Wednesday 21 March 2018

Big Interview: Micheál Martin - FF manifesto 'not going there' over abortion

We’re not after power at any price, says Martin

Deputy Michael Martin pictured at Leinster House
Deputy Michael Martin pictured at Leinster House
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil's election manifesto will not feature any mention of abortion despite the debate over repealing the Eighth Amendment being a major election issue.

Micheál Martin has said his party "are not going there" in their pre-election policies and that it would pose "considerable difficulty" if a potential coalition partner wanted the repealing of the Eighth Amendment included in a programme for government.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Martin indicated that he sees the Labour Party and newly formed Social Democrats, along with Independents, as his best option for a coalition.

However, both these parties have indicated that they want the next government to hold a referendum on Ireland's restrictive abortion laws.

"Collectively, as a party, we will not be initiating the repeal of the eighth," Mr Martin said, adding that if it came before the Dáil, his TDs would have a freedom-of-conscience vote.

"Nobody has said what they are going to do to replace the eighth. I think it's a very sensitive subject and it's one which has to be approached sensitively."

Mr Martin said he would favour the setting up of an all-party committee "to tease out the various issues".

The former minister said Fianna Fáil is aiming to win a seat in all 40 constituencies with an election message of "a fairer society" and a target of two seats set in some regions, particularly along the western seaboard.

Seventy-nine seats will be needed for a majority in the next Dáil but Mr Martin, whose party currently has 21 TDs, refuses to accept that his party will not be able to find a way to that number.

"There are a variety of options. I think you will be looking at a more fragmented Dáil, but I don't think it necessarily means chaos," he said, adding that the Independents would have a big say.

"The (current) Government came in with a lot of promises they didn't fulfil, the most fundamental one being that they'd change the way politics was done. It hasn't happened.

"The Dáil is still a creature of the Government. People feel a bit betrayed, so they are turning to alternatives that they might not have previously countenanced."

Asked if he would remain on as leader for five more years in opposition if Fianna Fáil loses a second election in a row for the first time ever, Mr Martin replied: "Yes, absolutely. I wouldn't go forward in this election if that wasn't my intention.

"I'm 55 years of age. I'm drinking plenty of green tea, so it's all possible."

Mr Martin said his "core mission" is to reinvigorate the party and "good progress" has been made.

"We will do well in this election. We still have a journey to travel. I'm not in any way, shape or form denying that. It's a big challenge for us electorally.

"It's a part of our renewal as a party - but our fundamental objective is to change the direction society is going. It's too divided, too unfair and we're not going to go along with any set of policies to get into government.

"It's not government at any price for us."

Weekend opinion polls again suggested that the most viable government after the election would be a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition.

However, Mr Martin said: "I don't think the people want me to put Enda Kenny back in as Taoiseach. That's the sense I'm getting on the doorstep."

The Cork South Central TD said he is open to talking with the Labour Party in a post-election scenario, even though Tánaiste Joan Burton "tends to have a pattern of burying her head in the sand on issues".

Mr Martin said he will fight a robust election based on issues such as health, education and crime.

"The Taoiseach keeps using the phrase 'stability or chaos'. I pointed out to him in more recent times that there is chaos in the health service under his Government, there is chaos in housing policy under his Government, mayhem in terms of burglars and the rate of them across the country. So I note in more recent times he has changed 'chaos' to 'uncertainty'.

"We're a centre-ground party. We get the economic situation and what is needed for the next five years. We have no wish to destabilise anything. We voted for the Fiscal Treaty with the Government."

He said Fianna Fáil "weren't slow" to support policies they thought were right for the country while in opposition, where others might "have taken a more opportunistic line".

"Fianna Fáil represents stability and understands enterprise," he said.

"The idea that it's Enda Kenny's Fine Gael or chaos needs to be debunked.

"There are a lot of people on the independent benches as well who are stable and not looking for policies that would radically undermine the trajectory of where we want to go."

Mr Martin said he is looking forward to a televised debate with the Taoiseach during the forthcoming campaign as "we don't have debates in the Dáil".

"The public deserves debates between political leaders. Between myself and the Taoiseach would be one, between Gerry Adams and the Taoiseach could be another."

He added: "Personally, I find it absurd that we are now entering into a General Election where the entire strategy will be to minimise the Taoiseach's exposure to debate, manage his presentations in a contrived way. I think that's a disservice to democracy."

Irish Independent

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