The Tipperary Times recently spoke to Mattie McGrath. The outgoing South Tipperary TD is seeking re-election to the Dáil as part of the new Tipperary Constituency.
Paddy Ryan: Mattie, you’re very well known in the South of the county, but with the new constituency some people in North Tipperary may not know you as well. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Mattie McGrath: Well Paddy, I was born in September, 1958 and has lived in Newcastle, Clonmel, ever since. I’m married with eight children and take all aspects of parenthood and family life, very seriously. As a result I’m particularly aware of issues of education, health and safety.
I attended, St. Joseph’s College, Cahir between 1971 and 1976 and, later, took a certificate programme in horticulture at Kildalton Agricultural College, Co. Kilkenny (1986) and hold a certificate in communication skills from University College Cork (1992). From 1977 to 1982 I was a Sales Representative servicing the agricultural industry in the local area. Since 1983 I developed my own local plant hire business, Suirside Plant Hire, Newcastle, Clonmel, that employs eight full-time staff and provides essential services to businesses and residences with a focus on customer satisfaction.
PR: You’re an outgoing TD, Mattie. How would you view the last government (FG and Lab)?
MM: Officially the general election campaign began last week; unofficially it has been going on in earnest since well before Christmas when the Taoiseach displayed his continuing inability to be decisive on issues of national importance.
Add to that the infighting and squabbling between Fine Gael and his demoralised ‘partner’ in government, the Labour Party, on the timing of the election and we quickly see that the much vaunted display of coalition unity is an utter mirage.
If there is one constant refrain that I have been hearing on the doorsteps over the course of the last five months, it is that this Government is not listening to the people. They are not listening on water, they are not listening on health and they are most certainly not listening on democratic reform.
There is a sense of complete disconnection between the establishment bubble which Fine Gael and Labour are living in and the day to day struggle to keep the family or the local business afloat which most people are still experiencing irrespective of the Dublin centred recovery.
PR: Mattie, a lot of people are questioning the power of Independent TD’s. How do you see the role?
MM: As an Independent TD I am in a unique position to give a voice to these concerns. I am not restrained by the enforced silence or gagging order mentality which hangs over government backbench TD’s; otherwise known as the party whip system.
That is both the privilege and the challenge of being of an Independent TD. My word is my bond. The people know it and they hold me to it. It is absolutely right that they do so.
The role of an independent TD is often to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Relying on the willingness of government TD’s to point out the blind spots or downright harshness of any given policy is not a wise option.
Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the areas of personal finance and health.
Again and again the government has been supported in policy initiatives that have decimated families such as the failure to reign in the banks with respect to the aggressive pursuit of mortgage debt collection or the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards.
As an independent TD I have relayed to this government the total exasperation and frustration that families have endured when dealing with the banks. The banks do not listen. They do not want to know nor do they care that you and your family will be made homeless. The government have supported them in this policy because they have no interest in listening to the reality on the ground.
For this government and its silent majority of spineless TD’s it has all been about the optics. The people are tired of this kind of status quo. They want independent voices who will speak truth to power.
That is essentially how I see my role. It is a role I hope I can continue post February 26th.
PR: Mattie, at every election time, we hear candidates make various promises about what they’ll do if and when they get elected. Do you have any red line issues that you would not support if elected?
MM: I have made it very clear what I consider to be non-negotiable red line issues.
It must be said prior to all of this however that I am not taking anything for granted and am only too aware of the extent of the challenge that is before me in terms of getting elected this time round.
That being said if the people of Tipperary decide to elect me they can be assured that I will under no circumstances compromise my core principles or policies.
Primary among these is my commitment in seeking a debt amnesty for distressed mortgage holders coupled with a complete cessation of family home repossessions and evictions. I will not be moved on that issue.
Nor I will be moved on my opposition to Irish Water which is operating out of a fundamentally flawed model. I have always been very clear on that.
I also want to make it explicitly clear that I will in no way support any government’s efforts to repeal the Eighth Amendment which gives constitutional protection to the right to life of the unborn child and the mother. That is a red line issue that will not be up for debate regardless of who is the majority party after the election.
