Martin tells ardfheis it would be irresponsible to collapse Government

Fianna Fáil leader says Brexit could not be tackled with ‘politics as usual’

Party leader  Micheál Martin told the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis he wanted the Government gone but delegates had to face the ‘harsh reality of this very moment’. Photograph: James Forde for The Irish Times

Party leader Micheál Martin told the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis he wanted the Government gone but delegates had to face the ‘harsh reality of this very moment’. Photograph: James Forde for The Irish Times

 

Micheál Martin made a strong defence of the extension of the confidence-and-supply agreement the dominant theme of his leader’s speech to the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis on Saturday night.

He argued that Brexit poses such an urgent threat to Ireland that it could not be tackled with “politics as usual” and Fianna Fáil needed to put the national interest first.

Speaking to a packed auditorium in the Citywest Hotel, Mr Martin devoted key passages of the speech to respond to internal critics of the year-long extension of the deal with Fine Gael.

He argued it would be irresponsible in the extreme to collapse the Government at such a critical time. He also said it would have serious negative repercussions for the State.

“The price of playing politics with Brexit would be felt by the Irish people in fewer jobs, lower salaries, less money for schools, hospitals and pensions,” he said.

He told delegates Fianna Fáil wanted the Government gone. “But we refuse to expose our country to the massive risk of having no functioning government or Dáil at this moment of great threat.”

He warned delegates the “harsh reality of this very moment” had to be acknowledged.

“Brexit isn’t some small passing issue. It is a blow at the very foundations of much of the progress which our country and Europe have secured together in the past 50 years.

“If there is a chaotic Brexit, then the damage will be severe and it will be swift.”

He said that if an election were called it would take at least four months to form a new government.

“Nobody who genuinely has Ireland’s interests at heart could tolerate this.”

Party leader Micheál Martin presses the flesh at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in the Citywest Hotel. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Party leader Micheál Martin presses the flesh at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in the Citywest Hotel. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

He then admonished Sinn Féin’s approach in Opposition. “Of course Sinn Féin is jumping up and down every day calling for everything to be collapsed. They collapsed the Assembly and government in Northern Ireland over two years ago.

“We’ll take no lectures from them about the national interest when 100 times out of 100, they put their party and movement’s interests first,” he claimed.

Turning to the continuing impasse in Northern politics, he accused the DUP and Sinn Féin of running the Northern Executive like a “closed cartel”.

He said that many Northern communities were stuck in cycles of poverty with no credible plan to tackle those issues. He said those problems had been exacerbated by Brexit.

“We need a new agenda for development on both sides of the Border. We need an agenda for growth. For investment. For respect and equality.

“That’s why Fianna Fáil has decided to enter a new partnership with our friends in the SDLP.”

He did not set out how that partnership would develop other than saying: “Working together, we can help provide the new agenda which is so desperately needed both North and South.”

Returning to domestic issues, Mr Martin claimed the Fine Gael-led government was obsessed with image.

“[People] see the flashy announcements, followed by massive overspends and a near complete failure to deliver and they rightly question where the basic competence is.”

He said the housing situation was now an emergency with almost 10,000 people homeless, including 3,500 children.

In a signal of clear differences of policy direction between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, he said: “When faced with 3,500 homeless children, the Taoiseach went to his ardfheis and announced an unaffordable €3 billion tax cut weighted to the highest earners. That tells us all we need to know about his priorities.”

Mr Martin told the ardfheis Fianna Fáil, in government, would put far more focus on affordable housing.

He was also scathing of the Government’s record on health, saying it was out-of-touch and out of ideas. “Instead of working with doctors, nurses, administrators and other professionals to manage investment and focus on helping people, they have taken a different approach.

“We can see this in the sorry tale of the new children’s hospital and a massive overrun which may be the tip of the iceberg.

“The Government toured the country, advertising plans for projects which might start in 10 years’ time, but they have gone missing every time the reality of rising waiting lists and missed targets have been exposed.”

He contended Ministers needed to “stop the secrecy and start being open and honest”.

He called for increased funding to the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

The national broadband plan was portrayed as a “fiasco”. He also lambasted delays in dealing with the threat posed by climate change.

“There is no time left to debate and there is no doubt – our environment is under threat and sustained action is needed.

He also called for more Irish teachers to be recruited to help prevent the decline of the language.