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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

‘It doesn’t have to be like this’: Micheál Martin outlines the Fianna Fáil alternative

The Fianna Fáil leader has delivered a keynote speech to delegates at the party’s Ard Fheis in Dublin tonight, criticising the government’s policies towards the elderly and said the party will oppose universal health insurance.

Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis
Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

MICHEÁL MARTIN HAS told delegates at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis that there is an alternative to the policies being implemented by the government, hitting out at the coalition, and indicating his party will oppose plans for universal health insurance.

In the wide-ranging speech to delegates at the INEC, the Fianna Fáil leader outlined the detrimental effect that the government’s policies are having on the elderly and put forward proposals for a National Mental Health Authority, similar to the Road Safety Authority, to tackle the problem of self-harm and suicide.

He criticised the government’s plans in relation to universal health insurance, saying Fianna Fáil favours a public health system and will oppose privatisation plans. This is the first time any party has explicitly opposed UHI.

Martin said that the government is introducing a series of “stealth taxes” that “hide the effective tax rates we pay” and said that the political system has been “entirely unreformed.”

On the ongoing row involving the Garda Commissioner, Martin said that the fact that Justice Minister Alan Shatter could not apologise to two garda whistleblower showed “there’s something very wrong”.

Opening his speech, Martin told delegates: “Every time they are challenged they say ‘there is no alternative’. Well they are wrong. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

He said that it was vital that the economy service society and not the other way around.

“Margaret Thatcher once said that she didn’t believe in society. Well we do – and we believe in a politics which works for a decent, strong society and an economy which supports it,” he said.

The Cork South-Central TD  reiterated the party’s call for an Independent Debt Resolution Office to deal with the mortgage arrears crisis and said the government needs to be an “active enabler of small businesses”, outlining his own party’s proposals in the area, including the creation of a specific business bank to support SMEs.

He said that as Fianna Fáil is “a republican party” it believes in equality for all of its citizens, saying the party supports same-sex marriage.

“If two people want to make the profound and loving commitment that is involved in getting married then we must support them – irrespective of the gender of their chosen partner,” Martin added.

Read the speech in full:

Thank you for the spirit we have seen at the 75th Árd Fheis of Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party.

It’s very easy for politicians to focus on what they hear in Leinster House or from government press releases. That’s a world which is completely removed from the reality of people’s lives.

The endless spinning of statistics and non-stop campaigning is ignoring a much harder truth. This is the truth of an Irish public losing faith in the ability of politics to have a real vision for the future.

The Irish people know some things are improving but there is a two-tiered recovery underway. Some are moving ahead but many are being left behind.

Let no one be in any doubt why this matters.

A two-tiered recovery will deliver us a society which is more unequal, limits opportunity and will result in an ever-rising burden falling on already squeezed families.

This is not happening by chance – it stems directly from the choices being made by this government.

Choices such as taxes which take no account of ability to pay, cuts targeted directly at the elderly and children with special needs, and a refusal to tackle mounting social and economic problems.

Every single study carried out in the last three years has confirmed that this government’s policies are deeply unfair and are setting the foundations for long-term problems.

What’s more, they are holding the economy back because they are failing to give everyone the opportunity to play a part in achieving recovery.

This is the reality of the government’s priorities.

Every time they are challenged they say “there is no alternative”.

Well they are wrong.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Now is the time to decide what sort of an Ireland we want to build.

For our part, Fianna Fáil is absolutely clear – we believe in an Ireland which delivers opportunity and fairness for all its citizens.

An Ireland which is a developed European democracy, answerable to its citizens and delivering services which provide decent supports for those who need them.

We want a country which values enterprise as the driver of a strong economy. Nothing can be achieved without this.

The vital thing is that the economy must serve society – not the other way around.

Margaret Thatcher once said that she didn’t believe in society.

Well we do – and we believe in a politics which works for a decent, strong society and an economy which supports it.

In such a society, there is no greater responsibility than supporting the elderly to live as full a life as they can. It is absolutely right that they should receive a priority – and the ongoing attacks on support schemes for the elderly have to end.

It’s not true that the core incomes of the elderly have been protected; it’s exactly the opposite which is happening.

The phone allowance has been abolished. Fuel allowances, as well as vital care services, have been cut severely.

At the same time extra charges have hit the elderly, with the €25 a month prescription charge directly falling on those most in need.

A decent society should stop the current attack on the pension entitlements of many women.

A decent society should give a guarantee of basic services and supports to its older citizens.

We all know that helping children as early as possible in life is the key to giving them a chance to fulfill their potential. There has been progress in the last decade, but parents everywhere complain about how difficult services are to access.

Families are simply waiting too long and struggling too hard to access essential therapies which their children need.

We must create far more early intervention teams, drawn from across the full range of education and health disciplines.

They should work together on the same school campuses – sharing information, reducing waiting times and delivering the best possible support for the child.

This is how we can end the isolation felt by families and deliver on the promise of opportunity and fairness for all our children.

At the heart of a strong society are strong communities.

For them to have a secure future they need to have essential facilities. They need schools, basic postal and banking services and they need Gardaí who know the area and its people.