PR: There’s been some news reports in the last few days that you will support a Fine Gael Government. Can you tell me your stance on that?
MM: As an Independent TD I am open for business and am willing to support any Government if and only if, it is in the best interests of the people that I represent.
My support for any government would have to be based on a solid agreement around the many issues that I have been vocal on over the last number of years such as reversal of cuts to the most vulnerable, investment in Rural Ireland’s towns and villages, and meaningful democratic and judicial reforms.
Without such agreement I would not be in a position to support any government regardless of which Parties go on to form it.
I am open for business but only if I believe that it will be of benefit to the people that I represent.
PR: As an Independent, you need to have core policies so people know what they are voting for and what you stand for as a politician. If you could please Mattie, can you tell me what the people of Tipperary would be voting for if they voted for Mattie McGrath?
MM: Of course, I have 10 core policies. I’ll tell you what they are now, but this is what I represent and what the people of Tipperary would be voting for if they vote McGrath #1
I advocate the development of a strong, cohesive, stakeholder driven rural development strategy. Too often , the experience of those of us who live and represent rural communities is one where there is a serious lack of coordination between what rural Ireland needs to make it thrive and what it actually receives from central Government in terms of plans and goals. My policy on rural Ireland is to promote an evaluation process that is led from the ground up by the communities and businesses most affected. At its core it is a commitment to prevent any further marginalisation of rural Ireland and to re-prioritise its development in terms of opportunities for job growth.
Our Constitution mandates the regulation and exercise of private property rights according to the principles of social justice and of the common good. These are principles that guide my policy direction on social housing. The constitution also enshrines the rights of citizens and families to appropriate shelter and accommodation by the state, where necessary. To that end I advocate the immediate and expansive investment of the state in the provision of social housing. I share the conclusions of previous Reports on this matter which say that there is no existing constitutional or legal impediment to recommending the introduction of a system of rent control, provided that such a system was framed within the context of the common good and was fair and not oppressive, paying due regard to the rights and interests of both parties.
The family home is sacrosanct. Every policy initiative that is or will be advocated must work from this foundational principle. We have an underlying social crisis in this Country when it comes to the level of mortgage debt and arrears. A crisis I might add that has been abysmally ignored by a weak and regressive Government. Where every reasonable effort is being made to meet obligations, fairly imposed, then the family home should remain in the possession of the family. My mortgage policy starts from where people are at, in terms of repayment capacity. It does not seek to penalise families who while making every effort to engage are left the victims of a ruthless and profiteering policy. To achieve these objectives I have introduced The Land And Conveyancing Reform Bill no 2. A Private Members Bill aimed at obligating any future government to prioritise family homes over the interests of big bans or lenders.
From the ill-conceived introduction of Universal Health Care, to Free GP Care for Under 6’s, this Government has gotten it wrong on health on nearly every occasion. Their response to every crisis has been to add another layer of bureaucracy to already bloated HSE management structure. My health policy calls for the radical reduction of this management culture which has grown at the patients expense. We need to return more responsibility to the Hospital personnel and staff who know what the particular needs of their Hospital are. We need to promote and encourage the work of efficient and patient centred models of health care. Above all we need to place the human person in his or her illness or need at the centre of our medical model for the future.
Since the introduction of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 we have witnessed the decimation of local democratic structures with the abolition of over 80 Town Councils and forced amalgamations. I support the work of Former Local Authority Members Éire (FLAME) who continue to have a valid Plenary Summons issued before the High Court which is challenging the constitutionality of these actions. The vibrant turn out in the last local elections have indicated to us all that local democracy is alive and well and must not be undermined by the attack on it which is represented in the Local Government Reform Act 2014.
Pro-Life Position-Repeal of the Eighth Amendment
I hold to a strong, consistent pro-life ethic. I advocate for the promotion of policies in this area which are evidence based and which are guided by the best possible outcomes for mother and child. I opposed the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2014 because it failed to meet the criteria I have mentioned above. The great weight of the evidence presented to me at the Oireachtas Hearings on abortion convinced me that the proposed legislation was profoundly flawed especially in relation to suicidality. I do not support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment as I believe this is the last vestige of constitutional protection for the life of the unborn child and the mother.
