Newly elected Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has called for major political reform just weeks before the 26-County general election.
In his first comments as party leader following his elevation to the party leadership, Mr Martin saw no irony in criticising the political system and the lack of response to the banking crisis, despite almost fourteen years of unbroken Fianna Fail government.
Speaking on Irish radio, Mr Martin said: “Our governmental system has failed and it’s failed in many ways.
“Any parliament that doesn’t debate the banking system until it actually collapses is a failed parliament,” he declared.
Mr Martin proposed an electoral system which would could eliminate independents and smaller parties from the Dail.
“I think we should have a single seat PR system, and I do not favour the continuation of the existing multi-seat system,” he said.
“I’m open to discussions with other political parties in terms of designing a new electoral system and significant Dail reform as well.”
Martin moved quickly this week to impose his leadership and set the tone for an attempted come-from-behind Fianna Fail election campaign.
At a press conference he accepted that Fianna Fail faced immense difficulties. “We face the most challenging election Fianna Fail has faced since its foundation,” he said.
He also made a direct apology for the mistakes made by Fianna Fail-led governments. “I am sorry for the mistakes we made as a party and for the mistakes I made,” he said.
But he also said political parties had competed with each other during the last election over which would spend the most and which would lower taxes the most. “In that sense, we were all wrong,” he said.
Meanwhile, however, former Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern recalled the party’s recent history when he declared that his greatest regret as Taoiseach was his failure to build a ‘national stadium’ to rival those of Arab states.
“I think unfortunately when I see little countries like Qatar and Kuwait . . . talking about their 10 stadiums and we never succeeded in getting one national stadium. That’s an achievement I tried hard to do but I didn’t get,” he told reporters as he attended the Dublin parliament for the last time.
The so-called ‘Bertie Bowl’ was once planned for a site at Abbotstown in Dublin at a cost of over 1.1 billion euro before it came under opposition by the then Attorney General Michael McDowell, who famously described the plan as ‘Ceaucescu-like’.
Ahern also claimed that no-one had warned him about the dangers in the banking system when he was leader.
Asked about the comments this week amid claims that the former Taoiseach is suffering from delusions, Mr Martin said only that Ahern was “obsessed about that stadium thing”.
KENNY ON THE MOVE
Fine Gael launched their election campaign this week with party leader Enda Kenny making a high profile trip to Brussels in an ostensible attempt to renegotiate the terms of the 85 billion euro IMF/EU bailout loan.
“We made it clear that we were coming out here to send a signal that if we get a mandate from the people in the general election at home that we would see the need for a renegotiation of aspects of this package,” Mr Kenny said.
However, he later admitted that a “reduction in the context of numbers” did not crop up in a meeting with EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams described the trip to Europe as “an election stunt” and “a farce”.
“While the interest on the EU/IMF loan is a serious problem the greatest problem is the loan itself which this state cannot afford,” he said.
“Ending the economic crisis is dependent on separating the sovereign debt from the private debt of the banks.
“Mr Kenny would have had a stronger hand if he had not facilitated the passing of the Finance Bill in the Dail.”
Sinn Fein have pointed to a series of international economists whop have backed the party’s position on the EU/IMF loan, the latest being Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies.
Gros said on Morning Ireland today that the critical issue for Ireland was not a reduction of a few percentage points for a few years in terms of the interest due on the EU/IMF ‘bailout’, but the need to tackle the debt being imposed on the 26-County state though the guarantee for bank bondholders.
Gros described this as the ‘game changer for Ireland’.
Mr Adams said in government, Sinn Fein would “reject” the EU/IMF deal, reverse the cuts and introduce a new Budget.
“Sinn Fein is the only party entering this election offering the voters a real alternative,” he said.
“In government neither Fine Gael or Labour would lift a finger to undo what has been done by this Government.
“Micheal Martin has said that in opposition he will support a Fine Gael-led Government in implementing the cuts agenda.”
Sinn Fein, he said, would not increase taxes on low earners but would ensure that those who can afford to pay more pay their fair share.
“We would reject the EU/IMF deal, which is a digout for greedy bankers and speculators, not a bailout for Irish citizens.”