Micheál Martin: 'We won't humiliate Labour like Fine Gael did'
FF leader tells Kevin Doyle his party isn't forgiven yet but is being given a chance
Published 25/02/2016 | 02:30
To truly forgive, you have to be prepared to forget - and Irish voters aren't there yet.
Fianna Fáil might be on the rise but Micheál Martin is frank in his belief that it's not a sign people have moved on from the economic crash.
In fact, he says he doesn't "get the sense" that people have forgiven his party at all since they were unceremoniously booted out of government in 2011.
"I don't think people forget. I think they are cautious about all politicians and I'm very conscious of that. I'm under no illusions about people having gone through very tough experiences," he says.
However, the Corkman argues that in the 21 long days since the Dáil was dissolved, he has positioned himself as an alternative Taoiseach to Enda Kenny - even though to achieve that he will need a depleted Labour Party to dramatically switch allegiances after polling. And ahead of a canvass on the streets of Newbridge, Co Kildare, last night, he made a direct appeal to Labour supporters, telling the Irish Independent his party will offer them "parity of esteem" and not seek to "humiliate them like Fine Gael".
Mr Martin recalls the infamous Tesco-style advert that Labour took out before the last election promising not to hike DIRT, VAT, the price of wine, car tax, reduce child benefit or introduce water charges.
"It was like somebody in Fine Gael put the ad up on a wall and said, 'We'll do every one of these now just to put Labour in their box'.
"And that's what they did. It's hard to credit it," he says.
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"Every one of them was done over two or three budgets. It was like somebody in Fine Gael was doing it to punish them for daring to do that ad. It's argued that ad deprived them of an overall majority the last time out."
Labour leader Joan Burton has spent much of the campaign attacking Mr Martin and Fianna Fáil over their legacy in government.
But he says Labour made a big mistake "hitching its wagon to Fine Gael again and failing to carve out an identity for itself" ahead of the election.
And yet he will offer Ms Burton a place in the next government if the numbers stack up.
"We believe in parity of esteem and respect for who we work with," he said.
He says the Right2Change-affiliated politicians won't have a credible base to form a cabinet and he completely rules out the much-talked about 'grand coalition' with Fine Gael.
He believes it would not be in the "national interest" and "this idea that nothing divides us is erroneous".
"We're not going into government with Fine Gael. We were very clear that we wanted to create this choice and it's there," he said.
"The Fine Gael manifesto is actually risky in that it's getting rid of an entire tax. They haven't learned the lessons of the past. They are jeopardising the revenue too much.
"I don't think they get it. They are interested in a core 20pc of the electorate. They have tailored their election manifesto to that 20pc."
Mr Martin singles out health and education as two areas where he believes their policies are at total divergence.
"Fine Gael's education document has escaped scrutiny in this campaign. What they are proposing is straight out of the Tory playbook."
In spite of his criticism of Fine Gael, Mr Martin does accept the recovery "is coming" - but adds that the Government parties "didn't adjust the message" after discovering it wasn't resonating with people.
"Statistically, there is no doubt in terms of employment [that there is a recovery] but then there is the issue of the quality of jobs. That was surfacing a lot, particularly among younger people," he says.
"People are anxious to know if we have learned lessons from the past. Have all politicians learned lessons from the past?"
He describes as "an interesting phenomenon" the fact that people are not buying the promises of any party. "In this campaign, and I have to be straight up, there is a sense of weariness about promises. There is a realism among the electorate that may not have been there in the past."
On the forgiveness question, he says: "I think people are willing to give us an opportunity. I think people do take on board that we have reconnected with communities and that we are engaging with the issues and making a genuine effort."
Mr Martin says Fine Gael have tried a different approach and it has backfired.
"The one thing you should not do is start scaremongering and creating fear. I think that has the opposite effect. That kind of approach can boomerang.
"Whoever their strategists were that decided 'we'll scare the life out of people', it was the wrong way to go."
He accepts that becoming the next Taoiseach is still a long way away but if it does happen, his first 100 days will be focused on his old department of health.
"I would immediately look at the health situation. We've been told that we are €100m short for hospitals.
"That needs to be dealt with upfront or we're going to have chaos in our hospitals in 2016. That would be the first major one," he says.
"At the end of the five years, we would want a fairer country and more progress on attracting quality jobs to the country."
But if Fianna Fáil aren't in a position to form a government, will he lead the Opposition for another five years?
"I'm prepared in whatever capacity to go forward for the next five years as leader of Fianna Fáil. We obviously want to be the lead party in government."