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14 June 2007 Edition

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Government Formation : Harney unacceptable as Health Minister

New Government must bring real change in key areas

Commenting on Tuesday on the news that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party had agreed to participate in a cross-party Government, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that a new Programme for Government must bring about real change. He said Sinn Féin would decide on how it would vote in the Dáil on Thursday on the basis of the Programme for Government presenting.
“We are now faced with a cross-party Government including parties as diverse as the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats, as well as Independents. Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern has opted for a combination which he hopes will guarantee his administration maximum stability. He hopes that the defection of either the Greens or Independents at any stage during the 30th Dáil will not result in the fall of his administration”, Ó Caoláin said.
“It is for the members of the Green Party to judge whether they are being taken on board as an insurance policy by Fianna Fáil or whether they have made an agreement that represents progress. Sinn Féin will decide our position in the vote for Taoiseach on the basis of the Programme for Government which is presented”, he said.
“Writing in the Sunday Independent last weekend, Bertie Ahern stated that the Greens have ‘clear positions on transport, health and education’ that are ‘not incompatible with those of Fianna Fáil’. Taking the health issue alone, the Programme for Government would run totally contrary to the Green position if it does not scrap the disgraceful and totally discredited private, for-profit hospital co-location scheme championed by Mary Harney. That will be a crucial test”, Ó Caoláin said.
Speaking ahead of the first meeting of the 30th Dáil this week Ó Caoláin said Sinn Féin was focussed on the issues which must be tackled by whichever combination of parties takes office. First and foremost among those issues he said was the healthcare system.
“The new Dáil must prioritise healthcare and it must begin a genuine transformation of the system into one truly based on equity and efficiency. The people who voted in sufficient numbers to ensure that Fianna Fáil would remain in the driving seat must be some of the same people who in every opinion poll have stated that the dire condition of our health services is their priority issue”, Ó Caoláin said.

Hospital privatisation
“Fianna Fáil does not have a mandate to continue with the failed health policies, including hospital privatisation, fronted by the PDs in the outgoing government, but fully backed by Fianna Fáil itself.
“The return of Mary Harney as Minister for Health & Children would be totally unacceptable to the vast majority of people. It would signal the acceleration of privatisation. We would be faced with the scandal of a Government allocating public land and public money to privateers to build for-profit hospitals while at the same time they take services away from existing public hospitals”, he said.
“The fight to restore services at Monaghan General Hospital, to provide the resources so badly needed at Cavan General Hospital, and to resist the proposed decimation of hospital services in the North East region overall, must and will be continued with renewed resolve.
“The new Government must make a renewed commitment to our local hospitals. They must admit that the centralisation policy has failed miserably. It has cost lives and communities the length and breadth of this country demand and have a right to hospital services delivered locally. Sinn Féin in the new Dáil will be making that demand as loudly and clearly as ever”, said the Sinn Féin TD.
Last week Ó Caoláin, who is Finance spokesperson for Sinn Féin said the incoming Government had a responsibility to act to protect workers and homeowners from the adverse economic developments now taking place, including increasing inflation and interest rate hikes. Ó Caoláin also said the incoming Government must address the fact that the exchequer is now vulnerable to a sharp contraction in revenue due to the extent to which it is now dependent on construction and consumption. He set out four key Sinn Féin demands for government action.
“We are now facing into an unstable economic situation of the outgoing government’s own making. Instead of bedding down the economic prosperity of recent years it allowed it to continue to develop in an unsustainable manner for selfish short term political gains”, Ó Caoláin said.
“In the last 12 months Sinn Féin was the only party which sought to highlight the vulnerabilities in the Irish economy. We presented the electorate with an honest picture of the economy and did not engage in auction politics based on a false economic premise.
“Sinn Féin highlighted the:

  • Overdependence of the economy on the construction sector.
  • Overdependence of the exchequer on revenue related to property and consumption.
  • Rising Consumer Price Index inflation and inflated property prices.
  • Rising interest rates and record levels of personal indebtedness

“Sinn Féin warned that the Government was leaving the state exposed to a sharp contraction in revenue due to its overdependence on high levels of revenue from property and consumption that were simply not going to last. When others promised tax cuts in the run up to the general election we pointed out that the more you reduce income tax, the more dependent the Government becomes on these other more insecure sources of tax revenue. We warned that the Government then becomes increasingly more vulnerable to a sudden and sharp contraction in revenue which would have serious implications for its ability to deliver public services. The other parties ignored the evidence that, even then, the slow down in the property market that could precipitate this had begun’, he said.
“In our Pre-Budget Submission 2007 we highlighted the fact that the Central Bank had estimated that house prices were overvalued by at least 14% amounting to a minimum overvaluation of around €58,000 in the Dublin region. The Government was also aware of all these dangerous developments. It sat on its hands as house prices rose beyond the reach of many over the last decade. It now has a responsibility to protect those home owners who find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position as interest rates continue to rise.
“In our analysis of the most recent social partnership deal Towards 2016 Sinn Féin warned that the wage increases offered under the deal would, within a short time, be wiped out by inflation. This has now happened and trade unions are rightly demanding action to protect the standards of living of workers”, he said.

Ó Caoláin said that Sinn Féin is demanding that the incoming Government:

  • Take action to ensure alternative employment opportunities are in place for those currently employed in the construction sector and whose jobs may disappear in the years ahead.
  • Introduce increases in mortgage interest relief to help protect vulnerable homeowners, in particular those on average and lower incomes.
  • Commence an immediate review of the taxation system to redress the current overdependence of the exchequer on revenue related to property and consumption and ensure that the state continues to have the revenue necessary to maintain and improve public services and social protections.
  • In order to protect the standard of living of workers and address rising consumer price inflation, reduce/abolish regressive stealth charges and taxes which hit those on low incomes hardest.

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