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Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 953 No. 4

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  9 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] I admire the Taoiseach for making that effort as it is important.

I am quite puzzled by much of what the Taoiseach said. One point which really puzzled me was that he claimed this Government will neither be left nor right because the old divisions of yesterday do not comprehend those challenges today. The Taoiseach and his Cabinet will need to explain that over the next period. As one goes through each of the Ministers, one will find a common thread, namely, they all believe in low taxes for multinational corporations and for the very wealthy. All of them are committed to the privatisation of services. The Taoiseach himself has made a renewed commitment to restricting workers’ rights, which no doubt will be contained in the public sector deal of the new Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The central myth that the free market will solve all our problems lies at the heart of the Taoiseach’s policy and Cabinet. When he says he is neither left nor right, he is actually saying he does not recognise the class system which dominates this globe. I am afraid it recognises him. More importantly, it recognises the poor, the marginalised and the majority of people on this planet who do not have the privilege and equality the Taoiseach and many of his Ministers have.

To claim he is neither left nor right is nothing new. This is a claim made by Tony Blair, Macron and the centre of Europe, to which the Taoiseach seems to be so devoted. It has been the rhetoric of many governments for about three decades. What has it given us? It has given us the most unequal society ever on the globe with the widest gap between wealth and poverty that we have ever seen. It has given us the 1% versus the 99%. It has given us the few versus the many.

The Taoiseach's commitment to equality is an idea. In practice, however, he will have to show that. It baffles me how he cannot recognise that there is a class structure in this world while at the same time claiming he is committed to equality. In practice, if he wants to commit to equality, he will have to recognise that difference to bridge the gap between it.

For example, Linn Dara, a child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, inpatient unit in Ballyfermot, lost half of its beds in the last week. Many of those who suffer with mental health problems are young gay people. The rate of mental health disadvantage among gay people is equal to that of the Traveller community. Young gay people are four times more likely to be suicidal and to self-harm. However, the Government has allowed half of the ward in Linn Dara to be closed down, which equals one fifth of mental health beds available in the country. If the Taoiseach wants to address inequality, he would immediately tell the new Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to end inequality in nurses’ pay and address the fact the health services cannot retain or recruit nurses. He would instruct the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to reopen these beds. The Taoiseach would tell the new housing Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to bring back rents to realistic levels in order that nurses can afford to live in Dublin city. In that way, the Taoiseach would address the inequality with which adolescent young people are treated.

It is abstract to say there is no such thing as left or right. The only place that it really matters is when the Taoiseach agrees with Deputy Micheál Martin to shut up this side of the House. He wants to shut down what we have to say precisely because we are shining a light on and throwing open the contradictions that he stands for. I looked over a speech which the Taoiseach made last summer at the MacGill Summer School. He shared a platform with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett who spoke eloquently about the issue of equality. In his speech, the Taoiseach acknowledged that a free market was amoral and did not address the question of equality. I know he keeps saying that he is progressing, maturing and changes his mind along the way. Less than a year ago, he acknowledged the free market cannot address the question of inequality. How will the Taoiseach and his Cabinet do this? It amazes me that every single Minister will make that commitment to, on the one hand, supporting the rich and inequality in this country, while, on the other, making a commitment to the Taoiseach who says there is no such thing as a class divide and one cannot claim to be either left or right.

We have to deal with the housing crisis, the health crisis and, crucially, with the inequality meted out to women in this society. I am glad it was mentioned that the Taoiseach is reducing the number of women in his Cabinet. Shame on him. It is a backward step. I hope when the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, looks at the role of the Citizens’ Assembly that, along with other Deputies who will take part in that, he will insist it meets throughout the summer in order that we can hurry up a referendum on the eighth amendment, not slow it down. We have waited 33 years for it. All my adult life, we have been fighting for equality and abortion rights in this country. The young woman who last year was incarcerated in a mental institution because she asked for an abortion reminds me of the X case, all of more than 25 years ago. Let us put an end to that.

The only way we can do that is by giving people a say in how this democracy is run. It will not be done by throwing open the entire project to privatisation and the free market or giving away all the rights to NAMA to do what it wants with empty properties or to throwing homeless people into hubs and not homes. These only worsen the situation. I look across at the Cabinet members and I do not believe they have a commitment to actually address the question of inequality. I believe the Cabinet will perpetuate it, as will the Taoiseach. I believe we will remain here to challenge them on this.

The only thing the Taoiseach can agree on with Fianna Fáil is to try and shut us up on this side of the House. Everything does not happen in here. It also happens outside. On Saturday, thousands of women and men will gather in Galway, Cork and Dublin to demand the repeal of the eighth amendment. Thousands will also gather to demand an end to the housing crisis. That will continue. Life also exists outside the Dáil, as does opposition.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Deputy McHugh is to be the new Government Chief Whip. I am sure he was listening carefully to the Taoiseach’s acceptance speech today, where he indicated quite strongly that he supports a change to the rules that apply in the House. The Taoiseach framed this as a democratic issue. The real agenda, however, was shown yesterday on the front page of the Irish Independent, which ran the headline, “Fianna Fáil deal with Leo will quieten left parties in the Dáil”. He will have a hard job doing that, but we will take it as a backhanded compliment. Those who would wish to quieten us feel we are speaking rather loudly on issues such as water charges, the eighth amendment, strikes and the housing crisis, among other things.

  I would point out to the Taoiseach and the new Chief Whip that what is being raised here is the idea of tearing up a rulebook which they themselves wrote barely 12 months ago.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed It is rewriting it.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry These were the rules that they agreed at the Dáil reform committee just over 12 months ago. Our group, Solidarity-PBP, will make it clear tonight that those rules will not be changed without our strong opposition and resistance, as well as that of all the other Opposition parties, apart from Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae And the groups too.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Deputy Eoghan Murphy is to be the new Minister with responsibility for housing. He will face major challenges. Before I speak about them, I want to make some comments about the Minister leaving that post, the Minister, Deputy Coveney. In the course of the Fine Gael leadership election, he spoke about wanting to fight in the interest of the man in the sleeping bag.

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