Fianna Fail concentrates on health and housing as ‘tough’ campaign begins

By Aoife Moore, PA

Fianna Fail has put health and housing at the centre of its campaign in this year’s Irish General Election.

Party leader Micheal Martin spoke at a live press conference with media on Wednesday morning, stressing that “only Fianna Fail can bring about a change of government”.

From the outset Mr Martin, flanked by deputy leader Dara Calleary and Senator Catherine Ardagh, stated that the Irish people on the doorsteps he has visited were angry and “affronted” at the current state of the homeless crisis and hospital waiting times.

Mr Martin said the choice in this year’s election is “already clear”, as the party gets ready to embark on a “tough” but short campaign which will see voters go to the polls on Saturday February 8.

“Fine Gael is happy with its ministers and its plans, its core offer for the Irish people is that there should be more of the same,” he said.

“In contrast, Fianna Fail understands the urgency and the scale of the problems facing too many people in our country.

“We are campaigning for change, change which delivers actions on scandals like record hospital waiting lists and childcare costs.

“Fine Gael’s claim that it couldn’t do anything about these problems because of the focus on the economy, there are many thing that don’t stand up with this argument, including the fact that many of these problems, such as record waiting lists, stem directly from Fine Gael decisions.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Martin singled out much-maligned government ministers Eoghan Murphy (Housing) and Simon Harris (Health) by name, and noted that Fine Gael had concentrated on “marketing” in their tenure in government, a familiar criticism from Mr Martin who has often criticised his rivals as “spin over substance”.

Mr Martin himself, who has been in politics since 1985, baulked at the assertion by one journalist that he could not be an “agent of change” due to the fact he has already served in successive governments, saying that his record shows radical change in every portfolio he oversaw as minister.

“In health, education, enterprise and foreign affairs, no one can take that from me, I’m talking fairly fundamental change in each of those departments, and likewise what I’ve been doing the last four years,” he said.

“No one four years ago gave that concept (confidence and supply) any credibility at all, and many didn’t think it would last beyond a year, but it did.

“I have demonstrated my capacity and openness to radical ideas and different approaches.”

Mr Martin said his rivals’ attacks that Fianna Fail could not be trusted with the economy due to its tenure in office during the time of the recession, and “banging that drum” was superseded by the reforms within the party in the time since.

“It was Fianna Fail that laid the foundations for the economic recovery, and Fine Gael would have to acknowledge that plan was the platform for the national finances,” he said.

“Yes, we did make mistakes, in terms of overspending and reducing taxation, when Fine Gael wanted to spend more, you know the story.”

He added that the party had changed by giving more power to the membership of the party, and in policy in its approach as opposition, supporting fiscal treaties to aid recovery.

“We have been rigorous in terms of adhering what’s right for the country as opposed to what might have been more politically advantageous to us.”