FF was arrogant, now it's back to roots
Last week on 'Tonight with Vincent Browne' on TV3, the host interviewed Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin. This edited extract from the interview gives a flavour of Martin's thinking on recession, corruption, abortion, ministerial pensions and the future of his party
VINCENT BROWNE: Is it reasonable to expect the electorate to forgive Fianna Fail within a decade given what you did in government, you brought the country to the verge of disaster?
MICHEAL MARTIN: Well, 400,000 people voted for us in the last general election...
VB: But you people... almost destroyed the country.
MM: We made mistakes and I've acknowledged those mistakes... I've apologised for those mistakes...
VB: You made mistakes, you overheated the economy.
MM: But people do realise that we weren't responsible for the Greek collapse, we aren't responsible for the Spanish collapse.
VB: But you're responsible for the Irish collapse.
MM: This is genuinely, first and foremost a financial and banking collapse, ok, which was global in nature and was very serious for this country.
VB: And entirely anticipatable...
MM: Sorry Vincent, no one anticipated the nature, scale or severity of the financial and banking collapse that has engulfed the developed economic world since 2007, nobody anticipated that.
VB: What are you apologising for then?
MM: I made it very clear, we clearly narrowed the taxation base too much and we clearly overspent and we got that balance wrong and that did exacerbate the situation in Ireland and it also made us more vulnerable to the global collapse that occurred.
VB: And how about you grossly inflated the property bubble, how about that?
MM: Well I would argue we did to a certain extent, I mean the property bubble was a function of the lending policies of banks and you could actually go back to the joining of the euro itself which was ...
VB: You could have introduced policies that would have dampened the property bubble.
MM: Hold on a second, I'm not so sure, I'm not so sure.
VB: Of course you could have, you could have increased stamp duty.
MM: At the time of the collapse people wanted it reduced.
VB: A huge thing about you is that you're responsible for the bank guarantee which proved absolutely disastrous but you probably now will go on to defend the bank guarantee which...
MM: No, but, Vincent, let's think about what a banking collapse would have entailed.
VB: Go on, yeah.
MM: Europe didn't have any resolution mechanism for failed banks at the time and still doesn't by the way, so I think your narrative is too simplistic... Fine Gael, for example, supported it, Sinn Fein supported it, the Labour Party ended up telling everybody that they were going to burn bondholders and everything else. And they've ended up actually extending the bank guarantee and supporting it.
VB: The point I'm making is that almost everybody who looks back at what happened at the time regards the bank guarantee as disastrous and you instead of acknowledging that this was a disastrous mistake, you continue to defend it.
MM: So you're saying the banks should have collapsed?
VB: No, I'm not.
MM: Well what are you saying?
VB: I'm saying, for instance...
MM: So you're saying the banks should have collapsed – what would have happened ?
VB: Patrick Honahan saying why didn't you give guarantees to future loans and future deposits for instance.
MM: Because you would have caused immense dislocation across Europe and across Ireland, sorry, in terms of the banking collapse.
VB: Why is that?
MM: I mean first of all the entire modern payment system would have collapsed, OK, business would have been, hang on a second, Vincent, the liquid, banks were seizing and they're still in paralysis in terms of the inter-bank lending market, OK, the European Central Bank is essentially holding the banks together even now after four or five years.
VB: Let's move on to one further point about Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail is unquestionably the most corrupt political party we've had in the State since independence, why should people trust Fianna Fail on that score ever again.
MM: I wouldn't accept your analysis, I think we certainly had people in the party that let politics down and let public life down but I have been a member of government for quite a number of years and I can't, and there wasn't any active corruption in the lifetime of that government in terms of ...
VB: Did you read the Mahon tribunal report?
MM: That doesn't cover the time I was in government.
VB: The Mahon tribunal report, alright it doesn't, in 1992, alright.
MM: And you know and I know that the only subject matter in terms of government decisions was covered by another tribunal (the Moriarty tribunal ) which involved a Fine Gael/Labour government of the rainbow. Hang on, this is very important now because you've made that statement about Fianna Fail as if it's a truism and I would challenge it.
VB: But you disagree that it was the most corrupt party ...
MM: I just want to make a very important point, OK, that the one act of a government that had to be covered by a tribunal and a decision was in relation to the awarding of the mobile licence back in the mid-Nineties. Now I've said to you that I've been a member of a government for over 14 years and no decision of that government was subject to the same kind of cloud or subject to the same kind of allegations or assertions. Now I'll stand over my time in government and I'm not a corrupt person and I'm not a member of a corrupt party. I will acknowledge that there were members of my party who have been found guilty of corruption and that's a shame and a blot on our party. But there's thousands of other people in the Fianna Fail party who are there as volunteers, who believe in the founding principles of the party and who are also conscious of the very distinguished contribution we made to Irish politics in education, in health and in a whole range of other issues in terms of the Constitution, if you go back further.
VB: Yeah, Micheal, you disagree with my contention that Fianna Fail has been by far the most corrupt party since independence in this State. If you disagreed with that tell us what party was more corrupt than Fianna Fail.
MM: Well I think the Sinn Fein party.
VB: More corrupt?
MM: Would beat any party for its corruption and I'm not going to go through...
VB: How is that?
MM: In terms of murder, in terms of the Provisional IRA and its support of that, in terms of how its campaigns were funded down through the decades and the years in terms of money laundering. In terms of bank raids. Are you seriously suggesting that we're in that league?
VB: Alright, going to move on to the issue of abortion.
MM: I would be absolutely clear that we should have legal certainty to protect the life of a mother during pregnancy or during, sorry, during pregnancy. And that obstetricians should have the capacity to intervene where such intervention is necessary to save the life of the mother, of course, I don't think there's a person in the country wouldn't want that. And I know from experience in terms of obstetricians and gynaecologists, that's what they always want to do.
I think obstetricians generally, their whole raison d'etre is to protect and nurture the mother as well as deliver a baby safely. I mean in essence that's what goes on every day in our hospitals. And I think we have safe maternity hospitals in this country. I think the maternal death rate is very low, that's of cold comfort now to Savita's family and that, but I think that's an important point to make.
VB: OK, over the period that Fianna Fail was in government, from 1997 to 2011, extraordinary increases in the pay of TDs and ministers and in the pensions of TDs and ministers was introduced and to such an extent that most people now would regard that as scandalous. Can you defend what the government that you were a member of did in that regard?
MM: I think it was excessive. And I think the increases were too much, I think they were recommended at the time by independent review bodies and so forth. And I genuinely believe that they were excessive.
VB: Do you think you'll ever be Taoiseach?
MM: I absolutely don't know, and it's not what motivates me at this particular point, in my political career. I mentioned earlier the people that were coming into the party, if you were to interview me in three or four years' time I would like to be able to say to you that when you look at the Fianna Fail party in three or four years' time you will see that it's a different party.
VB: Different to what?
MM: That has introduced a new generation of people. A party that has fresher policies, good initiatives and is soundly based in policy and that's what it's about in terms of its core beliefs. Different in terms of behaviour and actions. I think we did get too arrogant, I think I want to take away any sense that people join politics just for remuneration and funding and all of that.
I hope that people will see a more humble party and a party that by its actions, go back to the origins of the party which it was, a party of community. And it was there fundamentally to help and improve communities whether in your local rural area, your city, your town and ultimately your country and the world.