'All systems go' for new taoiseach Micheál Martin's historic coalition Government

'All systems go' for new taoiseach Micheál Martin's historic coalition Government
An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, T.D., with his wife Mary and family Micheál Aodh, Aoibhe and Cillian on his return home to Ballinlough in Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has insisted “it is all systems go” for his Government, which holds its first full Cabinet meeting today.

Speaking exclusively to the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin has spoken of his desire to rescuing the country from the recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am looking forward to giving it everything I have, working flat out," he said. "Working together we can engineer a recovery and dealing with the challenges of the covid pandemic and the economic situation. I am also looking forward to working with the Green Party and with Fine Gael to drive on the Programme for Government.”

The new Cabinet will gather at Dublin Castle today at 2pm to begin work on its July jobs initiative which will see a multi-billion euro stimulus package unleashed.

Mr Martin confirmed he will be briefed by his officials as to the latest on Brexit and from  chief medical officer Tony Holohan as to the dangers of lifting restrictions on foreign travel on July 9.

"I want to hear from Dr Holohan first but caution has to be the order of the day," he said. "The idea of the air bridge between countries where transmission rates are low will be on the agenda. But I will of course take seriously what the Chief Medical Officer has to say. The virus has been well controlled in Ireland and air travel opens up new risks" 

He also said:

* The cabinet will begin to develop its multi-billion Euro stimulus package due to be announced next month;

* The plan will see specific targeted supports for young people who are now without jobs;

* The government will borrow to invest in supports as opposed to looking at austerity in the short term.

Mr Martin insisted his deputy leader and Government chief whip Dara Calleary will have a central role in the government.

Responding for the first time to the criticism he did not award him a full ministry, Mr Martin said: "Dara is very experienced and I need a very experienced chief whip. He will have additional responsibilities and former chief whips like Séamus Brennan and Mary Hanafin who went on to have stellar careers.

But the challenge facing the three leaders was that there was a limited number of portfolios, and in the ones we got I wanted people who could hit the ground running," a reference to Stephen Donnelly who was a surprise choice as Health Minister and Darragh O'Brien in Housing.

Meanwhile, the new Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, has said the Government “will not be going down the road” of austerity and introducing cuts to public spending and services, despite a €30bn deficit this year.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr McGrath made clear while the country is “looking at an enormous budget deficit this year,” stimulus rather than austerity is his plan.

Speaking as he intends taking up the reigns of the public finances this morning, Mr McGrath said the best way of gradually reducing that over time is to grow the economy.

“The reason why we have such a deficit is because for three months large sections of our economy were shut down and are only gradually re-opening. We have to address the damage done during that time,” he said.

 “Nobody can give a guarantee that there won’t be tough decisions made but the determination of government is to have an investment led recovery which will start with July’s jobs initiative.

“So the focus is on repairing the economy, the focus is not on cuts but no one can guarantee that there won’t be difficult decisions to be made but I do not envisage a situation where we will be cutting services and current spending” he said.

“That is not a road we intend going down. The focus will be on recovery and stimulus and I think we can travel a long way on the road by pursuing that strategy.'

Earlier in the day, Mr Martin received a warm reception, as he arrived at his home in Ballinlough.

The new Taoiseach was greeted by supporters who sang a verse of "The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee." His children, Micheál Aodh, Aoibhe, and Cillian, lined the kerb outside his home alongside his wife Mary.

Mr Martin, speaking to reporters, vowed to place pictures of Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera side by side in his office in Dublin to signal a new era in Irish politics.

Mr Martin admitted he was conscious of the symbolism of such a gesture.

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