Speech by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD on the nomination of Members of Government

Published on: 14 June 2017

I dtosach báire, a Cheann Chomhairle, ba mhaith liom chomhgairdeas a dhéanamh leis na hAirí nuaatá ceaptha anseo tráthnóna.   Is lá ceilúrtha agus den bhfíorthábhacht é, dóibh síud atá ceaptha agusdá muintir.   Guim gach rath orthu leis na dualgais a bheith orthu as seo amach.

Ach is é an rud is tábhachtí agus is prainní ná beím a leagan ar pholasaithe substaintíula agus iad achur i bhfeidhm ar mhaithe saoránaigh na tíre.

Caithfidh an Rialtas an Conradh atá againn leo a chomhlíonadh go huile is go hiomlán.

Is léir do chách go bhfuil géarchéim uafásach fós ann i gcursaí tithíochta, i gcursaí sláinte agus easpamuinníne as ár gcóras dlí agus chirt.

Ní mór dúinn na fadhbanna práinneacha seo a réiteach go héifeachtach.

To be nominated to serve as a member of government is a great honour, and it carries with it great responsibilities.

Each person nominated by the Taoiseach today to continue in government or to join it for the first time has the right to be proud of their achievement.

I offer my congratulations to each of you, to your families and to the large body of supporters that stand behind each of you.

This government is being nominated at a profoundly challenging moment for our country, for Europe and indeed for the wider world.  Many of these challenges have grown over the last year because of a policy of drift and inaction which was found in nearly every Department.  In no area has the last year seen sustained progress in setting out or implementing substantial reform, policy or service development.

You will all be members of a cabinet which has run out of excuses and must now start to have an impact.  You will be measured not on the glossy brochures and launches you do but on the hard substance of whether you are delivering.

The public has long since stopped listening to the spin and is angry with the policy of repeatedly denying the existence of problems or making false claims of progress based on misleading statistics.

To those who have been left off the list, I’m sure that for the moment you’ve been satisfied with reassurances that you’ll be considered for a Minister of State Job.  Given how many promises appear to have been handed out during the leadership race, it’ll be interesting to hear what you’re told if you’re not on the list of five Fine Gael TD’s without a job.

It is at best unfortunate that so many of today’s appointments have been done on the basis of internal party concerns rather than actually selecting the most suitable person for the position.  If this is to be a transformative, radicalising and modernising administration this is a poor start.

Certain of the assignments appear unlinked to either past performance or interest.  The prominence which has been given to party organisation and electoral preparation is highly unusual – and the various minor realignments which have been made go nowhere near meeting the hype which has preceded them.

The fact that a person at the cabinet table will have responsibility for managing Dáil business as well as Fine Gael’s electoral preparations is an unprecedented politicisation of a role which needs to be less partisan than it has been.  How are other parties to take this person as an honest broker during negotiations when they are simultaneously responsible for maximising Fine Gael’s electoral chances.  You should immediately reverse this decision or you risk undermining the constructive cooperation you claim to seek.

The Good Friday Agreement represents one of the greatest achievements of constitutional republicanism.  It secured the agreement to end an illegitimate campaign, take the gun out of politics, establish agreed institutions and move forward on the fundamental objective of a lasting reconciliation on our island.

Key elements of this progress are today under threat.  Years of a dysfunctional duopoly, underlying sectarianism and neglect from Dublin and London have caused immense damage.  The decision of the Tory government to rely on the DUP cannot be allowed to threaten or undermine the core dynamic underpinning peace.

While we would certainly have differences with him in terms of the urgency and ambition of his approach to Northern Ireland, Deputy Charles Flanagan is the only member of government to show any interest in this area in the past six years.  The decision to remove him from foreign affairs undermines the claim that this is a government whose members and portfolios have been defined by ability.

The issue of Brexit is one where the challenges are changing every day.  The terms of reference for the EU side of the negotiations were the very general and non-specific start to what will be complex and detailed negotiations.  A number of ministers have responsibilities which are profoundly impacted by Brexit, including Enterprise, Social Protection, Education, Agriculture and Health.  There is a need for the government to set out concrete proposals for limiting the long-term damage of Brexit. The outcome of the UK election poses an opportunity to moderate the ‘hard Brexit line’ that the former Tory government was pushing for.

This is a matter which Fianna Fáil has been talking about in detail for some years and our greatest frustration has been the refusal to engage in substantive rather than symbolic discussions.  It is our hope that today will mark a departure on this.

I congratulate my constituency colleague Simon Coveney on his transfer to Foreign Affairs.  It is an excellent Department which had no obvious need for a change of leadership.  Over the course of his pitch for leadership of his party he toured the country constantly emphasising that he believes in finishing a job once it’s taken on.  He criticised his new boss for running out of health after a year and half.  Today he is choosing to leave Housing after little more than a year. I am surprised at this given a year ago he said he sought out the Housing job as he wanted it sorted.