I have long argued for the need for fundamental root and branch reform at all levels of Governmment; legislative, Executive and Judicial. I voted against the abolition of the Seanad on the grounds that the centralising and autocratic tactics of this coalition had to be resisted at every available opportunity. Left to their own devices this Government has shut down debate on nearly every major piece of legislation, using the parliamentary ‘guillotine’ to achieve that goal. My policy on Dáil reform is for the removal of the Whip System on social or life issues and the limited use of it In relation to financial bills. We need to encourage the free expression of ideas without fear that a TD will be penalised for speaking honestly on any given matter. The token reforms of this Government are an insult to all those who voted for that great ‘democratic revolution’ we were promised.
The elderly in our communities have been hit hard by regressive and incoherent changes to a host of medical and household packages. My policy on the elderly is rooted in a firm conviction of the dignity owed to them and the belief that they have much to contribute to society. Specifically I would point to the need for the restoration of the Telephone allowance, the return to a Unit based system for Utilities instead of Cash and an additional two weeks payment in fuel allowance. I would also promote a policy where elderly people in Nursing Homes with no disposable income must be given a medical card as of right. In terms of prescription charges the €25 cap per household is very onerous on people who live alone. If the charges are not to be abolished then a 50% reduction to €12.50 should apply to them.
I am not in favour of this form of Double taxation proposed by this Government
I oppose the existence of Irish Water to this very day and will continue to so. It is a monstrosity that should never have been created. It has served to undermine every positive effort to open up a more mature debate around how we engage with the chronic nature of our dilapidated water infrastructure. I protested against the existence of Irish Water. I will continue to protest against the existence of Irish Water. I have made it clear from the beginning of this fiasco that I was fundamentally opposed to the severity of the financial burden being placed upon thousands of families through the introduction of the water charge. I am still opposed to that. Equity and ability to pay must be front and centre to this whole debate. Underlying all of this however is my primary desire that Government listen to what the people are saying in terms of the central issue of affordability. If that means reverting to a system of payment by progressive taxation, then I would be happy for that to happen. I have submitted a a Private Members Bill to the Dáil which seeks to severely limit and curtail the ability of Government to privatise Irish Water or partially privatise it through public private partnership and to force Irish Water into a cast iron position of statutory transparency.
I have called on the CEO of Tipperary County Council Joe MacGrath to initiate an immediate review of the sustainability of commercial rates for business in County Tipperary and to clarify if he believes that the current Commercial Rates system which is operative in places like Clonmel and across the County is fair and sustainable.
The fact that the Tipperary County Council took in €30 million in rates in 2015 alone would suggest that the Council is the only one receiving the benefit from such vast sums.
The local businesses are certainly not feeling the benefit in terms of the onerous and punitive level of rates that they have to pay regardless of economic circumstance.
In his reply to a Parliamentary Question I placed, Minister Kelly informed me that he had no plans to change the commercial rate system. This highlights the Governments true commitment to growing the SME sector.
The Minister informs me that he has asked the Councils to restrain costs on businesses while at the same time he is unwilling to alter the legislative basis for the current rates set up which is the root of the problem!
This is farcical and is merely an attempt to displace responsibility. The CEO will say the commercial rates law is clear while the Minister will say the Councils have discretion.
In the meantime businesses in Tipperary continue to suffer.
We need root and branch reform of the rates system and the immediate introduction of a more just system of scaling the costs to meet the capacity to pay.
PR: Thank Mattie, that’s about all I have time for. Finally, if people want to get in touch with you to find out more, how would the get in contact with you?
MM: All my contact details are on my website, mattiemcgrath.ie. The team in the office are there round the clock but if you can’t get them, send an email. We update the website every day so people in Tipperary can see what I’m working on.
PR: Thanks Mattie, and best of luck in the election
MM: Thanks very much, Paddy