Saturday 18 January 2020

Willie O'Dea: People on welfare will get a modest increase - and Fianna Fáil should be proud of that

Willie O’Dea: 'I am glad Fianna Fáil didn’t succumb to the pressure to enter coalition with Fine Gael.' Photo: Tom Burke
Willie O’Dea: 'I am glad Fianna Fáil didn’t succumb to the pressure to enter coalition with Fine Gael.' Photo: Tom Burke

Willie O'Dea

After the uncertain election result last February, very few people believed that any government would be formed. So certain was Fine Gael of winning the last election outright the party felt able to use the ridiculous slogan of 'Keeping the Recovery Going' when large parts of Ireland still had not felt any recovery.

The Taoiseach talked about "USA-style taxes" instead of improving public services. The people had enough of not being listened to and demanded change. The Labour Party was decimated as the people thought that it would at least have kept some manners on Fine Gael. Alas, it was not to be. Fine Gael introduced five regressive budgets one year after another while Labour silently acquiesced.

For those who expected Labour to protect their interests, Labour unfortunately proved to be sheep in sheep's clothing.

I suppose in politics people get used to a certain level of hypocrisy, but the Labour leader broke all records with his article on Monday last when he wrote that he "wouldn't bet on this Budget being fair, progressive or even sensible".

Is this the same Brendan Howlin that allowed and promoted savage cuts in lone parents' allowance, child benefit, fuel allowance for the elderly, halved back to school allowance and cut the jobseekers allowance for those under 25 years old, to mention but a few?

When it comes to fairness and justice, Brendan Howlin and the Labour Party have about as much credibility as a guy standing outside an ATM with a paper cup.

What was equally hard to take was the canting hypocrisy of Sinn Féin and the fake indignation of the toy-town demagogues of the posturing Left.

When confronted with an opportunity to have some of their policies implemented, they ran for cover faster than the red coats of the races in Castlebar.

People were - and are still - hurting, even though our economy is growing. There are still over 2,000 children in emergency accommodation as a result of the housing crisis and actually one in eight children in Ireland is still experiencing poverty.

There was widespread fear that there would be another election and the result would not have been much different.

I am glad that Fianna Fáil did not succumb to the relentless pressure that was applied to enter a coalition with Fine Gael, as I am firmly of the view it would have been detrimental for centre ground politics in Ireland and would have allowed the extreme Left, including Sinn Féin, more seats. This is the last thing our country needs.

While the General Election results didn't expel Fine Gael, it did give them a stark warning that things had to change in Ireland and the way it was being run.

Fianna Fáil wanted to be in government but unfortunately did not get the numbers. This is why we agreed to enter the first Confidence and Supply arrangement for Ireland.

We made the decision that it would be better to try to introduce some of our commitments we made in our party's manifesto about making Ireland a fairer and more decent place. These priorities were agreed last May before the Programme for Government was finalised.

We influenced this Budget and make no apologies for it. For the first time in years, there will be investment in services, rather than prioritising tax cuts. This needs to be done as public services were stripped bare and the poor have slipped deeper into poverty.

I would like to have seen more investment in capital, so that Ireland could prepare properly for the future and I would also like to eventually see tax breaks for middle earners; but we had to prioritise those on welfare first, so that our society could become fairer.

It has to be remembered that realignment had to start with those who received the least and improvements can be made in the next budget.

Those on welfare have suffered callous cuts for the past few years; 59pc of lone parents live in deprivation and unfortunately the number of older people living in deprivation is also rising and has increased by 5pc alone in the past two years.

We did our level best to get these increases introduced in January but unfortunately the infamous fiscal space did not allow this to happen.

At least we were successful in resisting the Government applying the increases in June - eight months away.

I meet people who are on welfare every day and they are struggling. At least now, with Fianna Fáil's influence, they get a modest increase to make things slightly easier.

We are proud of that - and we should be.

Irish Independent

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