Micheál Martin: Clear need for a majority Government to tackle the pandemic

The reaction to the Covid-19 crisis has been excellent so far but it will take time to see that the drastic measures taken are necessary, writes Micheál Martin.

Tallaght Stadium Dublin is now being used as a testing centre for the Covid-19 pandemic.  Picture: Stephen Collin
Tallaght Stadium Dublin is now being used as a testing centre for the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Stephen Collin

What would normally be a festive and colourful week will this year be one of deep concerns for many.

The critical thing is that each of us plays our role by closely following the advice of the professionals who are leading the response to this terrible virus.

During the response to the threat of the Sars virus during my time as Minister for Health, I very quickly came to understand and rely on the deep reserve of expertise which we have in our public services.

From the experts who help track, understand, and shape the response to the virus all the way to the tens of thousands of frontline health staff working in every community in our country, they are undertaking enormous efforts and they deserve our support and respect. 

Their recommendations are always based on trying to take the appropriate actions at the right time and based on applying international evidence and best practice in the Irish context.

The public response to the emergency measures, which have been taken with all-party agreement, has been excellent. But we all have to remember that it will take time before these measures will show their impact.

The basic projections about how infections have proceeded in other countries mean that the number of new cases which will be reported and the serious health impacts experienced by people will most likely continue to rise in the short-term. 

We have to continue to look after ourselves, our families, and the vulnerable in our community.

I and my party continue to actively support a policy of sharing information and advice immediately with the public because we believe that this is the best way of ensuring a shared ownership of the response.

Just as hundreds of thousands of people are this week continuing with their work but making necessary adjustments to limit the spread of the virus, the Dáil will meet on Thursday but in exceptional circumstances.

Our focus will be on emergency legislation to underpin the agreed response and to make sure that the Government can respond urgently to the need for further steps.

The process for political consultation and agreement has, so far, been comprehensive. Briefings are available on a regular basis and whenever significant new information arises.

We have taken the position that the political process must enable action to be taken as fast as possible and must, under no circumstance, delay or distract. 

The package of financial measures announced to date is most probably only the beginning of measures that will be required to try to limit the severe financial hit of the crisis and to support recovery.

It is at times like this that those in the workforce who have the most insecure positions feel the biggest impact. Lower paid workers, the self-employed, and people on limited contracts are already seeing jobs cut and incomes fall. 

Micheál Martin: 'Our current focus will be on emergency legislation to underpin the agreed response and to make sure that the Government can respond urgently to this crisis'
Micheál Martin: 'Our current focus will be on emergency legislation to underpin the agreed response and to make sure that the Government can respond urgently to this crisis'

This is why Fianna Fáil has asked for a business task force to be set up to deal with these immediate challenges.

The same is the case for smaller businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism sectors — something which is a much bigger problem than simply the cancellation of today’s events.

For example, I know of many cases of restaurant owners who have felt themselves forced to lay off staff so that they can access public benefits.

The measures implemented so far will have to be significantly added-to by a range of once-off measures that are flexible enough to respond to the huge diversity of situations in which people find themselves.

The most important policy that ultimately helped get Ireland and Europe out of the financial crisis and recession came when the head of the European Central Bank said that they would do “whatever it takes”. 

This has to be our approach in these days and in the weeks and months ahead.

In relation to the issue of forming a new government, we have adopted an approach that absolutely nothing should be allowed to delay for one moment any action required to deal with the pandemic.

No official, no expert, no decision-maker should lose any time which they need for dealing with the crisis. 

Subject to this overriding consideration, and just as so many people are continuing to work this week, the people’s representatives should seek to get on with as much of their work as they can.

The discussions of recent weeks will reconvene this week. The first priority will be a discussion of the social and financial responses to the crisis.

There is little or no evidence that decisions on the Covid-19 crisis need a temporary government of six parties to be created. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that such a government, created in the face of other profound differences, can actually delay decisions.

With good faith and proper transparency, the approach of systematic consultation and a Dáil willing to react immediately to adopt emergency measures will continue.

That said, there is a clear need to form a government that has a majority to deal with the very serious issues that lie ahead for our country.

Micheál Martin is Fianna Fáil leader and a TD for Cork South-Central.

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