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Change in Government direction must accompany change of Taoiseach – Ó Caoláin

7 May, 2008


Speaking on the nomination of Taoiseach in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said "Sinn Féin TDs will not be supporting the nomination of Brain Cowen as Taoiseach. The record of Governments dominated by Fianna Fáil since 1997 has been such that we cannot endorse them by voting for their nominee. We see the results of those policies today in our crisis-ridden health services, in poorly resourced schools, in the worsening drugs scourge and violent crime, in the deep divide between the privileged and the marginalised.

However, Deputy Ó Caoláin said "If Brain Cowen is serious about changing the direction of Government policy and delivering a just and equal society, delivering a universal health service and working with all opinions across the island to bring about a united Ireland, then Sinn Féin will work positively with that government."

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's contribution follows:

Ní bheidh Teachtaí Shinn Féin ag tacú le ainmniú an Aire Airgeadais mar Taoiseach. Nílimíd ag tacú leis an Rialtas seo. Tá sé in ainm is a bheith ina Chomhrialtas ach, i ndáiríre is Rialtas Fhianna Fáil é a ligeann do Mary Harney agus do na Glasaigh páirt a ghlacadh ann. Níl difríocht dá laghad idir pholasaithe an Rialtais seo agus polasaithe an Rialtas Fhianna Fáil/PD idir 1997 agus 2007. Ba mhaith linn go mbeadh treoir nua le Taoiseach nua agus go dtí go mbeidh sé sin ann ní féidir linn tacú leis an moladh seo.

The Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála will not be supporting the nomination of the Minister for Finance Brian Cowen as Taoiseach. The record of Governments dominated by Fianna Fáil since 1997 has been such that we cannot endorse them by voting for their nominee. The current Government since its formation last June has shown itself to be essentially a Fianna Fáil Government with the participation of Mary Harney and two Green ministers. It is neither a partnership government nor a coalition in any real sense. It continues the policies of the Fianna Fáil/PD governments led by the outgoing Taoiseach for over a decade.

We see the results of those policies today in our crisis-ridden health services, in poorly resourced schools, in the worsening drugs scourge and violent crime, in the deep divide between the privileged and the marginalized, in the economic slump brought about by over-dependence on the property market, and in the failure to imaginatively support real job creation as workplace after workplace announce redundancies and closures. We could wallpaper the Dáil with Fianna Fáil election manifesto promises of more hospital beds, the end of hospital waiting lists within two years, a network of primary care centres, the extension of the full medical card to an additional 200,000 people, tens of thousands of social and affordable homes, zero tolerance of crime, protection of Irish neutrality and so on. All have been defaulted upon. The outgoing Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues have shown themselves to be serial defaulters.

That said, the incoming Taoiseach has now an opportunity, just one year after the General Election, to change all that and to take Government policy in a new direction. We have always said that if a Government proves itself worthy of support then the Sinn Féin TDs would give their support to such a Government and to the Taoiseach at its helm, irrespective of who he or she may be.

What we require and, more importantly, what the people require is a Taoiseach and a Cabinet that place equality at the heart of Government. Such a Government would transform our health services, ending the two-tier system, putting patients first and allowing healthcare workers to provide care to all on the basis of need and need alone. It would ensure that every school, hospital, every primary care centre was fully resourced and providing premium public services. Such a Government would base housing policy on the needs of the people for homes and not on the greed of a voracious market that has left tens of thousands of families without homes or in crippling mortgage debt. Such a Government would support communities and provide the means to tackle both the demand for and the supply of drugs that are causing such misery and mayhem in our society.

This is the new direction we need to see. But I have to say the signs are not good. Already we are hearing about belt-tightening and tough decisions. Health cuts are again hurting the old and the sick and the disabled. In what is supposedly one of the richest states in the world we have classes being taught in converted toilets. And the St. Vincent De Paul Society reports levels of demand on their services not seen since the 1980s. Are we to return to the so-called tough decisions of that era which hit the weakest in our society most?

I urge the incoming Taoiseach to chart a new course. His talents and energy are undoubted and I wish him well. He has the leadership of his party and command of an apparently stable Government. He is now in prime position to set a fresh agenda.

If such a new direction is indeed forthcoming, if Brian Cowan were to make a genuine commitment to take on these challenges, delivering a just and equal society, delivering a universal health service and working with all opinions across the island to bring about a united Ireland, Sinn Féin will work positively with that government.

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