Then it hiked third level fees and abolished grants for post-graduates.
Incredibly it even abolished all dedicated support for guidance and counselling in our schools. This was an appalling decision making young people vulnerable in an ever challenging complex world.
No sector has so consistently shown an ability to deliver major improvements and no sector so badly needs a government which believes in respecting professionals.
We also need a new direction in policy towards Northern Ireland.
Over nearly three years I have repeatedly warned about the impact of the disengagement of our government and the British government.
They have run a policy of leaving everything to Sinn Fein and the DUP and hoping things would work out.
Last year our government even nodded in agreement as Sinn Fein and the DUP went off to London to launch a blueprint for the economic future of Northern Ireland which made no mention of any cross-border or whole-island dimension.
As we can see on the streets of Northern Ireland, disengagement risks losing much of the historic progress enabled by the leadership of previous governments. It has allowed middle ground nationalism and unionism take a back seat.
We need a Minister for Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland who understands this and starts showing a real commitment to the process of peace, reconciliation and development.
The need for a new direction on Europe is more obvious than ever. Simply standing to the side and hoping everything works out hasn’t worked and won’t work.
The Taoiseach has yet to outline how he and his government believe the EU should be reformed to allow it to emerge from the austere policies of the last 6 years.
Ireland has not received full justice for its case in Europe and the government has yet to even begin articulating a demand let alone push for it.
Following the agreement at the June 2012 EU Council meeting the Taoiseach and the then Tánaiste spoke about the ‘game changer’ on how Irish banking debt would be dealt with but two years later there has been no movement whatsoever.
The Taoiseach has repeatedly refused to even say whether he has even mentioned this to Mr Junker the future President of the EU Commission.
Elements in Fine Gael briefed the media earlier this week that they wanted Education because of the threat to small schools.
They did this three years after former Minister Quinn made it clear that he saw small rural schools as ‘inefficient’ and ripe for rationalisation.
They did it after the campaign to close rural Garda stations. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste backed decisions by former Minister Shatter for months before he was replaced.
The Justice system in our country was nearly shattered because of his decisions and refusal to listen to people’s concerns, yet he was continuously defended and supported.
Rural Ireland cannot stand more of the same for the rest of this government’s term. The government have cut rural community support programmes, to hollow-out Farm Assist, to stand by and do nothing about the crisis in the beef sector.
The recent negotiations in CAP resulted in an overall 10% reduction for Ireland and farmers will be facing reductions from January next year.
Balanced social and economic developments, and the good of society as a whole, require that rural communities receive direct support.
Rural communities need sustainability and this has to be continued through the pillars of CAP and through central exchequer funding.
In the midst of all of the pictures and stories today about new faces there is no commitment to a new direction.
The policies which have so angered the public, the deep unfairness in most major decisionsand the two-tiered recovery which even today the government has hailed as its greatest achievement – still remain.
All we have been offered is a few sound bites intended to resurrect the political and electoral fortunes of Fine Gael and Labour but which reveal the decision to double-down on the policies of the last three and a half years.
There’s no point talking about giving relief to hard-pressed-families when you are pushing ahead with deeply regressive and unfair water and property taxes.
There’s no point talking about social housing when you are leaving in place rent allowance restrictions which are at the core of the crisis.
There’s no point claiming to care about health and education when you are continuing with changes which are delivering chaos and undermining services.
The government has said that it wants this to be a ‘reset’ moment for it. It is nothing of the sort.
It is changing some of the faces, but the core strategy, the core unfairness, the core reality of spin and broken promises remains unchanged.