Mary Lou McDonald TD – Public services - Ard Fheis 2012
This Árd Fheis meets at a time of great hardship for many people. Delegates gathered here know first-hand the consequences of policies pursued by the last Fianna Fáil administration and now so enthusiastically pursued by Labour and Fine Gael in government.
Cutbacks and unemployment have bitten hard. Forced emigration has taken its toll right across the state but perhaps most particularly in counties like Kerry and indeed right across rural Ireland.
We’re fifteen months on from the last general election and all the reassuring talk of five point plans and Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way. Fifteen months on, fifteen months older and wiser. Looking back we see that the pre-election posturing of Fine Gael and Labour was just that – posturing.
What a shame. What a pity. All the promise of a new government, the collective sigh of relief to see the back of Fianna Fáil – all wasted.
It turns out that they are – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour – all the same after all.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Ruairí Quinn was not elected to attack disadvantaged schools or hike up University registration fees. Joan Burton wasn’t elected to demonise the unemployed, to penalise lone parents or to devastate the Community Employment system. James Reilly was not elected to close down hospitals or nursing homes.
They promised something different. They told us that they would deal with the private banking debt, balance the books and protect frontline services.
They are failing on all three fronts. Bondholders have been paid while patients lie on hospital trollies.
Nero fiddles while Rome burns.
As families battle with the system to secure services for a child with special needs; while citizens plead to secure a medical card or a medical appointment; while the working poor – the coping classes – stress and struggle to pay household bills; all the while a complacent, incompetent government muddles on.
Frontline services have paid the price of the Anglo promissory note.
Public services have not been reformed, they have been ravaged. Public servants have been demoralised by government and demonised by others.
Government chooses not to address the excessively high salaries of the very small number of public servants earning in excess of €100,000. The government that lectures about pay restraint in a time of crisis breaks its own rules to reward their special advisors.
Even in a time of crisis some are more equal than others.
Sinn Féin is unapologetically on the side of a strong public service, an efficient and accountable public service.
That means resourcing the frontline; it means lifting the recruitment embargo to give schools desperately needed SNAs and to open hospital wards lying idle. It also means ending the golden handshakes and outrageous pensions awarded to the few in the upper echelons. It means efficient and accountable management; it means keeping vital services in public ownership and raising the standard of those services for citizens and the morale of those delivering them.
Sinn Féin supports a strong public service.
That is our position North and South.
Government, to save their blushes, points to the North and questions our record in the power sharing administration. They have taken a great deal of interest in the North over the past months! Sinn Féin’s record in the North is of fighting the Tory cutback agenda, of prioritising frontline services and protecting those citizens most in need.
It is true to say that the British government’s cutting of the block grant and the lack of fiscal powers for the Executive do cause a huge problem. The experience in the North should be a salutary lesson. It’s a lesson that the Fine Gael/ Labour government should learn and not hand over fiscal authority or control of budgetary matters to others.
No doubt Northern citizens are deeply gratified by the concerns expressed by government and its back benches about services in the North.
Let’s take them at their word.
Here’s the challenge to them: - Join with us in Sinn Féin and argue against the cut to the block grant; argue, with us, for a transfer of fiscal powers to the Assembly and Executive. Lift the ‘phone, Downing Street is just a phone call away.
We stand over our track record for fair and honest government. We stand by the people North and South.
The partition of Ireland complicates and undermines the provision of quality public services to citizens across the country. This is especially evident in the border counties. Duplication of services is costly and inefficient. Some valuable initiatives have been taken to harmonise service provision but much remains to be done. Sinn Féin ministers, assembly and Oireachtas members will continue to work for all Ireland planning and investment in service provision.
Sinn Féin will work constructively with others in government and from the opposition benches to ensure that every child gets full educational opportunity; that every person has access to healthcare; to guarantee that families and workers are protected from failed Tory austerity policies – whether those policies come from London, Dublin or further afield.