A cohort of Fianna Fáil councillors say the programme for government is lacking in key areas.
MICHEÁL MARTIN is an honourable man. Over the last nine years, he has worked hard to articulate a vision of ‘An Ireland for All’.
He has fought tirelessly to advance the party and the cause of people left behind by an out of touch Fine Gael party.
As Fianna Fáil councillors, we took this message of hope and promise to deliver real change to towns and villages across Ireland in January and February.
We heard the frustrations of young families denied the opportunity to own a home of their own.
We heard the concern of people in rural Ireland who looked at a Dublin- centric government advancing the needs of the capital ahead of everywhere else. We told them not to despair, not to lose hope. We told them that Micheál Martin would lead the fight for change and was committed to removing Fine Gael from office and delivering ‘An Ireland for All’.
Sadly, the programme for government, published last week, and the decision to enter coalition with Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael and a Green Party that is in the midst of a major in-fight, shows he has lost this fight and learnt nothing from February’s general election.
After nine squandered years of Fine Gael rule, the country needs real change to deliver a fairer future.
The people have given their verdict on Fine Gael, again. They want a new government to deliver real change.
This deal returns Fine Gael to government, but it will not deliver the change people voted for. It will do nothing to address the quality of life issues facing so many people.
We’ve seen the reality of Fine Gael in government and we don’t believe Fianna Fáil should sign up to a deal that means a continuation of the status quo on housing, crime, and rural life.
Since it became clear that the Fianna Fáil leadership was determined to pursue coalition with Fine Gael, we set the deal three tests on housing, rural/regional development, and Fianna Fáil values.
The housing crisis is so deep that the next five years are critical if we are going to increase housing supply, reform our ‘wild west’ rental sector, and end the scandal of child homelessness.
Look beyond the lofty rhetoric and examine the details set out in the deal. At best, it’s a flawed compromise designed to deliver a deal, but it will do nothing for our constituents who struggle to get on the housing ladder.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the incoherent ‘new deal for renters’ which aims to create tenancies of indefinite duration and an end to evictions. We all agree with these aims, but the key to doing this is reforming, or abolishing, Section 34, to provide security of tenure, something which is missing from the Programme for Government. When we take all this into account, it’s clear that the first test has clearly been failed.
At the heart of a fairer future is a new deal for rural Ireland. For nine years, we have watched the gap between Dublin and the rest of the country become a chasm. Genuine concerns have been dismissed. Central Statistic Office research shows that people living in urban areas have a higher disposable income and are located much closer to essential services.
The proposals set out in the programme for government will widen the urban v rural divide. We see nothing which will address this.
We see nothing that will address the chronically poor public transport network in rural Ireland. When we have no high-speed rail or reliable rural bus services in this country, is it any wonder people in rural Ireland rely on their cars?
High quality public infrastructure and accessible services will make our society more affordable, caring and inclusive, and will be key to seeing off the populist forces which have swept the US and the UK.
Failure to address these issues means many in rural Ireland will see Fianna Fáil as no different than Fine Gael, leaving them with few other options. The programme for government offers nothing to rural Ireland and fails our second test.
The final test we set relates to Fianna Fáil values. To many readers, this may seem unimportant, but to our members, who have the final say on the party’s participation in government, it is at the heart of this debate.
Fianna Fáil is the party of public housing but Fine Gael’s influence means this programme for government doesn’t go nearly far enough. Fianna Fáil is the party which has always appealed to every section of society.
Yet we are offered a deal which does nothing to address the need for balanced regional growth. These are core Fianna Fáil values, but they are absent from the deal negotiated by Micheál Martin.
When it comes to values, when it comes to delivering on issues at the heart of what it means to be a Fianna Fáiler, this deal fails the test.
We are living in an era of unprecedented voter polarisation but too many politicians and commentators are examining the results of this polarisation rather than the causes of it.
The truth is that a lack of delivery on housing, health and other key public services has driven voters away from the centre and forced them to look to Sinn Féin. This deal, reinforcing status quo politics, will encourage none of these people to return to Fianna Fáil.
The new settlement in politics must be rooted in delivering for people on the core quality of life issues. At our best Fianna Fáil can transform communities and the country in the interests of ordinary working people.
We have achieved this change before, and we can do it again. First we must reject and take a much different approach than the one proposed in this deal.