Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has called for a €4bn investment in the capital programme from the National Pension Reserve fund and pension funds. In his presidential address to his party’s Ard Fheis in the RDS in Dublin, Mr Martin accused the Government of making it easy for banks to repossess homes. He said the Coalition had a new policy of attacking public servants, and that Croke Park II had ended in abject failure.
Mr Martin also said the €1bn saved on the Anglo promissory note payment should be diverted to lessen the burden of new taxes, increase capital spending and protect health and education. He said the Local Property Tax was about as unfair as it could be, describing it as the wrong tax at the wrong time. Mr Martin said that the sale of State forests should be stopped immediately.
The Ard Fheis earlier overwhelmingly passed three motions committing the party to a “pro-life” position, and opposing any legislation widening the grounds for abortions. One of the motions opposed any legislation introducing the risk of suicide as a ground for abortion.
Only one delegate, Christina Murhill, spoke against the motions, saying the party was being too strict on the issue, in particular in cases where the foetus was not viable. But the clear majority favoured the motions. Eugene Doyle of Kildare said Labour and the “pro-abortionists” saw the current bill as the only way of getting abortion on demand. Geraldine Smith said what had happened in other countries proved that there was no such thing as limited abortion. Lorcan Price said it was “disingenuous and deceitful” to suggest that abortion could help a suicidal woman.
Earlier, Mr Martin had said he did not believe there should be another referendum on the issue, adding that the Ard Fheis debate would inform the parliamentary party debate on the Government’s legislation. However, he did not say they would be bound by this evening’s votes. Mr Martin said he wanted to be constructive, and to approach the Government’s proposals in a non-partisan way. Asked about the possibility of a free vote, as proposed by Senator Averil Power, Mr Martin said his job was to bring the party to a position on the issue, and he expected that would be possible.
Government policies criticised
The Ard Fheis heard criticism of Government policy on finance, education justice, and agriculture. Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins has said the damage done to garda morale by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and the Government should be a cause for concern to everyone. He said gardaí put their lives on the line to protect society and deserve more. He accused Mr Shatter of forgetting the promises he made while in opposition when he said garda numbers should not be below 14,500. He said the current strength of the force was hovering above 13,000 and this was a cause of celebration for criminals.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said banks had been given too much power under the new insolvency service and he predicted a raft of house repossessions. With one in four mortgages in distress, Mr McGrath proposed that a mortgage resolution officer would have the power to make binding decisions on how to resolve a borrower’s mortgage arrears problem. On property tax, he said families on very low income of less than €500 a week could not even get a deferral of the tax and he accused Fine Gael and Labour of breaking their promises not to introduce a tax on the family home. He said his party accepted its responsibilities for the mistakes it had made while in office but said the Government must now accept responsibility for its period in office. He said his party is supporting the Government when it is doing the right thing for the economy. He cited the Fiscal Treaty Referendum and the liquidation of IBRC. However, Mr McGrath said Fianna Fáil opposed the Government when it believed it was getting it wrong such as with recent budget choices, the handling of the mortgage arrears crisis and the property tax, which he said was unfair.
Jobs crisis compared to peace process
The party’s spokesman on jobs, enterprise and innovation likened the political focus and commitment needed to tackle the unemployment problem with that which was required to bring about the peace process. Dara Calleary said creating employment is the kind of political and societal challenge in 2013 that bringing peace to our island was in 1993. He lamented that there was not somebody like Albert Reynolds around today who could mobilise the full forces of Government to assist the more than 425,000 people seeking full-time employment. Spokesperson on agriculture, food and community Eamon Ó Cuív warned against the power of supermarkets and how it is affecting the price that is paid to farmers for products. He said it is Fianna Fáil policy to protect the family farm. He said the Government has an anti-rural bias and this has shown itself with the closure of small schools and garda stations.