Leo Varadkar: Grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would be a nightmare
Published 25/02/2016 | 02:30
We can’t work with parties that can’t be trusted to do what is right, rather than what is expedient.
There never was much talk about Civil War politics when I was growing up. Maybe it's because my father came from India and my mother was not party political, and to some extent as a new family starting out in Dublin, old political allegiances didn't apply.
Or maybe it was because the term had become such a cliché that it no longer had any real significance.
Either way, I joined Fine Gael neither because it was on the right side of the Treaty debates nor because it had helped found the State and then defended it against threats, internal and external.
Instead, Fine Gael offered a vision of the future that I believed in, and wanted to help achieve. I still do. My problem with Fianna Fáil isn't to do with the Civil War.
But it is historical. I don't trust it on the economy. I don't trust it on questions of integrity. This isn't a recent thing - I could point to 1977 or 1987 as much as to 1997 or 2007.
Let's take health as a good example. The problems in health weren't just created by the last Fianna Fáil government, they have a long history, and have their roots in the disastrous promise-anything election victory of Fianna Fáil in 1977 and the decisions it took in the 1980s.
The last time Fianna Fáil held the Department of Health it was during an economic boom. While it did achieve the smoking ban, which has saved thousands of lives, there was also a consistent pattern of over-promising and under-delivering.
In the 2002 General Election campaign, Fianna Fáil explicitly promised to permanently end all waiting lists within two years. It failed to come anywhere near meeting this promise, set up the HSE, and then failed to take responsibility for anything - including unlawful nursing home charges, which cost the taxpayer almost a billion euro in compensation. Fianna Fáil even berated hospitals for not ordering enough trolleys.
There is no quick fix or overnight solution for the health service. It will take many years to resolve the current issues. But over the last 19 months in health there have been some successes.
By no means have I managed to counteract decades of mismanagement, cuts, and the failed policies of previous governments. I take responsibility for what we have done and what we need to do better. If re-elected we won't pretend we will get everything right or that we can build a perfect health service in five years. But we won't run away.
We will work with other parties and other politicians to achieve our vision for a better, prosperous and healthier Ireland. But we cannot work with parties who won't take responsibility for the past, and who can't be trusted to do what is right, rather than what is politically expedient. And that especially goes for the economy.
The years after the economic crash brought on by the last government of Fianna Fáil and Independents were really hard on the Irish people. Everyone paid a price - whether through emigration, unemployment, or general fear and uncertainty about the future.
Having apologised for its role in it, Fianna Fáil is now backtracking on that during this campaign, and reverting to its former position of blaming a 'myriad of factors' and 'international developments'.
As a result of the sacrifices of Irish people, the economy is now recovering. Fine Gael wants to make sure the recovery is felt in every single home, right across Ireland.
That's why voters face a crucial choice in this election.
It really is a choice between political stability or political uncertainty. Between steady economic growth or a return to boom-and-bust economics. Between an enterprise economy based on manufacturing and services we can sell at home and abroad, or one based on speculation and easy lending. Between a return of the current Coalition, or a lethal cocktail of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, left-wing smaller parties and random Independents who believe a range of competing and contradictory things.
Fine Gael is the only party with a plan to continue growing the economy, by stimulating job creation and investing the proceeds in better public services. We want to finish the job that we started.
The political alternative cannot be trusted. We won't help to rehabilitate Fianna Fáil. A so-called grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be a forced marriage with Sinn Féin holding the shotgun.
It suits Sinn Féin because it means it can pretend to be a credible alternative without having to develop realistic policies. It also lets it become the main opposition, which is where it really wants to be.
It suits some political commentators because they can write about the end of Civil War politics. Even better, they can then write new articles about the return of Civil War politics when it all ends in acrimony and bitter divorce. It won't be a real coalition. It won't be grand. It won't last. And it won't protect the Irish people.
The dream of a grand coalition would actually be a nightmare. It is why it cannot happen.
Leo Varadkar is Health Minister and a Fine Gael candidate in the General Election