The good news is that we now have a Government. After a very indecisive election result and 140 days of deliberation and talks, the three Government parties deserve to be commended for agreeing an ambitious and progressive Programme for Government.
There is more good news in that we have in Government some very competent people assuming senior ministerial office for the first time. Although Fianna Fáil did not secure the justice portfolio, I am very encouraged by the fact we have a highly capable person in Helen McEntee in charge of that department. Anyone who has seen her perform in the European affairs portfolio will know she is a person of real substance and ability.
An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, asked me on Wednesday afternoon if I would become a junior minister. After careful consideration I declined. The reason I declined is because I believe that my energy and abilities would best serve the country not by being a junior member of the Government but by being a backbench Fianna Fáil TD. Before explaining this decision I want to point out what I believe is a potential downside in the allocation of portfolios and why I believe Fianna Fáil should have sought either the justice or foreign affairs ministries.
It would be preferable, in my opinion, in a three-party coalition in which no one party has a majority at Cabinet that the portfolios of justice and foreign affairs were not held by the same party. In the coming months the shadow of a no-deal Brexit will once again loom large over our political landscape. It will have significant consequences for all of the island but it may raise many difficult and unforeseen problems in respect of Northern Ireland.
In discussions with the United Kingdom government on Northern Ireland, our ministers for justice and foreign affairs have always played a central role. However, since Fine Gael occupies both these portfolios, Fianna Fáil will not have a senior minister in any such negotiations.
Obviously our Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, will attend infrequent meetings with the British prime minister but in fairness to him and the demands of his office he cannot be expected to be directly involved in the detailed negotiations between the two governments. Consequently, these negotiations will be carried out by Fine Gael ministers alone.
The country and Government would have benefited had these portfolios been divided between the two main parties of Government.
When considering the offer made to me by An Taoiseach, I weighed up a number of factors. One of those factors is the increasing polarisation of our politics which seeks to subdivide people into antagonistic groups.
Instead of voters arguing about political issues, polarisation seeks to ensure voters believe their interests cannot and will not be served by those of a different political persuasion. We have seen what polarised politics has done in the United Kingdom the United States and, regrettably for decades, in Northern Ireland.
The existence and threat of such polarisation means this country has never more needed a radical centre ground national party, such as Fianna Fáil, that will govern through strong state intervention not for the benefit of one faction or polarised group but for the benefit of the country as a whole.
Unfortunately, we now see a political landscape in this country where Fine Gael has placed itself on the right and Sinn Féin has placed itself far on the left, each representing their own interest groups. Fianna Fáil needs to fight for the interests of the whole nation rather than the interests of certain groups. The segmentation of politics into mutually antagonist groups is exactly the problem that has debased and divided the politics of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.
In order to challenge this rising polarisation, Fianna Fáil needs to attract the interest and curiosity of young voters. Young people are not burdened with the political prejudices of their elders. They are open to coherent, intelligent and progressive policies irrespective of their provenance. Fianna Fáil must become a more attractive option for these voters. I believe the growth of a national centre-left party such as Fianna Fáil that can attract the support of young people is the most effective way to confront the increasing threat of polarisation.
I want to play my part in advancing policies and strengthening our great party so it can attract this cohort of young people. People aged between 25 and 45 have now experienced two recessions in their adulthood. Most live in a world of economic insecurity where affordable accommodation is beyond their means, and terms of employment are much more insecure than was the case when their parents first started working. Climate change and Covid-19 have imposed even further burdens upon them - burdens they carry for the benefit of older and future generations.
Young voters are prepared to carry selflessly these burdens but they want to see a fair, secure and attainable future on the horizon. These people are crying out for a political roadmap to security and certainty. Hopefully, the new Programme for Government will provide that direction. However, government generally becomes bogged down in events. Fianna Fáil needs to attract these voters by providing such a roadmap. I will play my part in that assignment.
As a party, we also need to recognise that this young cohort of voters on the island, who neither view nor define themselves exclusively as green or orange, see the illogicality of partition. Brexit and Covid underline the benefits of unity. As the Republican Party, we must sell this message to all young people on the island.
I believe that I can serve the State better by seeking to protect and grow the centre ground of Irish politics.
I wish Micheál and the new Government every success in the years ahead.