This debate is a perfect illustration of why the people have for a long time and in ever greater numbers lost confidence in this government.
Elected with the largest majority in our history and backed by the genuine goodwill of even non-supporters, Fine Gael and Labour had an unprecedented opportunity to implement reform. They had the space to put in place a vision for a fairer Ireland.
They also had a lengthy media honeymoon to keep some of the normal pressure away.
But they chose a different way. There has been no new social or economic blueprint for our future. There has been no attempt to change how our country is governed. There has been no interest in reaching out to those without political power.
This is an arrogant, out of touch and increasingly out of control government which has been deeply unfair and divisive. With its trail of broken promises and obsession with spin it has broken faith with the people who elected it.
It has been deeply divisive in its policies. It has been blind to the destructive impact it has had in area after area.
Time and again major problems have been allowed to develop directly because of government policies and have only been addressed when there has been a massive public backlash.
You Taoiseach have repeatedly come in here to tell us how everything is going fine only to see hospitals, schools, the Garda Siochana, property tax, water charges, medical cards, household debts, personal pensions, job insecurity, housing, drug abuse and area after area of public services slide into crises.
As we have heard yet again today, this is a government which is so out of touch that it doesn’t have the faintest idea why it is so profoundly unpopular and continues to spark loud resistance.
Yet again we have heard the fairy tale story of a selfless government which came to office and turned everything around and only has problems because of how hard it has been working on our behalf.
There are occasional admissions of small mistakes, but the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and their dwindling band of followers basically believe that people aren’t giving them the credit they deserve. According to them, anything bad they did was only because they were forced to do it.
This is a story which is as dishonest as it is discredited.
In its nearly four years in office this government has never produced a plan for the economic and social development of our country.
In fact it’s very first decision as a coalition was not to negotiate a new fiscal framework. For its first three years it followed the broad guidelines of the plan it inherited and had campaigned against in the general election.
However Fine Gael and Labour did begin one decisive shift in policy – they have made taxation and public spending significantly more regressive. They have repeatedly ignored ability to pay when imposing taxes and charges – and they have targeted cutbacks on the weakest sections of the community.
As every independent study has shown, the budgets introduced by my late colleague Brian Lenihan were the ones where the wealthiest bore the biggest burden. And as every independent study has also confirmed, Fine Gael and Labour have implemented four budgets out of four where struggling families have born the biggest burden.
From day one this government has put politics before substance. It has seen every problem in terms of how to spin it.
After an enormous defeat in May’s local elections. After rising discontent on the doorsteps and in the streets. After a forced-reshuffle. After an uprising in Labour and disquiet in Fine Gael – the government still doesn’t get it.
It still doesn’t understand the anger, frustration and basic everyday struggle of families throughout the country.
The debate has been framed as a new start – the moment when the government showed that it has got its act together and started communicating its message.
The Taoiseach set it off yesterday with his launch of Fine Gael’s “Budget Calculator”. To be accompanied by leafleting in every constituency.
The “Calculator” is, according to Fine Gael, there to show everyone how much money they are “putting back in your pocket”.
The “Calculator” shows that the average family will get dramatically less than a high-income family, but the real revelation is to be found buried in the section termed “assumption”.
There you find two incredible statements. First it says “Local property tax liabilities are ignored”. Second it says that water charges are not included and “The tax credit in respect of water charges paid during 2015 will be paid in 2016”.
Once again, this government just does not get it. A government that implements damaging and unfair policies but thinks it can spin its way out of trouble.
It is important to note that Labour fully shares this commitment to selective and dishonest spin.
This week it too has launched a post-Budget offensive with a claim that nearly 1.2 million children will be benefitting from the child benefit increase it has secured.
It takes a special level of cynicism to cut something you said you would never touch and then ask for credit when you give a bit of it back.
It is true that fiscal consolidation has been important and unavoidable. Those parties which like to pretend that all hard decisions could have been avoided are as dishonest as those who pretend that they have had no impact.
In his claims about bringing the Budget under control the Taoiseach of course again refused to acknowledge that two thirds of the required measures were brought into law before he came to office. He also failed to mention that he personally voted against the bulk of measures which today he tries to claim credit for.
Unsurprisingly, the Taoiseach has found no room to acknowledge how European policies negotiated by others and automatically extended to Ireland gave him billions towards achieving targets.
Today our economy is undeniably stronger than it was and equally undeniably is the fact that the core reason for this has nothing to do with this government.
It is the skills and hard work of the Irish people that have helped our economy, not the short-term, damaging and divisive policies of this government. These skills were built up over decades and the areas of the economy which have grown are ones which were present and growing before 2011.
This week there will once again be major demonstrations over the deeply unfair water charge. As Minister Noonan apparently confirmed in an angry letter to the European Commission, this is a policy which has been fully at the discretion of the government.
