Labour to vote against Enda Kenny as Taoiseach

06 May 2016

Ceann Comhairle,

The Labour Party will be voting against the nomination of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach today.

We do principally because this new government arrangement is a charade.

Talking yesterday about the length of time it has taken to produce this deeply flawed arrangement, my colleague, Willie Penrose, referred to the old saying that a long churning doesn’t make good butter.

It reminded me of that old ad: “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”

Because in the case of this charade, nobody believes it’s not a coalition.

Let’s be very clear: it is a coalition – a Coalition of Convenience that puts naked political self-interest ahead of the people’s interests.

Two deeply conservative parties have ended their pretence civil war and done a deal.

But it’s a tawdry deal on a whole number of levels that carries the real risk of undoing the hard-won progress made since Fianna Fail collapsed the economy. 

I’ve been privileged enough to serve in various coalition governments – with both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

In those governments, the member parties of the coalition worked together and compromised in the national interest.

That’s what coalition is about – there was a unity of purpose and trust essential to any successful government.

This Coalition of Convenience is very, very different.

Fianna Fail will effectively have their boot on the throat of the Taoiseach, meaning they can push through whatever they like, reject whatever they like and collapse the arrangement whenever they choose.

Let’s not be fooled by the pledge to support Fine Gael until 2018.

Fianna Fail will pick their time, regardless of what deal has been done.

And until then, as we have already seen, they will put their own interests ahead of the national interest every time.

Water is the first glaring example – but won’t be the last.  

Having learned nothing from their reckless abolition of rates in the late 1970s, Fianna Fail set water charges as their top priority – simply to ensure their political hide is no longer exposed to Sinn Fein.

In so doing, and in Fine Gael’s disappointing cave-in to Fianna Fail’s reckless demands, the Coalition of Convenience has all but ensured that Ireland will have to wait for the top-quality water and sewerage infrastructure it needs.

This isn’t an abstract price that will be paid – homes and businesses will pay the price in the years ahead.

Will the Coalition of Convenience today give an assurance to those law-abiding citizens who paid their water charges that they will be fully refunded – and say when?

At its very first test on a difficult issue, this Coalition of Convenience has miserably failed.

How then can we possibly expect it to deliver on future challenges?

I notice, for example, that this patched-up Programme for Government singularly fails to commit to delivering a Living Wage for workers.

A recovering economy like ours needs to improve wages and invest in upskilling.

Is it any surprise that when two conservative parties come together to form a Coalition of Convenience, business interests will take precedence over workers’ interests?

I notice, too, that the commitment to free GP care for all has been dropped, simply because it will be difficult to achieve.

How will true universal healthcare ever be delivered, if this critical plank of the system is now abandoned?

And does anybody now doubt that free GP care for young children and older people would have been delivered without Labour?

There is token reference in the document to the challenge of future pension provision.

As Social Protection Minister, I worked hard to put in place the roadmap for a dedicated pension scheme to ensure all workers have supplementary pension provision.

That roadmap is now ready and can be implemented by the new government.

But I have grave doubts that this Coalition of Convenience will find it within themselves to act on the roadmap and deliver such a scheme.

And I doubt too that the 8th Amendment will be repealed in the lifetime of this government.

It will be sent to a Citizens’ Assembly for discussion, but with no guarantee of a referendum or timeframe for its delivery.

The Coalition of Convenience has cynically kicked the issue to touch.

By contrast, if there’s a problem that the Coalition of Convenience thinks can be solved by throwing money at it and hoping it goes away, they’ll do that.

Virtually every Irish person is familiar with the “one for everybody in the audience” concept.

That’s what the negotiations behind this new arrangement have amounted to.

At a time when Ireland has still not reached a point of safety, when the public purse remains constrained, when there are potential risks such as Brexit on the horizon, Independent TDs have been granted all manner of narrow constituency and sectoral pet projects.

We all work hard for our constituencies, but every TD in this House is elected to put the national interest first.

Nobody can say this has been done over the last few weeks.

Perhaps some of the Independents can be excused on the basis they are new to this.

They chanced their arm and got away with it, unable to believe their luck. 

For Fianna Fail, there are no excuses.

We all know how Fianna Fail operates – party before country.

But for Fine Gael to sign up to this tawdry Coalition of Convenience is an entirely new and unwelcome departure.

100 years on from the Rising that lit the road to independence, the people of this country deserved better from the two civil war parties.

They’ve ended their civil war politics all right – but only to concoct this Coalition of Convenience that will put citizens’ interests last.

I want to stress that Labour’s vote today is not a personal reflection on the Taoiseach, who is an honorable man and a hard-working leader.

Over the last five years, Enda Kenny worked day and night with my party to rescue this country from ruin and set it on the road to recovery.

And though we know recovery has not yet been felt in every home, this week once again brought concrete evidence of the progress made during Labour’s term in government with Fine Gael.

Exchequer figures ahead of target as more people return to work and the tax take increases, meaning more room for investment in essential public services.

Employment figures showing that the number of people out of work fell by more than 25,000 over the last 12 months alone.

And confirmation from the European Commission that Ireland is set to be the fastest-growing economy in the EU again this year.

These are all tangible signs of progress.

Progress that translates into new jobs for workers, and things getting that little bit easier for families who’ve struggled so much since the 2008 crash.

Which makes it all the more worrying now that this new Coalition of Convenience threatens to fritter such progress away.

Labour’s record in government over the last five years is not without its blemishes.

I would be the first to admit that, the first to admit we ruled too much by head and not enough by heart at times.

Yet we always placed the interests of the people ahead of any narrow political interest.

We paid a very high political price for this, but would do the same again.

Why? Because the country is clearly in a better place than it was five years ago.

That is the true test of any government – that they leave the country in better shape than they found it.

That now is the test for this Coalition of Convenience, and my fears based on what we’ve seen so far is that they will fail it.

Labour, for our part, will provide constructive, responsible opposition to this conservative Coalition of Convenience, fighting for progressive solutions that change people’s lives for the better.

Eradicating child poverty, ending the housing crisis, ensuring a Living Wage for workers, equality of opportunity for all our children, and fighting for important social progress – we will pursue this issues and more to deliver fairness and equality for our people.  

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