Ceann Comháirle, I would like to address recent developments and where the Fianna Fáil party stands in relation to ongoing issue of the formation of government. This concerns both events before this vote and where we go from here.
From the very start we have been consistent and upfront in all of our private discussions and in all of our public statements.
On the Monday after the election we set out our belief that the demand for change evident in the people’s decision was wider and more challenging than ever before. It was a demand not just to change personnel in government but to change our priorities and to change our politics.
I am encouraged by the fact that my call for inclusive and ambitious parliamentary reform has been taken up and is making important progress. There is now no one defending an approach to the Oireachtas where it was marginalised by a dominant government. Completing this reform agenda remains a challenge, but there has been a decisive, and I believe permanent, change in attitudes on implementing real political reform.
What is not yet clear is whether there is broad agreement on reforming the way we govern. There are signs of progress but there remain substantial issues. There are undeniable efforts to maintain a slightly repainted model of the old way of doing business.
For the twelve months before the election and in interviews, debates and canvasses throughout the election Fianna Fáil stated very clearly that it would not enter a coalition government with Fine Gael even in a circumstance where other majority government options were not possible. We set out our reasons for this in great detail.
This was not a commitment lightly made and it received the backing of our members at an Árd Fheis.
I for one believe that putting behind us all the era of “Ah sure isn’t that what you say during an election” would be a major start in re-establishing public trust in politics.
Parties which have chosen to remove themselves from the process of government formation are of course entitled to their own positions, but it would be a great service to us all if they kept to themselves their lectures on the duties of others. The sheer number of people who have appointed themselves to be spokespeople on behalf of the national interest is now ridiculous – as is their habit of giving advice to people and parties who they have misjudged or opposed.
In addition to promising that we would not enter a coalition with Fine Gael we said that we would be responsible and respond to the realities of a new Dáil. We have done this and we will continue to do so.
Central to this is that we believe that Ireland must recognise the fact that it now has a multi-party system and should move away from its absolutist approach to government formation.
The idea that democracy requires the rapid transition between majority governments is simply not supported by the facts. Minority governments can and do work – and they do so in countries which have high levels of governance.
In the last month we have held good-faith negotiations with parties and independents. We tabled very detailed policy papers and clarifications which set out not just what can be achieved over a full Dáil term but also what can be implemented in the next six and twelve months.
In these negotiations we have taken the approach of not issuing briefings and not seeking to spin media coverage. We have played them straight.
They were constructive and positive discussions which were dominated by substantive policy issues.
At the same time there were discussions between these groups and Fine Gael.
I would like to thank those who participated in our discussions but clearly they had reached a point where there was a choice to be made. They are entitled to say they want more detail and want an agreement in advance about supporting whatever emerges from negotiations. We are not in any way reflecting on the right of Deputies to make up their own mind, equally we have the right to say that we think a stage has been reached where the approaches and policies of the alternatives to leading a government are there to be seen.
It is not unreasonable to ask that people state who they are willing to support. Many very candid positions have been stated in private which have yet to be repeated in public.
Following this vote it is time to move on.
As we have said repeatedly, and as I outlined in the Dáil last week and on Sunday and Monday, Fianna Fáil believes that a minority government is the only credible and legitimate outcome from the current make-up of the Dáil. We understand the need for an agreement which allows such a government to function.
We agreed with Fine Gael last Saturday to enter into discussions about a minority government. We have approached these discussions in good faith and have achieved significant progress on the most important issue, which is to define responsibilities and approaches between parties in such an arrangement.
This said there are very significant concerns relating to these discussions and whether the entire process can be completed.
The single most important change required to make any new arrangement work is to abandon the mind-set of trying to spin and control everything. Good faith requires demonstrating that you can understand and address the needs of the other side.
In recent years the obsessive daily spinning defined an approach to governing which has been decisively rejected by the people.
Fine Gael would be well served if it understood how its behaviour towards the other party in the outgoing government suggested what could be charitably called a complete lack of partnership.
To be very direct, we will not get to an agreement unless there is an abandonment of the manoeuvring and inflexibility we have seen in the last week alone.
As the Taoiseach knows, meetings this week have been delayed a few times due to Fine Gael’s requests and delays – yet the very first time this happens on the other side official statements were being made within minutes expressing annoyance and threatening a breakdown.
Equally, the decision to pass motions at Fine Gael Parliamentary Party yesterday directly intended to reject our positions was at very least deliberately unhelpful and provocative.
We are in danger of the word ‘partnership’ being drained of any substance.
The future of Irish Water is not the single most important issue facing our country – but it is important and the election represented a decisive rejection of current policies. The post-election lobbying campaign by this state company is unprecedented in our history. It is a total waste of public money and of the legitimate balance of powers between parliament and state companies.
Once Dáil committees are established we will be seeking an investigation into the cost and nature of this campaign. In addition, we should be very clear that any attempt by Irish Water to accelerate contracts and hiring for non-essential maintenance roles will be seen as an attempt to undermine discussions on water policy by elected representatives.
It is not yet clear that Fine Gael understands the need to move away from the highly-controlling attitude which defined the last five years. We await a demonstration that it knows how to respect the interests of others.
If you want to find a way of making the new situation work – if you are genuine in understanding that the old approach to government is over – then we continue to be willing to be flexible.
We are prepared to continue in discussions with Fine Gael about the operation of a minority government. However, we expect that they will do what they have so far refused to do, which is to detail who it expects to participate in such a government and state that government’s programme.
From the very beginning we have been straight and open about our position. We have not stood on the side-lines but we have taken a constructive and flexible approach while being true to the core promise we made to the half a million people who voted for us.
This will continue to be our approach.