FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin has used a speech in Glenties tonight to attack Sinn Fein and its record in the North.
Here’s his speech in full:
2016 will be an important year for our country. I have no doubt that the Irish people will embrace the commemoration of the founding event of our republic with enthusiasm. It will be a moment of both celebration and reflection.
The republican tradition of 1916 is one that any country should be proud of. The Proclamation remains a remarkable document for its lack of rancour, its promotion of equality and its demand for a nationalism which is generous and outward looking.
Most of all this will be the centenary of an event which was spectacularly successful in changing the future of our country and opening new possibilities.
Easter week ended in military defeat – no other outcome was possible – but the rapid and overwhelming progress of the republican cause in the following years, and the dominance of constitutional republicanism since then, makes the Irish Revolution one of the most successful and sustained in European history.
It was a revolution fought with the determination to create a democratic state – and it led to a state which was one of the very few in Europe to resist both fascism and communism in the last century.
There is a lot to celebrate next year and, quite frankly, the last thing that is needed is political parties seeking to use the commemoration to promote contemporary political aims. This should be a moment for the people and the proper role for politics in this is to facilitate remembrance and reflection.
Too often in recent decades 1916 has been abused in the service of current causes. First anti-nationalist revisionism and now the new-revisionism of the Provisionals movement have both sought to cynically misread the legitimate place of 1916 in our political discourse.
This new-revisionism of the Provisionals is perhaps the single biggest barrier to an inclusive commemoration – promoting as it does a cynical rewriting of history and a campaign to legitimise a movement repeatedly rejected by the Irish people.
So let’s not have conferences full of politicians claiming that their manifestoes represent the ideals of the Proclamation and let’s not have grandiose plans claiming that they will somehow ‘finally’ realise the vision of 1916.
Instead let’s take up a bigger challenge. Let’s show how we can continue the work of the men and women of 1916 to build a state which can set a vision for the future – how we can deliver a politics focused on the needs of Irish people today and the years ahead.
Whatever way you look at this, the most important element of this is to have an election which allows a real and honest debate about the future.
At some point before the main Centenary events there will be a general election. The Taoiseach says it will be held early next year while Fine Gael has been revealed as researching the impact of holding it late this year.
Whatever the date is the government is in the mode of permanent campaigning – with every word and every policy designed purely to help win votes.
Last week’s so-called National Economic Dialogue once again reflected the government’s debasement of language. The last thing which was involved was dialogue. It was a choreographed set-piece for members of government to make exaggerated claims and position themselves for the election.
While the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and government ministers told us about how responsible and open they were, they continued to make promises of giveaways and they set themselves up for yet again producing a dishonest budget.
Last year they knew that a record-breaking supplementary provision was required for the Department of Health – yet the €600 million was keep out of the Budget Day figures. This year Leo Varadkar says he’ll need another €1 billion – and you can be sure this will be hidden on Budget Day.
In fact, over the last four years there has been a growing policy, driven at Cabinet level of publishing Health spending plans which are known in advance to be misleading.
Perhaps the most cynical thing we’re seeing from the government is a policy of relaunching existing facilities in order to claim that something new is being done. This has happened in every county and in the areas of health, education and enterprise.
While those who casually reprint the press releases may be fooled by these tactics, the public clearly aren’t.
I believe that there has never been such a disconnect between political discourse and the attitudes of the public. The basic narrative which the government has worked so hard and often so successfully to sell to the media has been completely rejected by the public.
Anyone who wants a positive election focused on the future of our country has to face the fact that Fine Gael in particular has no interest in this. They have already briefed constituencies their electoral strategy which will have two parts. First there will be promises of lots of money on the way. Second there will be an all-out negative campaign against the opposition.
This very much reflects Fine Gael’s commitment to the British Tory election strategy. What they miss of course is that the Tories did not start so far behind, were not as unpopular, did not have scandals and crises such as in justice and health – and a water charge which is losing money and reducing funding for fixing pipes. There is also the small matter of whether Labour will continue to meekly accept that it should play the role of the Liberal Democrats.
Following the Tory playbook we can also all be assured that Enda Kenny will try to limit the leaders’ debates to a mass-participation free-for-all where he can avoid being challenged on detail – and he will absolutely refuse to participate in any head-to-head debates
Thankfully we have a far more participative democracy than the UK and our electoral system is not receptive to the type of negative campaign which seems to be on the way.
This is not to say we have constructive campaigns. Research shows that with each successive election media coverage has focused more on personality and the ‘horserace’ element of campaigning. 2011 was one of the most consequential elections in our history but there was very little real debate on the options for policy after the election.
I think it is in part because the election was so focused on tactics and personalities that Fine Gael’s ‘not a red cent’ and ‘Labour’s way not Frankfurt’s way’ were not fully scrutinised. It’s also part of the reason why those parties so rapidly abandoned their policies and actually started claiming credit for policies they had voted and campaigned against.
I believe we have an opportunity and a duty to deliver an election which actually discusses credible ways forward for our future. If we have another election where questions are focused on politics to the exclusion of substance it will be another missed opportunity for our country.
There is no difference between Gerry Adam’s “tell the troika to go to hell” and “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”. It’s well past time to commit to a debate about credible ways forward for our country.
