FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny said Brian Cowen had demonstrated loyalty to Fianna Fáil, but the challenge facing the new taoiseach was balancing that loyalty against the national interest.
Mr Kenny was speaking immediately after Mr Cowen had been elected taoiseach by the Dáil.
Fine Gael had nominated Mr Kenny and Labour had put forward its leader, Eamon Gilmore, for the position, but only as a formality, both knowing Mr Cowen would win the vote.
Mr Kenny began by congratulating Mr Cowen, before noting that the motto of the new taoiseach’s native Offaly was “esto fidelis”, or “be faithful”.
“[Mr Cowen] has epitomised that in his attitude to his party, his constituents and the previous leaders of the Fianna Fáil party,” said Mr Kenny. “The challenge facing Deputy Cowen when he receives his seal of office and names his Government is to balance that loyalty against the requirements of the national interest and all our people, whom he now represents.”
Mr Kenny said the country was facing a range of problems, including Ireland’s loss of economic competitiveness; the currency crisis for exporters; inadequacies in rail, road, energy and broadband infrastructure; the deterioration of the housing market; and the worsening public finances. The referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was also looming, he pointed out.
Mr Kenny said Fine Gael would support the Government on issues where such support was merited. But when it fell down on implementing areas of its programme, Fine Gael would “relentlessly pursue” it, he added.
“We will oppose and expose while promoting our own viewpoint strongly and vociferously in this chamber,” Mr Kenny said.
Mr Gilmore also congratulated Mr Cowen, but said while the successive Fianna Fáil-led governments of the last 11 years had done a lot, “not all of it produced the best results for the people”.
Mr Cowen was entering office at a time of change. “Many of those changes are of his own making. He is taking up his position when people are concerned about their jobs and businesses, about how they will pay their mortgages and about the services they receive from the state in hospitals and schools, or in their communities.”
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said his party would continue to highlight areas in which the Government was failing the people. “Many people are hurting and are fearful. Not everyone has benefited from the past decade of economic success,” he said.
“I hope [Mr Cowen], who has demonstrated an awareness of people’s needs, will use his skills to bringing about real change in policy direction in the areas of health, education, public transport, housing provision among others. We have a right to expect quality public services and people are waiting for them to be delivered.”
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