Second day of Fianna Fáil ardfheis underway

Abortion issue to be debated at the conference attended by some 4000 delegates

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin gives the opening speech at the party’s ardfheis last night. Photograph:   Brenda Fitzsimon/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin gives the opening speech at the party’s ardfheis last night. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimon/The Irish Times

Sat, Apr 27, 2013, 13:49

The second day of the Fianna Fáil ardfheis has got underway at the RDS in Dublin.

The contentious issue of abortion will be debated today as will procedural motions on party organisation. The ardfheis will be the first when the party’s new system of one-member one-vote – as opposed to each cumann voting en bloc – will be in operation.

Our political team will be blogging live from the event which is being attended by some 4000 delegates.

Party leader Micheál Martin told delegates last night to reject the proposed abolition of the Seanad, portraying the move as a “major power-grab by Government”.

In the most direct confirmation that his party will campaign for a No vote in the referendum on the Upper House in the autumn, Mr Martin said it would make the executive less reviewable and less accountable by parliament.

“[The Government] is proposing to drive out of the system that last element which has even the potential to be independent of government control,” he said.

“In a parliament which has failed to fully review policies in the past, they are proposing to halve the level of review.”

On the current state of Fianna Fáil, two year’s since its general election mauling, Mr Martin asserted that the party had recovered strongly since then, had appointed more than 80 local area representatives and had held over 40 public meetings to allow members of the public make their voices heard.

He was determined that the party would become more activist, re-establishing the direct link with its own grassroots and people on the ground.

“We must show that we can listen and respond to people’s concerns. Our vote went up in the recent byelection by nearly 14 points and it is a result we have every right to be pleased with. But there is no room for complacency.”

Mr Martin also criticised the Government, accusing the two Coalition parties of “politics as usual” and refighting the last election.

While insisting the party had adopted a responsible position, Mr Martin also said that Fianna Fáil would not shy away from policies which caused what he said was “huge damage to the social fabric of many communities”. He also accused Fine Gael and Labour of briefing against each other.

The Fianna Fáil leader honed in on Minister for Health James Reilly, saying he had broken most of the promises he had made before the election.

He said that on his second day in office, he promised to scrap prescription fees but had then proceeded to double them. He had also promised to extend free GP care but had restricted access.

“Today James Reilly is the last person left in the country who believes the health system is experiencing anything other than a sharp decline.”

He also questioned the model of universal insurance which the Minister wants to introduce, saying it had caused huge problems in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

“Hospitals will be converted into trusts and insurers will be put in charge of negotiating services. This will result in many hospitals which are currently providing excellent services losing out on funding and being pushed to the edge of viability.”

He also claimed the Government had become arrogant. “When challenged they roar slogans from the last election, shout down the Opposition and shut down debate.”