There is nothing about the Housing agenda which is anywhere near to having been implemented.  A year and a half after an election where the scandal of homelessness was a defining issue, the problem is demonstrably worse.

If you want a shocking illustration of how desperate the crisis is that you can look no further than the Capuchin Day Centre where there are at least 8,700 children who use the emergency meal service.

After the endless stream of announcements and initiatives from Deputy Alan Kelly we have had a new stream of announcements and initiatives – each one heralding the final conquering of the problem.

There are clear commitments in place concerning not just social housing but every element of the housing crisis.  It’s long past time to give a sustained focus on delivering the unequivocal commitments of government on housing.

The separation of the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure originated directly in Labour’s demand to have a share of the Finance portfolio in 2011.  With that party’s usual genius for negotiation it got responsibility for the cutbacks while Fine Gael got to claim credit for an economy which retained core strengths which drove the recovery. This was matched only by its later decision to swap education for water policy.

The decision to unify the Department again is not an unreasonable one.  However Deputy Paschal Donoghue will find himself in the unique position of being a Minister required by law to consult with himself and seek approval from himself before taking most decisions.

In recent days it has been widely trailed that the Taoiseach intends to abandon the Rainy Day Fund and spend it on infrastructure.  First of all the Fund is not yet in place and its creation is part of the deal which allows this government to exist.  You have no freedom to unilaterally change this policy and, to be absolutely clear; any attempt to manoeuvre ground for the next election through playing with overall budgetary limits will not be tolerated.

Few areas have been more disastrously managed by Fine Gael than Health.  A series of incredibly damaging decisions and an obsession with managing headlines rather than services has led to real deterioration and hardship.  It is a record a lot worse than merely “unfinished business”.  It is a sad reflection on the recent Fine Gael contest that Health is seen as a place to keep a minister to be punished rather than a challenge to be tackled head-on.

Health is seen as a punishment rather than a challenge that needs to be genuinely tackled.

As I have said before we have run out of patience concerning the implementation of agreements on the funding and provision of mental health services.  No more delays will be tolerated.

Equally, the National Treatment Purchase Fund is a proven way to immediately tackle waiting lists. Its abolition caused real harm and its proper restoration is required immediately to reduce waiting times for patients. There are now 666,000 people waiting for inpatient and outpatient appointments.

On its first day in office Fine Gael abolished the place of community development at cabinet. This has caused hardship in both urban and rural communities.

The damage this has caused is obvious to anyone who cares to look.  We regret that this damaging policy will continue.

We also regret the fact that no significant effort is planned to address the rising crisis in many rural communities.  There is no better demonstration of this than the massive cuts and underspending in Leader funding.

At a time when rural communities are literally terrified of the implications of Brexit, the failure to give their concerns any serious attention to date is an important omission.

Investment in Education and Research is the most effective way to underpin the economic and social development of this country’s future.

It will fireproof us against Brexit and other external threats. The Cassells Report is a key policy intervention in this regard that needs to be advanced.

Investment and reform in pre-school, primary and second level are also essential.  Education should be at the heart of a strategic approach to our people’s future.

We are prepared to constructively engage with the new Minister.

The ongoing crisis of confidence in key parts of the Justice system has been a hallmark of recent years – and in fact it was the most important impulse behind the decision of Fine Gael to have a leadership contest.

This is a topic which requires much fuller discussion.  However, we have not yet heard anything which goes beyond the empty promises of reform in the way we’ve been hearing since the days of former Minister Shatter.

The manner of the appointment of the former Attorney General to the Court of Appeal stinks – and this is not something that can be got over with a casual “ah sure we’ll do better next time”.

The silence from Labour on this issue is disappointing.

Why was 23 years of precedent abandoned for no real reason?  Why was no specific open advertisement issued in recent months for the job? Indeed why was the job held open for nearly 3 months and then filled in this manner?

Most of all, why did a minister once staunchly opposed to any political involvement in judicial appointments quietly wave through this appointment?

Was it anything to do with the decision to seek an interim report on Stepaside Garda station reopening even though the full report is due in weeks? Or the decision to cherry pick one part of that interim report for announcement by means of a political banner in Dublin Rathdown?

Minister Ross and every member of cabinet who agreed these measures on Tuesday will carry a cloud of a squalid piece of low horse-trading until they fully explain what went on.

Each minister in this government is obliged to serve the public’s interest and to implement the basic agreements which have helped them to secure office.

A record of growing division and unfairness has, in the last year, been replaced by one of inaction and drift.

What our country needs from you is concerted action not a more effective media policy or political operation.

You have every right to enjoy your moment, but there will no honeymoon and there will be no more excuses.

You have been given a great opportunity to serve the people.  We all hope that you use it.

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