FF a party of radical policy: Martin
Creating radical policies that can make a difference to people’s lives is now the primary focus for Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin has said in an interview on RTÉ Radio 1.
When This Week presenter Colm Ó Mongáin put to him that perhaps Fianna Fáil should join with Fine Gael to achieve its goals in politics, he sidestepped the question by saying he is interested in creating a new phase of his party that can “generate substantial, radical policies that can make a difference to people’s lives, and secondly to create a new generation of politicians and people who come into politics from all walks to life, to join the party and effect change”.
“We’ve been through the worst crisis yet that this country has been through since the late 1920s, he said. “I’ve said Fianna Fail needs to re-evaluate what it’s about in the context of this crisis and focus on what people want. And that’s what we’ve been doing since we’ve been elected into Opposition basically. We’ve been focusing on issues that are of concern to people,” he said, listing jobs and mortgages and education as top priorities.
It was important as politicians, he went on, to “continually seek to change the way we behave. Politics is at a low ebb, to be frank, in terms of public esteem.”
He said he disagreed with Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte’s position in his view that the media was presenting politics in a pervasively negative way. “I disagree with Pat Rabbitte forcefully on that - I don’t think the media are denigrating politics - I think politicians themselves have contributed to that low level of public esteem. We’ve argued strongly for radical political reform to change the way we do things in parliament and government.”
Mr Martin was asked to square the logic of his Ard Fheis apology for Fianna Fáil leaving the country in the state it did when it left government with his party’s opposition to the property tax. “We are against it simply becaue people cannot pay it,” he stated.
When you look at how many people are in mortgage arrears, he asked, "are we seriously asking the over half a million people living in households that are in mortgage arrears, that they have to pay a property tax of €400-€500?”
He asked was it proposed that everyone who had already paid stamp duty, “and people from about 2002 to now paid €5.2 billion in stamp duty”, would have to pay more, when they saw their having paid stamp duty “as their property tax”.
“We have growth in unemployment, a property market that is absolutely dead, and a property tax isn’t going to do anything to resuscitate that at this particular juncture.”
“I’ve been on doorsteps the past nine months,” he added, “and people do not have the capacity to pay a tax that they see as fundamentally unfair. Particularly in urban Ireland, they see it as a bigger and more unfair tax.”
He said the economy would have to be in a much stronger position in order to bring in such a tax. “The people’s capacity to pay would be there. The capacity is certainly not there now.”
Fianna Fáil’s alternative proposals were a 3 per cent increase in the Universal Social Charge for those earning over €100,000, which he claimed would raise €200 million between PAYE workers and the self-employed, and a “significant reduction in the relief that could be got in terms of one’s pension contributions” which he said would yield €300 million.
“We did not shirk the issues in terms of raising revenues and cutting expenditure in our budget proposals and we agree with getting the deficit down,” he said.
He disagreed with Fine Gael that the country had reached “the end of the road” in relation to taxation. “One of the reasons this Government got itself into a lot of difficulty with budgets was that they narrowed the menu of choices from the very beginning with election promises that there would be no tax increases or welfare cuts.
“As a result they have created two of the most unfair budgets in the last five to six years, hitting those in low and middle income families the hardest.”
There needed to be a national debate on health and where health services were going in the context of reduced resources, he went on.
He said the Croke Park deal needs to be changed, but he did not support the 20 per cent cut in nurses’ pay currently proposed as “we need to be very careful that we attract young people into the professions and that we don’t turn them away, particularly in an area like nursing, where people can get good remuneration across the globe.”
This also applied in terms of education. “Do we want to attract high quality people into these professions, or not?” he added, calling for a transparent debate on pay and fairness.
Fianna Fáil had proposed a deferral of pay increments as an alternative cost saving, he said, adding €350 million in savings in the public sector payroll could be secured “if our measures were implemented”.
“The idea of forming a kind of apartheid within the professions is one that I think people are increasingly worried about - and angry about.”
He said the universal health insurance that Minister for Health James Reilly advocated will not happen. “Nothing that has been produced by the Government would give any confidence that it is going to happen. They have taken more medical cards off people in this budget, which is going in the opposite direction of universal health insurance.”
The Minister, he said, had not engaged the public in this debate, “or the stakeholders, or the people involved in health and I would argue that that is now required”. He defended his own ability to be critical of the Minister and said he would stand over his own record as a former minister for health.
On abortion, his principle position was that the health and life of the mother must be protected – “and legal clarity must be given to that”.
There could be no doubt about the circumstances in which doctors can intervene to save the life of a mother in the “very rare circumstances” that that arises.
The suicide issue, he added is going to be the key element of whatever package the Government brings forward. Fianna Fáil, he said, had different positions within it, like almost all other parties. “The key issue around suicide is the capacity to have a fail-safe test of whether suicide is going to occur or not, and most doctors and obstetricians would say that’s very difficult, but you can’t rule it out in all circumstances.”
His view was that the vast majority of people are against abortion on demand. “There’s a fear the suicide option may lead to abortion on demand.” But he thought most people also accept that in rare circumstances, termination of pregnancy has to occur to protect the life of the mother.
Asked whether he thought it was even possible to legislate and regulate for the suicide option, he said he thought it a “very difficult challenge”. “We haven’t made a definitive position on that because we haven’t seen the legislation yet.”
Regarding the issue of the promissory note, he said debt relief was essential, but that there had been no clarity on what the Government was actually seeking. He said he had asked for the publication of the Government’s technical paper on these issues which had been talked about for 15 months “and still no success”.
“We want the Government to succeed on debt relief and I believe it will happen. In essence, to ensure Ireland’s exit from the bailout programme, a deal will have to happen this year.”