Wednesday 23 May 2018

Martin insists referendum vote is not reflection of his leadership

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin has dismissed suggestions that the Seanad referendum and next year's local and European elections will amount to a vote on his leadership of the party.

Mr Martin indicated social welfare reform and mortgage relief for distressed homeowners will be the party's two key policy priorities upon the return of the Dail tomorrow.

He rejected speculation about his position as leader coming under scrutiny.

"This is all about the renewal of Fianna Fail. It is not about personalities within the party," he said.

The party's health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the party had made "tremendous strides" in rebuilding itself after the disastrous 2011 general election losses and preparing a strong list of candidates for next year's twin election campaigns.

Mr Martin accused the Government of terrorising the poor, unemployed and disabled by "floating" a policy on capping social welfare payments.

He urged Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Cabinet to "cop on" and deliver fairness rather than abject fear in the forthcoming Budget.

Fianna Fail is opposed to the package of taxes and cuts in the forthcoming Budget being the planned €3.1bn.

Mr Martin warned that a social welfare 'cap' on entitlements should only be discussed when the Government ends "the scandalous wait of up to nine months for some people over social welfare appeals".

"The Government is playing games here. I would tell the Government sources to cop themselves on. Most people on welfare are not there because they want to be," he said.

"I think it is appalling to have people talking about social welfare caps when some people are waiting up to nine months for social welfare appeals and cannot receive payments in the meantime," he added.

"People are getting very cynical because they believe this is a deliberate policy just to delay the whole process."

Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath will table a private members' motion on mortgage arrears to offer relief to struggling home-owners.

"We will be asking and pleading with the Government to establish an independent office to protect people in mortgage arrears and to offer fair and sustainable solutions," he said.

Former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea added that a comprehensive policy for "root and branch social welfare reforms" will also be published next week.

"There are so many inequities in the system. Our proposed reforms will be about delivering fairness, efficiency and value-for-money and making sure resources go to those who need them most," he said.

Mr Martin also warned the Government not to seek the maximum €3.1bn savings in the Budget.

"We believe that it is excessive in this single Budget. We are committed to achieving the 3pc over the two Budgets but we believe there is a crying need to give people a break . . . and to use money to boost the economy," he said.

However, Mr Martin said Fianna Fail has not yet formulated the precise budgetary saving they will recommend.

"The principle issue here is fairness: the need for the Government to ensure that people on low incomes, those who have suffered the most for the past two years, don't suffer again.

"We also need to boost our economy because the only option we have is to grow our way out of our current difficulties," he said.

Irish Independent

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