If we value communities then we have to guarantee these core community services.
We have to complete the work of regenerating the most disadvantaged parts of our cities and provincial towns. In addition we have to create a new vision for our rural communities. These are not contradictory goals – they should be fundamental to a republican form of government.

Society also has a duty to guarantee a quality and accessible health service.

This demands a long-term commitment to supporting a genuine public health system. A system which provides a guarantee of core services.

This would include extending ‘Breastcheck’ to all women, and ending the attack on Discretionary Medical Cards held by people with chronic diseases and children with special needs.

Above all, we believe in a public health system and we will oppose the plan to privatise it.

We also believe that it’s time to recognise society-wide public health problems – and make a genuine national commitment to tackle them.

Mental health issues continue to have a devastating impact on our society. The Ireland we want to build must commit itself to an all-out effort to help people and reduce the number of cases which end up in self-harm and suicide.

In doing this we can learn from initiatives that have worked well in our country.

Since we established the Road Safety Authority it has helped halve deaths on our roads. That’s more than 200 people a year whose lives are being saved.

I believe we can do the same in the field of mental health. That’s why we are proposing the establishment of a National Mental Health Authority to be charged with leading an all-out national programme to promote positive attitudes to mental health and to reduce the incidence of self-harm and suicide.

When we accept there is a national problem and agree to work together we can achieve big things.

10 years ago here in Killarney you the members of Fianna Fáil gave a powerful endorsement to the smoking ban.

Ireland became the first country in the world to implement this huge step forward for public health. The latest independent report shows that almost 4,000 people are alive today because of this policy.

That’s something everyone in this country has a right to be proud of.

Let’s learn from this and become the party that campaigns for other radical public health measures to enhance the health of future generations.

For example, alcohol abuse and childhood obesity are issues of the same magnitude and scale.

They have a huge social and economic impact throughout our society and they need to be tackled with the same focus, priority and ambition.

We need an economy which is built on secure foundations and gives everyone the opportunity to have a decent job and standard of living.

This can’t be achieved with public relations or hoping that a few rising boats will lift everyone.

We have to say now and with force that we do not want an economy where many are left behind with no work or in poorly paid and insecure jobs.

An economy which provides secure opportunity for all has to deliver on key issues.

Sound public finances are not an option they are essential. This doesn’t mean there are no other choices to be made. And the biggest thing we need now is a new fairness in how we raise the money to fund government.

At the heart of rising public anger at the raft of new taxes and charges is just how unfair they are.

No matter what your income is, what pressures you are dealing with, you get the same bill.

This year the property tax has been doubled.

And it can’t be right that next year it will go up again in line with the property market which has absolutely no connection to people’s ability to pay.

In 7 months’ time water charges will hit. Everyone will pay but exactly how much will be secret until after the local elections – another cynical political ploy.

What we know already is that before a cent is spent on improving services, you will have to pay for the €180 million establishment costs of Irish Water, its consultancies and its bonus culture.

This government is pushing a new approach to funding our state. The tax rates announced on Budget day no longer have any relation to the taxes a family pays. Infact, by using crude stealth taxes, government is trying to hide the effective tax rates we pay.

Our core principle is that all taxation should be based on the ability to pay.

When it comes to costs imposed on families, taxes and charges are only one part of the story. Gas, electricity, telephone and many other bills are set by the state through regulators.

This process is supposed to protect the public’s interest, but the bills faced by Irish families are rising fast even though they are already higher than in most of Europe.

In just one example, the ESB has made €415 million in profits while putting up prices by 7%.
It’s time to stop this. We need a new and more accountable approach to how regulators work and how they set prices paid by consumers.

Building a strong and inclusive economy also demands that people have financial security – and this cannot be done without a permanent solution to huge levels of mortgage and household debt.

The economic and social costs of this debt are mounting. As well as those who are meeting payments by cutting spending to the bone, almost 100,000 families are in significant arrears.

Yet all the focus has been on getting the banks back into the stock market. They’ve been given control and it’s no surprise that they’ve been doing as little as possible and as late as possible.

There needs to be an Independent Debt Resolution Office which will deal with these issues. A fundamental principle of policy must be to ensure that families are kept in their homes.

A strong economy which provides opportunity for all needs strong small and medium-sized businesses. They already employ over 800,000 people. They have to be at the centre of policy.

Go to any high-street in the country and you see that small businesses are under immense pressure. They are being starved of the credit they need to protect and grow employment.

We’ve published a detailed series of proposals for turning the state into an active enabler of small business.

These include the creation of a specific Business Bank which would have as its core function the support of small and medium sized enterprise.

Education is essential to every element of our social and economic future.

We must keep modernising our curriculum and our schools.

In the last decade a combination of investment and the skills of our teachers delivered a sustained reduction in early-school leaving, literacy rates ahead of most European countries and a wide range of new courses.

Co-operation and consultation are values we want our children to learn in school – and they are values which should guide everyone in our education system. If we can demand this of teenagers sitting the Junior Cert then we can demand it of the Minister proposing to abolish it.

If we want a strong economy which delivers opportunity for all we cannot sit back and wait for what happens, we have to shape the future and this means investment in education and research.

