Wednesday 24 January 2018

'I need to see delivery on issues or we won't renew FG deal' - Martin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the Courtmacsherry New Year’s Day Swim in Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the Courtmacsherry New Year’s Day Swim in Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A general election this year seems increasingly likely after Micheál Martin said he was not minded to renew the 'confidence and supply' arrangement with Fine Gael.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, the Fianna Fáil leader said he would not be giving Taoiseach Leo Varadkar "a blank cheque beyond and beyond".

Under the deal, Fianna Fáil agreed to facilitate the passage of three budgets but left open the possibility of extending this to five following a review.

Over the Christmas break, Mr Varadkar said he could see "no reason" why his minority Government shouldn't be allowed to continue beyond next October's budget.

But when asked whether he was opened-minded on the prospect of extending the arrangement, Mr Martin replied: "I'm not at the moment because I need to see delivery on these issues. We need to see delivery on housing, health and justice issues."

He claimed a lot of "phoney stuff" went on in the build-up to last October's Budget, and the debacle over Frances Fitzgerald's resignation as Tánaiste had left the relationship "strained".

He said Fianna Fáil remained committed to a third budget, but suggested Fine Gael wasn't living up to its side of the deal.

"It will be a challenging year. We're not writing a blank cheque or anything like that. Obviously in the third year, you want to see more delivery," Mr Martin said.

The Cork TD feels the Government is falling short not just in housing and health but on a number of less high-profile areas that Fianna Fáil has identified as priorities.

He also accused Mr Varadkar of creating "the largest propaganda budget" of any prime minister in Europe, adding that the campaigns being run by the new Strategic Communications Unit "coincide with their own political agenda".

Mr Martin said there were three issues "bugging" him that "we need sorted" early this year.

The first is pay restoration for health and social care staff working in Section 39 organisations such as hospices.

Thousands of workers in these bodies took pay-cuts during the recession in line with HSE employees, but no funding has been allocated by the Department of Health for restoration. Strike action is being threatened for next month. "For some unknown reason to me, these bodies did not get the allocation to cover pay restoration as per the new public sector pay deal. There's a crisis in these disability organisations," Mr Martin said.

He has raised the issue in the Dáil on a number of occasions with the Taoiseach replying that efforts were being made to see which organisations cut pay and which didn't. "That's a bit of a lame excuse to me. It's a situation that can't be allowed to drag on throughout 2018," the Fianna Fáil leader said.

His second gripe is the inequality in the State pension whereby more than 35,000 people, mainly women, received a reduced payment because they spent some time outside the workforce.

"We're looking for a pathway to reverse the cuts that were introduced in 2012," Mr Martin said.

"In our view, that decision has to be reversed. We acknowledge it will take time. It can't be down in one stroke but there has to be a pathway."

His final new year demand is movement on equal pay for equal work in the public service. Currently, teachers who started after 2011 are on a lower pay scale than older colleagues and stand to lose in the region of €100,000 over the course of their careers.

Bail

Mr Martin also said he needed to see more progress on the issue of mental health and getting Fianna Fáil-led legislation such as proposed changes to the bail regime through the Dáil.

"We're going to keep focusing on the issues. I'm not giving anyone a blank cheque beyond and beyond, let me be very clear about that," he said.

"We signed up for the confidence and supply, and deliver on key issues. It's a policy-based document.

"Our job is to keep the tension on Government and to keep a healthy tension there that produces results.

"I don't want people taking the foot off the pedal here. The housing one is very bad. It is bad. And health.

"In some respects, we got the Budget through last time - but the way that happened wasn't great, if we're honest about it.

"There was a lot of phoney stuff going on in August. It needed a far more strategic approach than we got."

Martin on...

Housing

"I don't think houses are affordable in Dublin. I think for ordinary, average, industrial-wage workers, or even people on €40,000 or €50,000, I think people who buy in Dublin now are putting themselves in very difficult scenarios in terms of debt and repayments. It threatens to absorb everything they do in their lives."

Brexit

"We still haven't received any sectoral plans or analysis. I'm not too sure any minister here can tell us where is the sectoral analysis on the agri-sector, on tourism, on financial services. We haven't seen them."

Renewing the FG deal

"We'll talk about delivery on this first. I haven't contemplated that yet. You're jumping too far ahead."

Abortion up to 12 weeks

"I want to reflect on what are the full implications of it. I'm open-minded on it. I'm not closing the door on anything."

Irish Independent

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