And as this is the place where the Taoiseach promised the abolition of the Seanad, I think it should be said that the public appetite for throwaway initiatives designed to win a few headlines has disappeared in the years since.
A century after our most important founding event there are a series of specific challenges facing us in public life and they are what should dominate our election.
First of all we need a vision for the future of our economy not just for the future of the budget. For example the current enterprise strategy is a repackaged version of the one put in place a decade ago. There is no appreciation of the scale of the change not just in our country but in Europe and the world.
We need an economy which works for all parts of our society and we need a policy which recognises the huge pressures faced by towns and communities throughout the country.
This government is developing a two-tiered economy, where many are being left behind. To tackle this and to open the possibility of secure and well-paid employment to all we have to first recognise the problem and then act.
Investing in people and ideas has to be taken more seriously. At its most basic we have to give every child access to guidance and counselling, we have to have a finance system which will support smaller enterprise and we have to stop the haemorrhaging of scientific talent which has been directly caused by government policy.
We also need a vision for what the exact role of the state is. At the moment the only vision being offered is to go backwards – to run tax and spending policy in light of getting back to early 2008. There is no sense about what ambitions we have for the state – and where we see its limits. What are the priorities and how can they be funded.
You don’t set a vision for the future in daily planted stories about tax cuts on the way.
I believe that the Irish people want good, accessible and secure public services – and that they are willing to support them when shown that their money is being well used and that it is being levied fairly.
Increasingly then public don’t believe that taxes and charges are being levied fairly and this is a major factor behind the discontent of the large middle-ground.
Setting out crude indicators about 50/50 splits doesn’t address the question of what is your vision for what the state does.
It is incredible that for probably the first time in our history there is a white paper statement of policy objectives in place for only one major service – and that’s for compulsory health insurance, a policy which is so flawed that the Minister concerned won’t acknowledge it.
Given the scale of change in our country there is a clear need to set out for each major public service a medium and long-term vision. A statement of objectives and priorities for public services – and a more progressive approach to taxation – is a basic demand.
Within this we need a vision for how we are going to protect the idea of community within Irish society. For the first time in nearly two decades community development has been dropped from ministerial responsibility. Urban and rural development schemes involving relatively small amounts of money have been abolished and others have been neutered in what has been one of the most centralising periods of government since independence.
One of the key things which has helped us in the most difficult of times has been a community spirit. Often in the face of a ‘system’ which they feel ignores them, communities have played an enormous social role.
But if we take this for granted it may not survive – and certainly there are areas of Dublin in particular where the removal of support for community activities is having a devastating impact.
If you remove Garda stations, post offices, schools and even local representation from communities, what is left? And don’t forget, this is as much an issue in our cities as it is in rural areas.
We need a clear vision for communities, one which sets out core standards for public services and which enables a coherent and long-term development strategy.
We of course also need a vision for genuine political reform.
In recent years there has been an aggressive centralisation of power into fewer and fewer offices. Cabinet itself has been marginalised, something the Tánaiste herself railed against until she became part of the inner circle. The government exercises a more complete control over parliamentary business than ever before.
While debates have been limited in the past, the scale of guillotines is unprecedented as is the fact that core policies are being pushed through without debate or oversight.
Less information than ever is available through asking parliamentary question – with the Taoiseach answering fewer questions than predecessors. It has got to the stage where we are lodging Freedom of Information questions nearly every day in order to get basic information.
The majority will should prevail in parliament, but it should not be able to so easily shut down debate and exclude oversight.
I believe that the first act of the next Dáil should be to begin to end this dominance by opening up key positions to all parties and reforming rules which allow ministers to obstruct basic accountability.
Finally I think we also have to have a vision for the future of this island as a whole. The historic victory of constitutional nationalism in 1998 created dramatic new possibilities for the people of this island. The men and women of violence were pushed into abandoning the repercussions and threat of violence and an agreed framework for the future was ratified in referendums North and South.
The unfortunate reality is that the combination of two detached governments and an Executive dominated by the obsessive self-interest of its two largest parties has squandered much of the potential.
This is a moment of clear crisis. It is not just a crisis about Tory welfare policies, it goes much deeper than this.
Collapsing public engagement with politics in the North, rising poverty, growing sectarianism and a focus on political posturing over substance has caused immense damage.
Anyone who knows anything about our history knows that we can take nothing for granted.
We urgently need a new urgency in relation to Northern Ireland. This should start with a Border Region Development agency to protect and deliver on the economic and social potential in the border region.
We need an end to tolerance of sectarian actions by parties.
Equality isn’t a ‘Trojan Horse’ as Gerry Adams said recently, it’s a fundamental principle for the future of both parts of this island.
The Irish people have not just shown endurance in the last 7 years, they have been actively engaged in public affairs. They have been deeply concerned with policy and they have evolved very significantly in their beliefs.
One of the many reasons why they have not bought into the government’s narrative is that they can see that there is an obsession with presentation and short-term tactics.
What is missing is a sense of where we want our country to be in the years ahead.
In the election which will mark the centenary of our revolution the single most fitting thing we could do as politicians is to understand this and to respond.