If we want to have a healthy democracy and a successful country, we need a political debate which is focused on substantive issues and allows a fair discussion based on good faith.
In reality, all too often we see commentary driven by ideology and ambition — dismissive of the idea that people of good faith can differ.
Gene Kerrigan has for decades been one of our country’s most prominent polemicists and he launched his latest attack on Fianna Fáil last Sunday. The complete absence of any sort of fairness or balance in his analysis requires a response.
I have always believed passionately that politics can’t be about the daily fight for headlines and seeking to manage short-term news cycles. It must be about working across your mandate to serve the people you represent.
Responding to a historic and rapidly evolving pandemic has been the absolute priority for Fianna Fáil’s ministers over the past year. I will not apologise for putting this work ahead of playing party politics.
And the evidence is mounting that Ireland’s pandemic effort has had a positive impact. We have had lower case numbers and lower deaths than in the UK or in the EU as a whole.
And our steady, determined approach to Covid vaccinations has meant that in recent weeks Ireland has had the fastest vaccination rate in the world. We are achieving a rate of vaccine protection for all ages which places us near the top globally.
Maybe some people don’t see preventing illness and saving lives on this scale as important politically — but we’ll have to agree to disagree.
But while responding to the pandemic has dominated our work to date, the programme we are working to implement in Government marks a significant change in many key areas.
Making a positive difference in people’s lives and strengthening our republic, this is the work which defines what we are trying to achieve. This will never please those who crave the certainty of a crude left/right politics, but it is the approach which has been behind sustained progress in our country.
Fianna Fáil in government has helped lead a new direction on critical issues which will have a major impact over time. Some commentators choose to ignore that in four recent face-to-face opinion polls, my party was at between 20pc and 22pc.
Our health system has come through a tremendous amount in the past year, adding unprecedented numbers to already too-long waiting lists. Decisively improving access to services and the development of new specialist services is our work for this Government.
Others believe Health is a political risk, but we believe it is a challenge which must be tackled.
And this is the same in the area of housing.
No area has seen more cynicism and political posturing than housing. The opposition party which is loudest in demanding housing is also the party loudest in blocking new housing.
No amount of sloganeering or soundbite policies will deliver the housing we need — and the pandemic means there are 12,000 fewer houses today than there should be. But our country can restore the promise of affordable housing to buy or rent.
It can do so with a new energy behind every element of housing. More social housing being built by the State; more affordable housing available to purchase; rents subject to stronger limits and eventually pushed downward through targeted action.
The level of funding and legislative activity on housing in the last year — together with the new measures being prepared — will bear fruit over time. It will show Fianna Fáil’s impact on the substance of the issues people face each day rather than on short-term political manoeuvring.
In support for stronger schools, rural communities and public services in general, Fianna Fáil’s work clearly does not please those who crave a simpler narrative, but it will have a major positive impact.
It is interesting how often those who attack Fianna Fáil like to conveniently ignore our role in achieving peace on this island and in securing Ireland’s place within the EU.
It doesn’t fit their caricature, so they ignore or minimise these defining characteristics. It’s almost as if they are saying: “Other than leadership on peace and Europe, what have they ever done for us?”
The fact that Fianna Fáil’s role in securing the Good Friday Agreement was essential can be seen by how often progress has been stalled or reversed without our determination to build a new future for our island.
In only a year, communities throughout the Border region have begun to see the reality of a new agenda of cooperation and engagement.
In the face of rising challenges and direct challenges to the agreement reached between the EU and the UK government and parliament, we continue to push to reduce tensions and promote practical solutions.
Fianna Fáil is the party which set Ireland on a European course and led us to membership of the now European Union. We rightly saw Europe as critical to helping our country to secure its sovereignty, develop and modernise.
Today, the imperative for us to be positive, active members of the union is as important as ever — and Fianna Fáil has taken a lead in setting out action to make sure this happens.
Some people in politics like to focus on attacking each other. I believe in attacking problems and solving them.
It’s the only approach which can actually deliver for the people.
It has been an intense year during which I and my party have pushed politics to the side. That was the right thing to do. And as we reach what is the final stage in developing widespread immunity to a terrible virus, putting substance ahead of spin will continue to be our unapologetic approach to government.
Central to this is our belief that the change which we are delivering and will deliver on key challenges facing our country is what really matters.
That’s the very definition of true republicanism.
Micheál Martin is Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil