Colm Keaveney: Fianna Fail want change, not just stunts – so that's why I signed up
The current Government have undone the principles of fairness enshrined in previous Budgets, and as a result I lost my faith in them, writes Colm Keaveney
Loyalty and consistency in politics is often judged only in party political terms. However, it has always been my view that fidelity to your personal beliefs and values are also important. Loyalty to the people who elected you and to the commitments that you gave to them during the election is essential and at the core of what I believe should be important in politics.
The commitments that I gave to the electorate in Galway East during the last general election certainly included securing the economic recovery of the country, but more profoundly it included a commitment to social justice and equality. Above all, I gave a commitment to protect those left vulnerable to the consequences of the economic crisis we are still working our way out of.
It is regrettable that the party I was a member of during the election chose to abandon the commitments that I and all of their other candidates that ran during that election made during the campaign. As a consequence of that, and being faithful to the commitments I made to the electorate in Galway East, I felt obliged in December 2012 to vote against a deeply regressive Budget and so lost the whip.
Later, in response to proposed cuts to the provision of Special Needs Assistants in our schools, and following many other similarly unfair measures, I finally resigned from the Labour Party and took my place on the Independent benches.
Following the aftermath of the Budget in December 2012 I began to engage in policy discussions with deputies and senators from outside Labour. These continued throughout 2013. I discovered that I shared a lot of common ground with individual Fianna Fail deputies such as Billy Kelleher and John Browne. I was impressed by their seriousness of purpose and with their contributions in committee.
The Galway-Roscommon region is facing a serious challenge in the delivery of mental health services. While addressing that issue within the HSE forums and in public meetings, I found Michael Kitt and Eamon O Cuiv to be similarly engaged in addressing those issues, both of them conscious of the real improvements made by Fianna Fail in that area following the enactment of the landmark Mental Health Act, 2001, and the policy changes that flowed from it. Sadly, many of the advances made during that time have been reversed.
I know I have been very critical of Fianna Fail in the past but laterally I found myself impressed with their serious focus on policy and their commitment to learn from the mistakes of the past and to engage in real and substantial reform.
Substantial reform has taken place under the leadership of Micheal Martin, the centrepiece of which was the implementation of the One Member, One Vote policy that has delivered the party firmly into the ownership of its members. There has been a renewed focus on policy marked by a real commitment to social justice.
This commitment has been given a stronger emphasis but is not a new development. The Budgets implemented by the Fianna Fail-led government in response to the economic crisis have all been found to have been progressive in their impact, with the wealthiest bearing the brunt of the adjustments.
The tragedy has been that the current Government's three Budgets have all been regressive. Social Justice Ireland has found that they imposed an adjustment of 18pc on the lowest 10pc of households by income versus an 11pc adjustment on the highest 10pc.
The current Government has attempted to attach the blame for this to the programme agreed by the last Government with the troika, but this is fundamentally dishonest.
The programme only committed us to financial targets but left it to the Government to determine how these targets could be met.
The Budgets introduced by the late Brian Lenihan tried to do so, with a strong emphasis on ensuring a progressive impact. Inexplicably, the current Labour Party and Fine Gael Government abandoned that core principle of fairness.
It is my carefully considered and genuine view that Fianna Fail alone in Irish politics has learned from the lessons of the past and is committed to changing how we practise politics.
They are determined to engage in serious political reform that goes beyond stunts like the abolition of the Seanad and instead focuses on the fundamental approach to politics. Last week we saw one of the government parties engaging in the same auction politics that contributed to our current difficulties.
I decided to join Fianna Fail and to contribute to their efforts to secure the future of this country because of their policies around social justice, disabilities and mental health and because of their serious and determined commitments to a new, and much needed, constructive politics.