Barry Cowen: Fianna Fáil wants to keep promise made to the voters

Barry Cowen says Fianna Fáil has six policy priorities plus its pledge to dismantle Irish Water in mind as it holds talks with other parties and Independent TDs

THE one very clear message from the general election is a demand for change. The strongest, most stable, government in our history held office for five years and implemented policies which were divisive and unfair. It also implemented a way of doing business which put political positioning and media management first in everything.

It ran out of ideas when it didn’t have other people’s plans to follow.

In the general election, Fianna Fáil argued that we needed a change of government, a change of priorities, and a change of how our country is governed.

This is what we promised to work for when we earned the support of more than a half a million people — and we believe we have a duty to be true to this promise.

That is why we invited Independents and parties to meet with us to discuss if a government can be formed which delivers the change people voted for.

A fortnight ago, we presented a very detailed set of specific policy actions on which a programme for government can be based. In addition, we identified measures which we believe can be implemented in the next six and 12 months.

Today and tomorrow our discussions will continue and, hopefully, reach a position where agreement can be reached before Wednesday’s vote for a taoiseach, when Micheál Martin will be proposed for appointment to office.

We have chosen not to spend time on selective leaks of discussions or ongoing briefings designed only to help political manoeuvring. Instead, our focus has been on the substance of what we want to achieve.

Our policy priorities can be summarised in six overall points.

  • We want to strengthen economic recovery through supporting the creation of well-paid jobs and ensuring that the recovery’s impact is felt throughout the country;
  • We want urgent action on the housing emergency. This means action across the full range of housing issues from home ownership and social housing through to the private rental sector;
  • We want to help families and cut their costs. This includes an approach to taxation which is progressive, and gives the greatest relief to those under the most pressure;
  • We want action to help communities under pressure which will make them safer and stronger, with vital public services guaranteed;
  • We want increased support for essential public services, ending highly damaging health policies and targeting supports in education, mental health and a number of priority areas;
  • We want to deliver a substantive and lasting reform of government and politics which makes the Oireachtas and government more expert and effective in doing the people’s business.

During the process of discussions about a new government, many commentators have written at great length telling parties that their first duty is to form a government immediately. This includes people who singularly failed to understand the mood of the public in the last five years and certainly did not anticipate the massive rejection of the last government at the polls.

We believe the first step in trying to restore public faith in politics and to deliver effective government is to act in good faith concerning promises made to the public. No amount of commentary will change this. It should also be said that we will not be deflected by aggressive public relations campaigns from working to deliver our promises.

When we outlined our commitment to abolish Irish Water and suspend the regressive water charge which it collects, we did so following a detailed analysis of investment in water infrastructure. We were also very clear that legal charges should be paid.

Our position today remains exactly as it was in the election.

The scale of the campaign by Irish Water is beyond anything ever before undertaken by a public company in this country. It is a campaign funded by a charge levied on the Irish people with the direct aim of trying to prevent parties from implementing the people’s will.

When the relevant Oireachtas committees are established, we will be seeking details of how much public money has been spent on this issue in recent weeks.

I believe we can make substantive progress in the next few days on putting together a programme for government to deliver real change, and to progressing to a situation where a government can be formed.

We will continue in these discussions in the spirit of goodwill, and working to implement the commitments we gave to the people.

Barry Cowen is Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly and is the party’s environment spokesman.

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