Programme for Government a lost opportunity to transform our country and society
27 June 2020
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Health and Disability Services
Speech by Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly at the sitting of Dáil Éireann in the Convention Centre to elect a new Taoiseach.
Today the Labour Party will be opposing both the nominations for Taoiseach that are before this House.
The nomination of Deputy McDonald comes before this House without a scintilla of evidence of a rational thought out Programme for Government that could seek to attract the votes of a majority of this House.
Sinn Fein is simply going through the motions of appearing to be interested in government, but the truth is that today’s nomination is not backed up with any thought to an attempt to negotiate a Programme for Government.
The Sinn Fein manifesto is the Late Late Show giveaway – something for everyone in the audience. But bills must be paid, and the books must be balanced. You treat the taxpayers with contempt when you tell them that they can get everything for nothing in a utopian world.
Yes, I respect that Sinn Fein received a mandate from the public, but with a mandate comes responsibility. Responsibility to seek to govern with others within an agreed policy framework. Sinn Fein in reality yearns for opposition and that is why the nomination of Deputy McDonald is unworthy of support today.
Nobody has a monopoly on political change.
The nomination of Deputy Martin as Taoiseach comes on the back of an agreed programme for Government between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party. The Programme for Government has some proposals that are to be welcomed but the sad reality is that it is a lost opportunity to transform both our country and our society, particularly following the COVID-19 Crisis.
Parts of the document are being trumpeted as game changers when the reality is that they are not and lets be honest the financials behind this programme are comical.
Over and over the programme lacks ambition. We heard at length in recent weeks about the hours and hours of tortuous negotiations to set a target of a 7% annual reduction in carbon emissions. The Green Party claim this as a victory despite the truth being that it was the minimum required to meet our obligations under the Paris Climate agreement – and I should know, because I signed the agreement on behalf of the state four years ago.
The saddest indictment of the outgoing government is how little has been achieved in setting about meeting our commitments in the intervening four years.
The Programme for Government promises much, but without timelines and costings, many of the proposals will in reality be kicked further and further down the road – that is, if Deputy Ryan allows any more roads !
Most disappointingly, there is little evidence in the Programme for Government of any concern for workers rights, for equality of opportunity or for access to education and training.
In January 2020, Mícheál Martin said that “Fianna Fáil was the Party of the Working Classes” - if Fianna Fáil truly was the Party of the working classes - how can a Party that claims to be of the working class not seek to improve the lot of workers. There is no radical thinking on workers’ rights, meaningfully introducing a Living Wage, extending free healthcare to all, a radical plan to provide homes at an affordable price point for ordinary workers, affordable childcare so parents don’t have to make the choice between staying out of the workplace for a prolonged period of time or paying essentially a second mortgage in childcare fees.
So, when Fianna Fáil claim to be of the working class it is a smokescreen - nothing in this ‘pick and mix’ programme for Government will actually completely transform the lives of ordinary working people in Ireland.
We know that from their Government alliance that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have no problem taking away from the most vulnerable in our work force - in the dying days of their last Government they cut the Minimum Wage by €1. We are just about to enter another financial disaster, and low paid workers cannot and should not suffer at the hands of this Government.
And remember Fine Gael just don’t get industrial relations, in fact they are completely inept when it comes to it - we only need look at their latest stint in Government - transport workers were on strike, teachers were on strike and our nurses were on strike.
We all know the outgoing Taoiseach loves his films. In the 2016 General Election, Leo Varadkar said that Michael Martin was a good debater and an even better deceiver, could not be trusted, and that his record as a Minister was a disaster.
The then Minister for Health compared the Fianna Fáil leader to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total recall, with alternative memories planted in his brain and created a fairytale about his record in health and foreign affairs.
Yet here we are four years later, and it would seem the outgoing Taoiseach has had his memory wiped in the pursuit of power and has constructed his own fairytale today. He must have taken some tips from Matt Damon when he was here during the lockdown as Leo has woken up akin to Jason Bourne with no actual memory of what he said about Fianna Fail or Micheal Martin over the last 10 years.
We’ve been here before with the Green Party too.
On the 6th of May 2016 the leader of the Green Party announced that he would not vote for the election of the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and would not enter government stating that “we would not join the government because we come from a left of centre perspective and we did not see that reflected in the document”.
Well, four years on, I can tell Deputy Ryan that I actually do come from a left of centre party and it is certainly not reflected in the new programme for government that he has so eagerly signed up to.
A government will be formed this evening and I sincerely wish it well. I wish it well, but I today put it on notice that the Labour Party will hold it to account. The Irish public post COVID are a very different public with different priorities and emotions.
They want and deserve a new social contract. Covid has acted as a disrupter across all political and economic thought.
The Labour Party will hold this Government to account based on the following principles
- that a cleaner future for all depends first on building a fairer future for those that work, those that are looking for work and those who cannot work.
- that the opportunities presented by the crisis must not be allowed to pass. We had a taste of telemedicine and free GP care. The Irish people have had a glimpse of a single tier health system where private hospitals were taken over by the State. We know that real change can happen in how healthcare and childcare and other services are delivered in Ireland.
- that the provision of a sustainable, affordable roof over the heads of all families and individuals has to be the key measure upon which we judge this government.
This week is a momentous week. The memberships of both Fianna Fail & Fine Gael have voted overwhelmingly to enter government together. Both Deputy Martin and I are former students of Irish political history at UCC and neither of us could ever have envisaged this occurring, but it has.
There is but one final step to be taken, a full and final merger of the two parties because there is now not a scintilla of difference left between the two parties and we are now finally on the cusp of a historic realignment in Irish politics. An alignment on a traditional left / right divide is one which I welcome and one which the Labour Party relish.
In the coming weeks, months and years we in the Labour Party will not be found wanting when it comes to standing up and advocating on behalf of the people of Ireland.
Its not just a new Government being formed today. It’s a new dawn in Irish politics for all of us.