This has delivered for our country in the past – and it can deliver much more in the future.

All major job announcements stem directly from investment in research and education.

Companies like Intel, Facebook and Medtronic are here because of the people and ideas this investment has supported.

Not everyone can or wants to work in high-tech areas, but they provide the vital foundation for wider employment.

Ireland can be a leader in generating new ideas, new products and even new industries. In our universities and colleges throughout the country teams are shaping the future of the internet, creating devices to radically improve medical treatments and many other world-leading initiatives.

There’s huge potential out there and we’re going to show how to unlock it when we publish our proposal for using research and innovation to shape a strong economic future for our country.

Government is not and never will be the main creator of jobs – but the policies we’ve set out would give new hope for growth based on good jobs and benefiting all areas of the country.

Everything I’ve said tonight about setting an economic and social vision for the future depends on a political system which is fit for purpose – and this we do not have.

The political system remains almost entirely unreformed. None of the critical weaknesses exposed in recent years have been addressed – in fact many things are worse. We have one of the least effective parliaments in Europe and a government which absolutely refuses to be accountable or open.

When a Minister for Justice can refuse to apologise for falsely attacking members of the Gardaí and still keeps his job, there’s something very wrong.

We don’t just need reform of politics, we need a profound reform of every element of how the state works to legislate and govern.

We’ve published a detailed plan to make our political system more expert, more open and more effective. This includes allowing experts in key fields to serve as Ministers, ending the government’s stranglehold on Dáil business and reforming the Seanad to make it directly elected by the people.

As the people said in last year’s referendum, they want real reform and that is what this party is committed to.

A first step in delivering reform is to elect people in May who will get local authorities working with their communities – and to elect MEPs who want a Europe which does more to help its citizens.

We are putting before the people a balanced team of trusted representatives and new faces, with over 35%of our candidates running for office for the very first time.

Táid ann a chaitheann le háit na gaeilge i saol Náisiúnta na hÉireann mar iarsma stairiúil.

Ní fhéad faidís a bheith níos faide ón bhfírinne. Seo ré le beatha agus fuinneamh nua i ndán don teanga.

Sa lá atá inniu ann, tá níos mó ná caoga míle duine óg ag fáil oideachais trí mheán na gaeilge i scoileanna timpeall na tíre. Ba chóir go mbeidís agus na teaghlaigh lena mbaineann siad, in ann gnó a dhéanamh leis an gcóras stáit sa teanga inar tógadh iad.

Is bunphrionsabal daonlathach chearta daonna é agus is cuid bhunúsach d`fhorbairt shochaí a léiríonn meas ar chultúr a muintire.

A chairde, nuair a bhíonn ar an gCoimisinéir Teanga cinneadh a dhéanamh gur chóir dó éirí as oifig mar agóid, tá rud éigin ar strae ar fad maidir le polasaí an rialtais.

Beidh Fianna Fáil ag troid agus ag seasamh an fhóid i gcoinne mheath agus lagú cearta bunúsacha teanga atá ag saoranáigh na tíre seo i ngach cuid den oileán.

Fianna Fáil believes that building a lasting peace and reconciliation, and ultimately unity, on this island must be a core objective for our future.

There has been huge progress, but nothing can be taken for granted.

The people of this island, North and South agreed ashared future and we must never allow a slip backwards towards a conflict which killed thousands and inflicted wounds which are still raw.

The detachment of the British and Irish governments from issues to do with Northern Ireland is doing real damage.

The potential for economic development and improved public services hasn’t even begun to be grasped – in Dublin, London or in Belfast.

For too long people demanded barriers between communities north and south. Now they want to build links. It’s a disgrace that projects like the Narrow Water Bridge are not going ahead due to government inaction.

As a republican party we believe in equality between all citizens. No party can match our record for enacting progressive equality legislation. But this work is not finished.

We believe in showing respect and allowing dignity – especially in recognising the rights of groups who have historically suffered discrimination.

If two people want to make the profound and loving commitment that is involved in getting married then we must support them – irrespective of the gender of their chosen partner.

Fianna Fáil is absolutely clear on where it stands. We are a progressive republican party. We believe in a society which enables people to succeed and which supports them when they are in need.

We are committed to a politics which learns from the past – both the successes and the failures – but which is focused on the needs of today and the years ahead.

Ireland is at a defining moment.

While there are big challenges facing our country never forget that we have done it before.

We overcame incredible odds to win our independence. We created what is now one of the world’s oldest democracies.

We have opened up education, become a leader in global industries and built vital links within our country and to the wider world.

If the government’s policies continue it will leave us a more divided, unfair and unsuccessful country.

There are key choices to be made and our choices are clear.

We are for a state financed by fairer taxation.

For supporting business to create jobs

For a public health service based on clinical needs.

For investing in the future by supporting Education at all levels.

For supporting the elderly.

For real reform.

For a decent society supported by a strong economy.

Opportunity and fairness, this is what Fianna Fáil will work every day to deliver for the Irish people.

Read: Call for government to be allowed shut down social media sites rejected by Fianna Fáil

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