Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin has defended his decision not to collapse the Government because of Brexit, despite declaring he “wants it gone.”
In his keynote address at his party's Ard Fheis at Citywest this evening, Mr Martin made clear that abject failures by ministers must take second place because of the existential crisis Brexit poses.
He and his front bench have faced increased internal strife over the decision to continue to facilitate the Government by way of the Confidence and Supply deal.
Addressing delegates, he justified his decision to continue to facilitate the Fine Gael minority Government, saying it was in the national interest.
“We want this government gone, but we refuse to expose our country to the massive risk of having no functioning government or Dáil at this moment of great threat,” he said.
“That is why we took the step of extending the confidence and supply agreement and it is why Ireland's hand in the Brexit talks remains strong,” he added.
“Every one of our members wants to get out on the doorsteps and sell a message of what a new government can do for our country.
"We have to manage the immediate fallout of Brexit and by every available piece of evidence we don't have a moment to waste,” Mr Martin said.
In his address, which was broadcast live on RTE television, Mr Martin said Brexit “has been devastating to politics in Northern Ireland, but the problems started long before Brexit, and they still have to be dealt with no matter what happens with Brexit”.
Mr Martin heavily criticised Fine Gael's neglect of the peace process since taking office while also criticising Sinn Fein and the DUP for the continued shutdown of the Northern Assembly at Stormont.
“The last seven years have seen a relentless decline in the political situation in Northern Ireland. Everyone knows that the core issue has been with the DUP and Sinn Fein, who ran the Executive like a closed cartel looking after their own,” he said.
Despite forcing his expulsion from the party in 2011 over the Mahon Tribunal findings, Mr Martin paid specific tribute to Bertie Ahern for his commitment to securing peace on the island of Ireland when he was Taoiseach.
“Bertie Ahern showed incredible leadership in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, securing its ratification and putting in place a precious peace,” he said.
He also paid tribute to another former Taoiseach, the late Albert Reynolds, who he said created the conditions for the ceasefires with the Downing Street Declaration.
Twitter: https://t.co/RGehkAQuGjFebruary 23, 2019
That's why, he said, Fianna Fáil has decided to enter a new partnership with our friends in the SDLP. “The party of John Hume and Seamus Mallon already has an honoured place in our history. Our parties achieved great things for Ireland in the past and will do so again. Working together, we can help provide the new agenda which is so desperately needed both North and South,” he said.
During his 30-minute address, Mr Martin severely criticised the Government's mishandling of major issues like the National Children's Hospital and promising €3 billion worth of tax cuts when dire shortages in services exist in many departments.
Mr Martin said that Fianna Fail is also determined to offer the people a real alternative to Fine Gael's “out-of-touch and arrogant government”.
“The only thing ministers are passionate about is using public money to promote themselves,” he said.
“They simply don't understand the pressures which people are facing every day in finding a home, in giving their kids a good start, or in being able to get the right treatment or therapies when they need them,” he said.
“When faced with 3,500 homeless children, the Taoiseach went to his Árd Fheis and announced an unaffordable €3 bn tax cut weighted to the highest earners. That tells us all we need to know about his priorities,” he added.
He said Fianna Fáil is determined to return to the days when the state fulfilled its basic duty of making sure that all its people have the chance to buy or rent a decent place to live.
“Another core responsibility for the government should be providing quality care and treatment to people when they need it and it is another area where the current government is out-of-touch and out of ideas.
"Today there are unprecedented waiting lists and there is a near complete lack of basic leadership,” he said.