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Speech by the Minister for Defence, Mr Willie O’Dea, T.D., in the Dáil Debate on the Motion of Confidence

Wednesday June 10th 2009

Check Against Delivery
A Cheann Comhairle, yesterday the leader of Fine Gael told us that tabling a motion of no confidence is not something you do everyday.

In that alone he is right. It is, of course the right of the opposition to table a motion of no confidence when it believes it is truly warranted in the national interest, but it is not something to be done for mere political advantage.

What we are engaged in this week is a misuse of Dáil time. It is nothing more than a crude attempt by Fine Gael to focus the political and media attention on the political gains they made last weekend – rather than doing the people’s business here in this Chamber.

This is not only my view, it is clear that it was the view of many within the Labour Party. They see and recognise this week’s charade for what it is. I saw Deputy Burton on television over the weekend expressing her concerns that Fine Gael’s rush to table Motion of No Confidence was only deflecting this House from doing what it should be doing.

It is to be regretted that the wiser voices were not listened to and that the Labour Party meekly went along what its big brother in Fine Gael wanted. I hope for the sake of the Labour Party that this is not an indication of how its relationship with Fine Gael is going to go in the coming years.

While Fine Gael and Labour may be at odds on what they should be doing this week, it is clear from their contributions yesterday that Deputy Kenny and Deputy Gilmore believe that we should tear up the Constitution and have a general election now because it suits them. They talk about the Government losing its “mandate” to govern because of the bad results suffered by both the Fianna Fáil and Green parties at the Local and European elections.

The Deputies on the other side of the House are entitled to their own opinions and views - when they have them – but they are not entitled to their own facts.

The Constitution is abundantly clear. The people gave a mandate at the general election in 2007. All parties contested those elections putting forward programmes based on 5 year time frames.

None of the parties opposite included a proviso in their 2007 manifestos saying that the ongoing implementation of their policies and programmes would be subject to their parties not losing Euro or Council seats in 2009.

Back then they were not proposing 2 yearly electoral cycles, alternating between Local and General Elections. Maybe someone is working on such a proposal for inclusion in the Fine Gael General Election Manifesto in two or three years time, but I doubt it.

They know that such a concept is an absolute absurdity. They know that General Elections decide who governs, not Local or European Elections. So too do the people. To come in here and assert otherwise only serves to debase politics at a time when all politicians on all sides of the House are held in fairly low esteem.

Whatever about coming in here tabling pointless motions of no confidence; the leaders of the opposition are most certainly not entitled to assert that the Government is indifferent to the anger and hurt being felt by the people.

Like all my colleagues on this side of the House I have spent countless hours knocking on doors and talking to people over the past weeks and months.

I require no lectures or speeches from anyone on that side of the House about how the people of this country feel. We know they are hurting. We know they are angry at how our economic fortunes have declined.

They are frightened and worried deeply at the job losses we have had seen and the prospect of more to come.

Parents are fearful that their sons and daughters may be looking at going on the dole queues or emigrating despite the huge monies they and we invested in their education.

Families are worried by the prospect of losing an income and the huge difficulties they would face in meeting mortgage and other payments.

They see and hear bad news and dire forecasts all around them. I know of many people who tell me that the switch off the News when it comes on because they find it depressing.

For the past months the public have been hearing the Opposition telling them that the Government does not care and that the Government is the cause of all that is wrong in the country today.

There is no mention of the fact that we recorded budget surpluses in 10 of our 11 budgets;
There is no mention of the fact that we invested 80% of our resources in health, education and welfare;
There is no mention of the fact that we more than halved our national debt;
There is no mention of the fact that we have put 3,500 extra gardaí on the streets; 10,000 extra nurses and doctors in our hospitals; 7,000 more teachers in our schools;
There is no mention of the fact that we have invested heavily in our schools and public transport infrastructure;
There is no mention of the fact that we have cut direct taxes; protected the vulnerable with a generous and comprehensive social welfare system; and
There is no mention of the fact that we have put money aside for the future in the pension reserve fund which is now proving invaluable in our current financial crisis.

The constant background noise from the opposition and elements of the media has been one of doom and gloom. Where there are hints of positive or constructive news, the opposition jumps up to rubbish it and tell the people that there is a tunnel at the end of that particular light.

They spent the past four weeks - and it has to be admitted, very effectively - drowning out the Government’s message. But the Government will not allow these tactics to deflect us from doing what is right and doing what is in the real best interests of the people.

Neither will we – nor can we – allow the opposition to portray us as uncaring or unsympathetic.

Everyone one of us who serves in Government and on these benches hears what the people are saying. The people need reassurance that we are on the right path. We are.

They want to know that the pain we are enduring will herald better times. It will.

They want to know that this Government – their elected Government - is sure and confident of the decisions it is taking and that they are in the best interests of the people. They are.

They want to know that the Government is committed to bringing us back to growth and recovery as soon as possible. It is.

They want to know that this Government will protect and help those most in need and those hurt by this economic recession. It will

And they want to know that this Government is ensuring that the banking systems starts to work again in the interests of the people and the scandals and abuses we have seen in the banking sector can never happen again. We are.

Deputy Kenny said yesterday that we in Government are not prepared to listen to what the opposition says and to read the documents they have produced. The pity for Deputies Kenny and Gilmore is that we do hear and read what they both say and we see how completely irreconcilable their positions are.

Fine Gael calls for more spending cuts and a bigger reduction in the deficit, but resolutely refuses to identify the public services and public sector jobs they would cut.

Labour calls for increases in expenditure and for deficit spending with saying where they will get the millions of extra Euros.

Labour opposes the bank guarantee, bank recapitalisation, and the nationalisation of Anglo Irish while Fine Gael supports the guarantee and rejects Labour’s call for nationalisation.

Fine Gael tabled a Private Members Motion at the end of April welcoming their own Rebuilding Ireland document and what do their close and abiding partners in the Labour Party do?? They abstain.

Even Eamon Gilmore can see that the document is like Deputy Kenny himself, strong on padding and weak on substance. It typifies the paucity of specific and realistic proposals coming from the Opposition. But the ever widening gaps between the parties are not confined to economic issues.

As Minister for Defence, I was interested to read what Fine Gael’s Deputy Timmins had to say in his Árd Fheis speech last April, when he re-committed Fine Gael to abandoning our military neutrality describing the policies pursued by this and previous governments as a “Twilight Zone”

It is yet another vitally important area of policy where the Fine Gael and Labour parties are in complete and total opposition to each other.

Fine Gael’s antipathy towards the triple-lock mechanism is not shared by any one else. Other parties in this House know and recognise the valuable role we are playing in developing the EU’s ability to deliver effective peace support and humanitarian crisis responses in support of the United Nations.

The Defence Forces are facing the current adverse economic environment from a position of strength arsing from the substantial investment made in recent years. I will ensure that the Defence Forces will continue to develop. The importance of the 2000 White Paper in the shaping the development of the Defence Forces is widely acknowledged and the development of a new White Paper on Defence is a key priority over the coming year.

This Government has a huge job of work to do. It has the right policies and the firm resolve to get our economy moving again. We will achieve this with or without the opposition’s hindrance. We will not get out of our current difficulties with Deputy Kenny’s rehearsed outrage, no more than we will get out of them with Deputy Gilmore’s soft words.

Telling the public that you will cut spending without telling them the areas in which you will make those cuts is dishonest politics and that is precisely what Fine Gael have spent the last three weeks doing.

In return the public have used Fine Gael, Labour and the Independents as a stick with which to beat the Government, but they are a long, long way from electing that stick into serious office.


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