Michéal Martin: bank guarantee was least worst option

FF leader says party’s mistakes were to lower taxes and increase spending

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has reiterated his support for the bank guarantee introduced by his government five years ago this weekend.

He said in retrospect it may have been too narrow. “But I would still hold the view... that it was the least worst option at the time.”

He believed if the bank guarantee was not offered, the situation could have been much worse.

The real issue was that “€36 billion of unsecured bonds have been honoured by this Government”, he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.


He said the fundamental mistake his party made in government was to lower taxes and increase expenditure by too much. “My own view, particularly in relation to health and the ageing population, was that there should have been a ring-fenced health levy,” he said.

“I would not have been a great advocate for the massive tax reductions that happened.”

But he rejected accusations from a listener of a political “flip flop” on issues such as the abolition of the Seanad and the introduction of a property tax.

During an interview and phone-in, Mr Martin said the anger Fianna Fáil faced at the last general election had dissipated. He was on the doorsteps two or three nights a week and while there was still anger, people were more concerned about issues such as students getting into college.

When asked about the death of his seven-year-old daughter at the time of the last election, Mr Martin said his family was still grieving and he did not like to talk about it.

During the interview, he acknowledged the then government created too lax a regulatory system but said they were supported politically on all sides and there was a flawed view at the time that the market would decide and correct.

Asked by one listener if he believed people were “waiting in the long grass” for former government members still in the Dáil, he said his party was introducing new blood and young candidates. “The people will decide at the next election,” he said.

When asked if former Fianna Fáil minister Mary Hanafin should be allowed run for next year's European parliament election, the party leader said "that will be a matter for the members of the party".

Over 20,000 people were signed up to the party as members and the “one person one vote” reforms agreed by the party’s ardfheis would decide candidates for Europe and the Dáil.

He said the local organisations will select the candidate but the national executive “will have the right to add a candidate”.

He favoured same sex marriage and said the Government should hold a referendum on the issue. He noted Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has described it as the “civil rights issue of our time” but the Taoiseach had yet to offer his party’s view.

Questioned on his view about a possible coalition government with Sinn Féin, he said such speculation was “a bit premature”.

He said Fianna Fáil would be letting the electorate know its stance on coalition before the next general election. The party is not currently at a stage where it is contemplating going into power but considering policies and ideas and the kind of society Ireland wanted.

Asked about Bertie Ahern as a leader of government, Mr Martin said the former taoiseach had numerous successes. "He achieved a lot and his outstanding achievement was the peace process. There are people alive today who perhaps wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for his zeal and his absolute 100 per cent commitment to that issue," he said. "His greatest mistake was the unquestioning faith in social partnership as a model."

When presenter Sean O’Rourke pointed out that in opening the Merriman summer school with an address on the North, Mr Martin never once mentioned Mr Ahern, he said that should not have happened. “I mentioned Bertie in many other speeches and will continue to do so.”

Asked if he would be happy with 40 seats for the party after the next general election, he said opinion polls were irrelevant as the people will decide. “I obviously want to increase the number of people in the Dáil. It could be 40, it could be 50,” he said. His main priority was to bring in new, younger and female candidates.

When it was put to him that he never gave the current Government credit for their achievements, he said he welcomed the deal on the promissory note.

However, he said the key issue was about how the Government dealt with the public. He was willing to debate the forthcoming Seanad referendum with Taoiseach Enda Kenny but was still unsure whether or not this would happen. "RTÉ does not even know if the Taoiseach will turn up on Tuesday night for the PrimeTime debate on the abolition of the Seanad," he said.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times