The bloated and wasteful utility Irish Water was one of Fine Gael’s longest standing policies. The usage-based charge was defended by the party from the very start.
We have ended up with a situation where a charge is being imposed in order to fund meters which are pointless, to maintain a bureaucracy which no one wants and to justify an accounting gimmick which may not work. You have no one to blame for this fiasco but yourselves.
This was a defining issue in May. The Taoiseach said he understood the message loud and clear. The Cabinet spent four months preparing a final answer which lasted four weeks. Why can’t you just bow to the inevitable and end this issue?
Irish Water should be abolished and this Charge should be suspended immediately. If things keep going as they are we will end up with a huge hole in the national budget and people paying for declining investment in water services.
This increasingly chaotic approach to policy, where ministerial actions ignore and make major problems worse has been seen in nearly every Department and there is no reason to believe it will end soon.
As Fianna Fáil pointed out repeatedly during the last year, housing pressures were being escalated by the Tánaiste’s decision to restrict Housing Benefit and rent supplement.
In order to make room for Fine Gael’s higher-income tax cut, she directly caused enormous problems families and individuals.
At local level her party in Dublin, with Fine Gael support, earlier this year tried to cut homeless services until forced to retreat by our councillors.
I welcome the new commitment of the Government to allocate emergency funding for homelessness, but this will be merely a sticking plaster if the more serious policy mistake of cutting Housing Benefit and rent Supplement is not reversed.
Unfortunately we have heard nothing from the government to suggest they understand this.
There is growing evidence that the combination of neglect and targeted cutbacks is allowing the scourge of drugs to spread in more and more communities.
This is the first government in three decades not to have a minister assigned to either community development or combating drugs – and this shows itself in the reality of what has been happening.
There has been a sustained withdrawal of state support for marginalised communities and drugs have been seen as only important as a public order issue. The social devastation that drugs are causing is nowhere on the agenda and was missing from the complacent and self-satisfied speeches of the government.
In the face of this it shows something about the priorities of the Taoiseach and his party that his only specific commitment for the next budget and for the years ahead is to cut taxes for the highest earners.
In health, yet again claims of adequate funding have fallen apart within days. The damage done in three years of failed policies has not been reversed. At best the rate of decline will be maintained.
The HSE does not have the funds required to maintain services. The massive rises in waiting lists, still dismissed by the Taoiseach, will not be halted – and while Minister Varadkar implies he knows they are flawed, the government remains committed to implementing a health funding model which would lead directly to a massive health tax.
It would create a monster which would make Irish Water look like value for money.
In education, schools face a growing funding crisis with those who serve poorer communities suffering disproportionately.
Protests are being made by communities throughout the country as they see the impact on local life and on their children. This is the direct result of regressive and avoidable policies.
The approach of trying to implement policy without discussion or review has directly led to last week’s second-level school strikes and is part of a wider problem of refusing to engage with public servants.
It was just this arrogant and dismissive approach which allowed the biggest crisis in the modern history of the Gardaí to develop – and it has also led to the withdrawal of community policing as the defining characteristic of An Garda Siochána.
The pattern of neglecting problems and allowing them to become crises has also shown itself in relation to Northern Ireland. When Fianna Fáil pointed out the collapsing public confidence in the behaviour of the DUP and Sinn Fein and the danger which this posed we received sustained abuse in response – not just from those parties but from the government. The Taoiseach even gave a speech saying things had never been better.
With growing problems on the street, rising sectarian tensions and an Executive which is destroying public trust in the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement, this week the Taoiseach will for the first time attend a negotiation with the parties. That is not a record to be proud of.
The failure of the government to implement even one significant reform of politics and government confirms how it mainly cares about holding and retaining power. Appointing an advisory group on the Seanad without consultation about its role or membership confirms that nothing significant will be implemented.
The Taoiseach himself must bear responsibility for the growing crisis in his government and the collapse of public trust in it.
He busies himself with photo-opportunities and brief comments but has been the least accessible Taoiseach of modern times when it comes to detailed interviews or debates. He retreats behind over-written political attacks and empty claims instead of directly engaging with opponents or the people he is here to serve.
This government had the opportunity to set a vision for a country which treats its younger and older citizens decently. To build a recovery felt by all.
Instead it has caused and deepened divisions and inequality. It has been unfair and it has been increasingly incompetent.
Without the guidance of other people’s blueprints to follow it has stumbled from crisis to crisis. It has no economic plan for the years ahead. It has no social plan for the years ahead. It is in office but not leading. All it has is the ever more desperate desire to find a way of holding on to power.
The people have shown that they have no confidence in this government to address their concerns and the needs of our country. Dáil Éireann should also have no confidence in a tired, arrogant and complacent government which will not acknowledge let alone address its many and growing failings.