21 June 2007 Edition
New Dáil : Government attempts to silence Sinn Féin
New Government is FF/PD with Green insurance policy
Bertie Ahern was elected Taoiseach by the Dáil for the third time in a row last Thursday, the first time a Fianna Fáil leader has headed a three-party coalition with support from several Independent TDs.
Ahern allocated two Government departments – Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to Green Party TDs John Gormley and Éamon Ryan respectively.
Most outgoing Ministers retained their portfolios. Mary Harney, the acting leader of the Progressive Democrats and the most discredited Health Minister in the history of the state, remains in charge of that Department and will press ahead with the deeply unpopular policy of building private hospitals on public hospital land.
The one new Fianna Fáil Minister is Brian Lenihan, who was promoted to the position of Minister for Justice, replacing former PD leader Michael McDowell who failed to get re-elected and has retired from public life. Two Ministers, John O’Donoghue and Dick Roche, were removed from the Cabinet to make way for the new appointments. O’Donoghue was appointed Ceann Comhairle and Roche Minister of State for European Affairs.
Brian Cowen remains in Finance and was promoted to Tánaiste. Most of the other senior Fianna Fáil Ministers remain in their outgoing posts.
While the Green party sees its inclusion in the new Government as offering some opportunity to drive forward its agenda, it leaves the party with a huge range of difficult issues, including the hugely controversial M3 motorway through the Tara/Skryne valley and the scandal surrounding the Shell gas terminal in Rossport, County Mayo. The problem was illustrated by the decision of outgoing minister for the environment Dick Roche to sign a ministerial order in his final days in office to allow the M3 motorway to go ahead as planned, despite the discovery of a national monument which is now to be destroyed.
Sinn Féin TDs voted against the proposed Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats/Green Government and against the nominations of both Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny for Taoiseach.
On the first day of the Dáil the new Government refused to allocate time to Sinn Féin to speak in the debate on the nomination of the Cabinet. We carry here the speech which would have been delivered by Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
In the General Election the new Taoiseach did not achieve an overall Fianna Fáil majority but he has now engineered a comfortable majority based on what can only be described as a bizarre combination of parties and Independents.
Before going into the composition of the Government and its Programme, I wish to state that my Sinn Féin colleagues look forward to working with the new Government in advancing the Irish Peace Process and fully implementing the Good Friday Agreement and pursuing the cause of Irish unity and national reconciliation. All members of the Dáil have a role to play in this. The re-establishment of the Executive closed one chapter in the Peace Process and opened another. We look forward to the early convening of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. We emphasise that this process must proceed and must accelerate. The future of our people and our island is an all-Ireland future and the Dáil has a central role to play in this.
Since 1997 Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have presided over a booming economy but they have failed miserably to build a fairer society. Prosperity without equality has widened the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. They have had a full decade to build world-class public services accessible to all equally – in health, in housing, in education, in transport, in infrastructure and all delivered with proper planning and balanced regional development. That should have been the legacy of the past decade. But instead we have a health service in perpetual crisis, a housing market that excludes those most in need, unequal access to education, totally inadequate public transport, flawed infrastructure, poor planning and unbridled developments in some regions while others are left behind.
The Sinn Féin TDs will not be supporting a Cabinet and a Programme for Government which is set to continue these failed policies.
The Programme for Government will continue the scandalous and disgraceful hospital co-location scheme. The Green Party election manifesto made an unequivocal commitment to “scrap immediately the decision to subsidise building of private hospitals on public land”. It also committed to “withdraw tax reliefs from private hospitals and reallocate them to public healthcare provision”. The Green manifesto spoke of the need to address our two-tier health system which discriminates between insured and uninsured patients. It spoke of access to healthcare as a basic human right. That should have been a bottom-line issue and it is a real setback for our health services that the Green Party has signed up for the privatisation agenda of Fianna Fáil and the PDs.
The Programme is silent on the disastrous hospital centralisation policy pursued by Fianna Fáil and the PDs. That has seen local hospitals stripped of services with more to follow. Sinn Féin will continue to vehemently oppose this policy and champion the demand for equality in healthcare delivery based on access for all based on need and need alone.
The Green Party has achieved little on issues which it claims as its own – environment, energy, transport. Much that is in the Programme is a repetition of measures already in the National Development Plan.
There is no Zero Waste Strategy.
There is a vague commitment to a carbon tax with no rate and no timetable.
There is no commitment to end the scandal of the robbery of our oil and gas resources by multinationals and the forcing of the Shell pipeline through Rossport. The M3 will be forced through historic Tara.
There is no commitment to advance public transport to the level which is so sorely needed. The failed policies of Ministers Martin Cullen and Dick Roche will be continued.
On Housing, the Programme falls far short of the Green commitment to 10,000 social and affordable housing units per annum until waiting lists are cleared. There is no reform of Part V of the Planning and Development Act, something which the Green Party advocated in joining others, including Sinn Féin, in demanding housing as a right for our people. The Programme contains no target for eradicating homelessness as advocated by the Make Room Campaign. There is no commitment to a Cost of Disability Living Allowance.
The Programme for Government also fails to fulfil the Green Party commitment to end the use of Shannon Airport by US military forces involved in the war in Iraq. This is a setback for the broad movement in support of Irish neutrality and sovereignty of which the Green Party was an important part. But the fight will continue and Sinn Féin will strongly advocate positive neutrality, independent foreign policy and opposition to imperialism in all its forms.
The negotiation of the Programme has exposed the myth that there is any essential difference between Fianna Fáil and the PDs. Fianna Fáil seems to have negotiated on behalf of the PDs. The symbiotic relationship between the two parties will continue. The disgraceful co-location scheme may have emerged from Mary Harney’s desk but it has been championed and defended by the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and his ministers all along the line. The PDs are on board because they provide a convenient means for Fianna Fáil to blame someone else. The Green Party has been co-opted as an insurance policy but they may well find themselves sharing the same fate as the PDs.
And it is not good for democracy that this coalition will govern with the aid of agreements with selected Independent Deputies, including Deputy Healy-Rae, who has described his agreement as a private and personal document. I wish the people of South Kerry well but they must be aware that it is very easy to keep a promise when you don’t tell people what that promise is.
A General Election should not be a lottery where the people of your constituency get the prize if your number comes up. Every citizen in every constituency has equal rights and the Government is obliged by the Constitution to govern without fear or favour.
For all these reasons we cannot support the Cabinet presented nor the Programme for Government.
I want to conclude by thanking all those who put their trust and confidence in myself and my three colleagues to represent them as Sinn Féin TDs. I thank all who voted for Sinn Féin candidates in the General Election throughout this State. I want especially to pay tribute to former Deputy Seán Crowe, a very dedicated and hard-working Republican. I have no doubt that before too long he will be back here and that he will be joined by other Sinn Féin TDs.
The electoral tide ran against us on 24 May, as it did for other smaller parties and independents. But let those who think they have capsized the Sinn Féin vessel think again. Our ship is strong and seaworthy and we have weathered many storms. There was much in the General Election at constituency level to encourage us. We will be going forward in every constituency and here in the 30th Dáil, confident in our message and in our ability to build our party and bring about progressive change in our country.