Peter Casey: 'My vision for Fianna Fail'
The party has gone astray and needs a change of leadership, writes presidential runner-up Peter Casey, who says he is the man for the job
I want to be the next Taoiseach. So I owe everyone an honest proclamation of what I want for Ireland.
First, I will borrow from the brilliant words of the proclamation on Easter Monday 1916 - I, too, want to guarantee "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all… citizens".
And I want and expect the government of Ireland "to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally".
I repeat: cherishing all the children of the nation equally.
Recently, I was accused of "racist" views with regards to the Travellers. The accusation hurt deeply, because it is a terrible thing to be accused of, and it's simply not true. Never having had a negative experience with the Travelling community in Derry, I have no personal animus or history against any Traveller, and I don't need any evidence to accept that the Travellers are as Irish as any of us.
I have said it before and I will say it again - I believe if more of us accepted the Travellers as 100pc "Irish", we would all work together to solve the many problems the Travellers face and we would fully "cherish" them as Ireland cherishes "all the children of the nation equally".
Housing and middle Ireland
The fact is that many cannot afford a place to live. People born and reared in Dublin can't afford to live in their city. Furthermore, the Irish housing crisis has become an industry in itself, with more than 60 new housing charities registered last year alone.
Most of those are liberally funded by the State, and yet the problem seems to only get worse. This pop-up Irish industry now costs us millions, yet it hasn't made a dent in the crisis. I would hold their feet to the fire, and demand they account for all the monies awarded.
We have a moral responsibility to reach out to the most vulnerable. The simplest, most economical way is to maximise the thousands of vacant properties all over our country. Beyond this, we should build new houses in the parts of Ireland where the land is most available and affordable.
As Taoiseach, I would propose bringing back a shared ownership scheme. It will cost money, but it will be an investment in our people, which is the soundest investment of all.
It could work like this: On a €300,000 house in Dublin, for example, the State purchases 50pc of the property or, based on current earnings, whatever percentage the borrower qualifies for. With 50pc taken care of, a young couple only has to arrange a loan for €150,000. Within 30 years they will have to buy the full ownership, but this does not necessarily mean repaying all capital outstanding on the mortgage. Owners could take on another mortgage to buy out the remaining share after the original mortgage is paid off. If they decide to upgrade, and the property has gone up 100pc in value, the State would take 20pc of the profit, and the owners would keep 80pc.
Shared ownership would immediately remove many vacant houses from the unsold list, while stimulating construction of new housing in less-developed areas and, in the process, boosting employment.
Education is a priority
Our nation is not the "Land of Saints and Scholars" for nothing. We have some of the world's finest universities, institutes of technology, and colleges of education. If the State were to completely finance third-level education for all who want it, it would be making a high-leverage investment in Ireland's human capital and future.
That would be great in itself, but there is more. Under the current Free Fees Initiative, the Irish Exchequer pays most tuition fees for most students, except for a "student contribution", which currently stands at €3,000 for the school year. Still many students are unable to afford the high rents near many of our universities, even with multiple roommates, and must live with their parents. This puts a strain on families and students never experience the freedoms that are a vital part of maturing and the university experience. As for the parents, we love our children, but we want to see them leave the nest.
Fully financing education at the third level would be a great boon to "the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation". Admittedly, it is a cost, but it is more so an investment.
Brexit: Time to negotiate
Now that Brexit is upon us, how will we negotiate when our second largest trading partner, the UK, takes its leave? I believe we must piggyback on the shrewd deal that Brexit will bring the UK's way.
We would be foolish not to demand the same sweetheart concessions Britain negotiates. And we cannot let either the UK or EU re-establish a hard Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Border is 310 miles long, and every mile impossible to enforce for numerous political and economic reasons, not to mention the topography.
Cherish our children online
Last year, the Irish Independent was one of many Irish news outlets that published headlines like: 'Ireland is failing in its duty to protect children online as research shows rise in cyber-bullying.' The Irish Examiner called cyber-bullying "ubiquitous" in our schools. Vicious cyber-bullying, ranging from cruel taunts to the publication of humiliating personal information and threats of violence, not only causes anguish, it can drive children to harm themselves and others.
It is past time to protect our children from cyber-bullying. I promise a frank sit-down with the leaders of the major social media platforms. I will make them an offer they can't refuse: develop a viable plan for reducing cyber-bullying on their platforms or face substantial fines.
Our Constitution guarantees religious freedom and recognises no state religion. Today 33pc of the people working in Dublin were not born in Ireland and come from many different religions. We need to respect their freedom of religion and not impose the Angelus on them.
We must recognise the Catholic Church is in decline, and while I do not count myself devout, my mother, father and three of our five children are. I believe the church is still vital to our nation. My hope is that it can remain a key institution in our communities, because it is a source of so much good.
Currently no new priests are joining, and convents are closing down. I would counsel church leaders - both ordained and lay people - to urge a change in the priesthood that will bring the clergy and their church into closer alignment with the modern society. Celibacy, as an absolute requirement, should end, and the priesthood should no longer be restricted to men. I look forward to the day when we have a woman Pope.
Fianna Fail was once the party of compassion, the party that cared. It has gone astray as greed and venality took over. The party became power-mad and misguided. Charles Haughey was a national disgrace.
It is time to revive the fortunes of the great party. If they stay with Micheal Martin, they will ensure Fine Gael 15 more years of power. There must be a change in leadership and I believe I can provide the vision, energy and leadership needed. Micheal is a good and decent man and would have a prominent role in my government.
Leo Varadkar asked the people to send a message to Peter Casey by not voting for him. I ask you to send a message to Leo and let's remove Fine Gael and restore Fianna Fail.