Public tolerance in government "absolutely exhausted" – Alan Kelly
The Labour leader challenged the Taoiseach as a full-capacity Dáil Éireann resumed business.
Dáil Éireann played host to a full house on Wednesday afternoon for the first time since the spring of 2020 and Labour leader Alan Kelly wasted little time in laying out a difficult agenda for the attention of Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Referring to the Covid-19 pandemic as "the biggest disruptor in 100 years, in our thought, in every way" while underlining that "everything has changed", Kelly called on the Taoiseach to address an increasing number of issues that concern the Irish population.
"I want to know, what lessons have you learned, Taoiseach? And I'm not asking about the Zappone affair. I'm asking you about what lessons you have learned from Covid and how, collectively, you are going to ensure we change things for the better.
"And I believe the public want to know this. Why? Because their priorities have changed in the last year in relation to the sense of how they look after their families, their communities and what they expect from the State, particularly when it comes to public services, healthcare, education and housing."
Noting that his own personal and professional life has altered significantly since a full Dáil last met, Kelly added:
"I 100% get the sense that the public's tolerance for short-termism and for a lack of consistency in political thought and action is absolutely exhausted. Exhausted. They don't have a tolerance for us not seeing through major reforms. They don't have a tolerance anymore for a two-tier health system. They don't have a tolerance for an education system where today's students can't get accommodation to go to college.
"They won't have a tolerance anymore for a hugely expensive private childcare system and they won't have a tolerance whereby people won't be able to get houses where they're from," Kelly continued. "So, Taoiseach, I ask you genuinely – what has changed for you and your government since we left this chamber a year ago?
"We know the great white hope of Sláintecare is now at a standstill. We know you've had the launch of Housing For All and I genuinely wish you the best in relation to delivering that but what I am asking you, as we step back in here, is; what has changed for you and your government as regards how we deliver for the people?"
In response, Taoiseach Micheál Martin noted his agreement that the world has changed "most fundamentally" while acknowledging the "profound" long-term impact of Covid-19 amongst society in general.
"In respect to the lessons we have learned from Covid, the whole government approach in dealing with Covid, all hands on deck in dealing with Covid, is a lesson we need to apply to other key crises in our society," said Martin before hailing the "phenomenal results" of the national vaccination rollout and the knock-on effect that is expected to have on restoring workplaces across the country.
"In terms of the housing crisis, which I think is a very key issue for many, many people, that whole of government model has to be applied to dealing with housing," the Taoiseach added. "There are lessons to be learned from Covid, we did cut through on Covid on a number of issues because we had to – time was not an option.
"We have to try and inject the same approach into housing. The same with climate change which, in my view, is quite profound. I read a global survey recently about the degree of anxiety among our younger generation about what climate change means for them and their lives into the future.
"The levels of anxiety among young people all over the world is very, very high. Worryingly high from our perspective in terms of their health, mental health and wellbeing."
Martin stated that every member of Dáil Éireann has to play their part when it comes to tackling climate emergency. Addressing the contention that Sláintecare is at a standstill, he replied:
"Sláintecare has not stood still. In fact, at last year's budget, about €1.235 billion was allocated purely for Sláintecare initiatives... now, there are other areas that have not yet been developed and the regional structure is one, but there is a reason, too.
'We have come through a pandemic, a once in a century event. But I take your overall point – the pandemic changes the way we do things."
Featured Image via Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie