The issue which has dominated debate during the last week touches on points fundamental to the functioning of our republic. Public faith in the integrity of state agencies in general and the police force in particular is an essential foundation for democratic institutions.
From the moment when I was approached almost exactly three years ago concerning serious allegations being made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe my party’s position has been very clear – the truth must be established and justice must be done.
While there has been a constant effort by one party in this House to promote snide comments about our actions – both in here and through their legion of online trolls – we have been consistent in responding to every substantive piece of information we have received.
We have refused to play politics with this issue. We have pushed for and secured independent inquiries and have rejected efforts, particularly by the last government, to declare the matter closed. Most importantly, we have maintained ongoing contact to ensure that we are respecting the wishes of those who have suffered most in this scandal.
There is no question that the government has, especially over the last week, handled this matter in a casual and incompetent manner.
The Taoiseach and his ministers failed to react with appropriate concern when deeply disturbing information was brought to their attention concerning the possible use of a state agency to terrorise an honourable servant of the state.
Their complacency in relation to ensuring that this matter could be fully investigated by the proposed Inquiry is appalling and is clearly at the heart of their ongoing failure to respond to any of the many ways in which they were informed about the Tusla file.
While it is not central to the substantive issue, we have no doubt whatsoever about the fact that the Tánaiste knew from multiple sources, including a direct conversation with Deputy O’Callaghan that requests to broaden the Inquiry’s terms of reference were specifically founded on the need to include the Tusla file.
Just as when they met each other, members of the government may have talked but they appear never to have listened.
During the last government there was clear and obvious evidence of efforts to bury this scandal. While many in Fine Gael and Labour worked hard to lay all the blame on the former Minister for Justice, they happily went along with the early attempts to minimise the importance of allegations and dismiss the people making them.
In contrast, we have, as of yet, no evidence that this government has acted in bad faith in its discussions concerning the scope of the Inquiry. There is insurmountable evidence of complacency and incompetence, but there has been no attempt to block the establishment of an inquiry with the powers and terms of reference required to establish the truth and provide justice.
The Taoiseach has confirmed to me that he is willing to support a Tribunal of the type that Sergeant McCabe is correctly calling for.
If the concern of Deputies is genuinely to deal with this scandal then the question before us should deal with the form, terms of reference and funding of an inquiry.
But the question before us is not how do we get justice for Maurice McCabe and others – it is should we collapse the government and Dáil in order to have a general election in the next few weeks?
The sole motivation behind putting this question is party politics. As we have seen recently in the North, at every given moment Sinn Fein’s primary concern is promoting the interests of the Provisionals’ movement. When they come across an issue they look for ways to exploit it rather than to address it.
In the case of the Assembly, they took an undoubted scandal about an out of control scheme which they had known about for a year and which had been made worse by their now Northern leader’s active promotion – and instead of securing an immediate inquiry, they collapsed the Assembly. Indeed they actively opposed an inquiry until they were left with no option but to support one. Ironically, given the rhetoric we are hearing from them tonight, Sinn Féin had the opportunity to vote no confidence in Arlene Foster for her handling of this scandal. Did we hear impassioned speeches of outrage and demands for accountability? No we didn’t. Sinn Féin abstained in that vote.
As a result the people of Northern Ireland will have to vote relying on political charges rather than a definitive and independent review. The people of Northern Ireland must also go without a voice in critical Brexit discussions and without action on the hospitals crisis which is their number one concern.
It is frankly simply not possible to accept that Sinn Fein tabled its motion of no confidence out of any sincere outrage at how information was handled.
Every one of that party’s senior members aggressively attacked me and others for raising now proven allegations about abuse within the Provisionals’ movement. And we are still waiting for a single person to respond to their claim to call for witnesses to come forward to the Gardaí.
While the issue of confidence in the government has been put on the agenda for purely partisan reasons it is one which does have to be addressed.
Our position remains that every deputy elected to this Dáil has a duty to do everything possible to make this Dáil work. We reject the idea that the only roles which you can play are to support government in everything or oppose it in everything.
Unlike any other party, Fianna Fáil tried to remove Fine Gael from government. We didn’t just oppose Deputy Kenny and Fine Gael, we repeatedly offered an alternative to them. We will not take lectures about removing Fine Gael from office from Deputies who sat on their hands when this could be achieved.
I would also point out to Deputy Howlin and his colleagues with their new-found revolutionary zeal that on March 10th last year each of them voted to support Deputy Kenny’s nomination as Taoiseach.
Deputy Rock might well also consider that the record of the House has not been erased and it still contains his multiple crawling speeches on the visionary leadership qualities of the man he is now sprinting away from.
The confidence and supply arrangement we reached is absolutely transparent about the basis for us enabling this government to be formed and to continue.
In return for a range of guarantees mainly focused on ending some of the worst policies of the last government, they have been given the opportunity to get on with their job.
In defiance of all of the commentaries, we have played this agreement absolutely straight. We have been a constructive opposition in proposing alternatives and, on some occasions, having to allow through policies we disagree with.
We can point to concrete advances in relation to pensions, a more progressive budget strategy, the suspension of water charges and investment in key educational supports – each of which was achieved in the face of the right-wing agenda of key Fine Gael representatives.
While we have refused to play games there have been clear breeches of the agreement by the government and regular provocations from its members.
The last minute appearance of hundreds of millions in budget spending, the blocking of Deputy O’Callaghan’s Judicial Appointment bill and the bulldozing through the House of the rent control bill are examples of this behaviour.
So too, are the regular statements from Fine Gael ministers manoeuvring for the post-Kenny era and claiming that they will “put manners on those Fianna Fáilers”.
These comments are both childish and representative of an arrogant party which cannot accept its fall in public support.
The events of this last week have put the agreement under serious strain.
We continue to believe that the government’s policies are leaving too many people behind, that it is drifting and failing to provide leadership either from the top or in any major policy area.
Most ministers are focused on their personal future and on pretending to be external commentators on public affairs rather attending to the people’s business.
We do want a change of government, but we also believe that this Dáil has not yet fulfilled its obligations to the people who we are elected to serve.
My Party’s priorities are to address this scandal and to help our country overcome the many challenges it faces. There is no evidence that an immediate election would do this. We will abide by our agreement.
However, there is a point after which all good faith efforts to make this Dáil work will have failed and there will be no alternative but to have an election.
That point is much closer today than it was last week. It may well be reached if there are further revelations which suggest that the government has been acting in bad faith in this matter or if it fails to honour both the spirit and the detail of its agreements.