A national government of unity could bring help to those in need during the current health crisis, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald has said.
Emergency legislation passed in a sitting of the Dublin parliament on Thursday has provided the start of a welfare response for the tens of thousands of people in Ireland who have been made suddenly unemployed, with measures for illness benefit and jobseekers payments.
An amendment to prevent evictions and rent increases for the period of the crisis, proposed by Sinn Féin, was adopted by the government and will be published next week.
On Wednesday, the heads of the five main banks in the 26 Counties also promised to defer legal proceedings and repossessions against borrowers in default.
However, with the self-employed and particularly ‘gig economy’ workers facing an uncertain future, Mary Lou McDonald called for greater measures.
“The memory of the banking crash and financial crisis is still fresh in peoples minds. The disastrous cutbacks and austerity had dire social consequences. We cannot walk that path again,” she said.
“The people of this State bailed out the country’s banks a decade ago and the legacy of that crisis prevails. It was the resilience of ordinary workers that got our economy back on its feet. So now, in the eye of this new storm, this State must deliver for its people as guardian of common good.”
Meanwhile, government formation talks have been effectively stalled as a result of the crisis, increasing public support for a government of national unity. This would involve Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and possibly the Green Party.
Ms McDonald said on Friday the idea of a national unity government to deal with the coronavirus crisis should be examined.
The Green Party and a number of senior Fianna Fáil TDs have proposed that such a government temporarily take office to steer the country through the coming months.
Ms McDonald, in her latest comments, has opened the door to discussing the idea.
She said: “We need to look at every option. The issue with a national unity government is how exactly would it work and would it be coherent enough to respond quickly.
“That is the concern but yes there is merit of course in all of the political forces coming together because we all represent different sections of our people, whatever our views on other political matters.
“I think we can all agree that we want to do everything possible to keep our families and our communities safe, to save jobs where we can but certainly to ensure that people have proper income supports so they can get by and come out of this crisis in one piece.
“It is one of the options on the table. I still think a better option would be a government for change that reflects the outcome of the last election but I don’t hold all of the cards in this and my concern and our concern at this time is to do the right thing for people and certainly that unity government option needs to be looked at, absolutely.”
Ms McDonald also said she has not given up on the possibility of Sinn Féin being in government but stressed the issue in the “here and now” is getting the country through the current coronavirus crisis.
“I know that people voted for change. I am really conscious that change needs to be delivered and we are determined to achieve that but in the immediacy of the here and now this is now about protecting, having people’s backs in what is a very difficult situation.”