This is truly an historic day, not least because we are convened in this modern building, that is Dáil Éireann for today, to vote on the election of a Taoiseach. While this is an historical occasion, there is nothing normal about it. We know the election of a Taoiseach is not just about electing an individual, it is also about a programme for Government and the beliefs, ideologies, passions and views that deliver for those of us honoured to have been elected.
Across this House, we hold different beliefs and views. We are a reflection of the choices made by the more than 2.2 million people who turned out on 8 February for the general election. Despite some of the political commentary since, often by people who have never knocked on a single door, let alone thousands of doors, the majority of the doors that I and my party colleagues knocked on could not have been clearer: they simply did not want more of the same. This is a changing Ireland and a broken record has to change too.
I and my party, and everyone else here today, therefore, have to ask ourselves what it is we want to see happen in Ireland over the next five years. Is this programme for Government the prescription needed to ensure a fair society that is underpinned by good public services and to ensure a strong economy that is rebuilt and works for all, and are the measures included sufficient to tackle the urgent climate challenges of this pivotal decade? Not to be clichéd, but democracy matters. How many times have we heard a politician say that the only poll that matters is the poll on election day? Well, we had that poll on 8 February and we all knocked on doors the length and breadth of the country. We heard the same message over and over, that there was a desire for fundamental change. Indeed, that message was acknowledged by the Taoiseach when he said that he intended to lead his party into opposition.
It was not about protest. This was a very determined message. Covid-19 has intervened in all our lives since the election, with tragic consequences for some who have lost their lives. We again remember them and sympathise with their families, and we remember those who worked - and work - on the front lines and again say "Thank you". If anything, the Covid-19 crisis has amplified many of the issues where there are chronic failures, in housing, health, childcare, disability services and so many more.
We in the Social Democrats have been criticised from various sides regarding our decision not to participate in this coalition. However, we can and we will robustly defend our position. We were not given a mandate to deliver more of the same and we were not given a mandate to make up the numbers. We put ourselves in front of the electorate based on a social democratic manifesto, which is about delivering a new approach, including much-improved public services that are available to all, and a more equal and just society. Then the Covid-19 crisis hit and further exposed the significant weaknesses in our society and economy, and if any more underlining were required, it further underlined our belief that a social democratic approach to public policy is the best way to create the type of Ireland desired by the people we spoke to at their doors.
While it is fair to say that details of all our general election manifestos are not valid today because of Covid-19, what is valid is the general approach to how we are governed and the underpinning ideologies. One approach intervenes to ensure the State delivers public services to all and a floor below which no one is permitted to fall.
The opposite approach relies heavily on the market to deliver public services and at the same time, that market determines workers' income levels and a less equal society is delivered. That is why, when it came to coalition negotiations, we focused on the economic foundations underpinning the framework document and the subsequent programme for Government. Many of the promises made in the 2016 programme for Government were not delivered and that document was written by many of the same protagonists responsible for today's programme. That is why the financial underpinning is important.
There is shame in the growing rates of homelessness, including thousands of children, and a health service where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are on waiting lists for treatment, with emergency rooms that are full of sick people on trolleys who are being cared for by exhausted medics. These outcomes were not accidents but are the products of policy. Policy is about ideology and that is why the message on so many doorsteps during the election was about change. "Ideology" is not a dirty word but that is how it was perceived by the last Government, particularly around the critical issue of housing. How could ideas and ideals underpinning decisions that affect all of our lives be considered as such?
Social democracy is about collectivism and universalism. People pay taxes and get the services that they pay for. While markets exist for trading goods and services, public services are public goods. Health, education and childcare are examples of services that should be publicly provided to a high standard and accessible to all.
As we said during the election, one never gets all that one wants when one is negotiating a programme for Government but the very least that one should ensure is that the front and back of the train are not pulling in opposite directions, ideologically speaking. The economic and societal recovery from the Covid-19 crisis must be fair and there must be a constructive rebuilding. In doing that, it must also address the challenges of key areas where crises predated Covid. More of the same will not achieve that.
The right to free collective bargaining in the workplace, for example, is not a part of the programme for Government, yet is an essential part of delivering fairer incomes. Without it, there will be high levels of low income and poverty and the public purse will be called upon to subsidise low pay. It is not just a question of namechecking in the programme for Government. I acknowledge there are things in this programme that are good, progressive and should be supported. Those things must be delivered and holding the Government to account will be a means of ensuring that.
Ultimately, the question my party colleagues and I had to satisfy ourselves of the answer to was whether, in five years' time, we could honestly knock on doors in an Ireland that continues to have a crisis in housing and homelessness, a two-tier health service, an entire generation locked out of ordinary life choices like access to an affordable home, secure employment and childcare that will not bankrupt them, and where the work-life balance is such that it negatively impacts on their quality of lives. Could we look people in the eye and say that we had presided over a programme for Government that we believed was ideologically the wrong approach or was simply never economically sound to begin with?
The Social Democrats will continue to work, as we did in the last Dáil, to be constructive and practical but not afraid to ask the hard questions and hold the Government to account. We will support the Government in every measure that we believe will deliver a social democratic solution to problems and will be forceful in rejecting any measures that are regressive or seek to impose an uneven recovery or austerity on ordinary households as we emerge from this Covid crisis.
The acceptance by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party of the programme for Government is an indication of the outcome of the vote that will be taken shortly. I fully expect that Deputy Micheál Martin will be elected Taoiseach and while it is not the Government that we want, on a personal level I congratulate the Deputy in advance because there will not be an opportunity for me to do so afterwards.
Those of us in politics understand what it takes, both personally and professionally, to sustain a decades-long career, to lead a party and eventually end up in the office of Taoiseach. We recognise that this is a momentous day for Deputy Micheál Martin and his family, and we wish him and his family plenty of joy on this occasion.