JERRY BUTTIMER has just been reelected to Seanad Éireann, yet he would “absolutely” run again for the Dáil should a snap general election be called.
However, he has said he is confident that won’t happen, and that a stable government made up of “responsible politicians” will soon be formed.
The Fine Gael Senator has said his initial reaction post-General Election 2020 was that Fine Gael should go into opposition, but has now made a u-turn.
“My initial thought after the election was that Fine Gael should go into opposition, but it’s clear now given the awful nature of what’s happened in our world and in our country that a stable government is needed,” he said.
“Undoubtedly, Fine Gael as a political party has a critical role to play. We’ve shown, not just in our handling of this pandemic but in other times of crisis, that we are a party that can work to represent people best.”
Despite asserting that there was a “seismic shift” towards Sinn Féin in the most recent election, he stands behind his party’s position not to enter into talks with them to form a government.
“Our position has been quite clear. We gave Sinn Féin two months post general election to form a government. They weren’t capable of doing that, and therefore there’s an obligation and a responsibility on responsible politicians to put a government together. And, quite clearly, Sinn Féin didn’t demonstrate an ability to put a government together,” Mr Buttimer told The Echo.
Asked whether their lack of ability could be attributed to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil refusing to talk to Sinn Féin, Mr Buttimer stood firm: “There’s enough Independents and left wing parties in the Oireachtas to put together a government. We said at the time our position was to go into opposition, but the world has changed since February.
“My preference is not to have another election. I think that would not serve the people well. I think the people want and have given, whatever we think about it, the decision in February. We must now put a government together,” Mr Buttimer added.
“What people should be unforgiving for is the unwillingness of people to go into government and live up to their mandate, whether it’s a party or a group of Independents. There is a duty now that we form a government to put our country back together again.
“People deserve that, and that’s what we as a political party have been trying to do.”
Senator Buttimer, who has been involved in political life for many years, was re-elected to the Labour Panel of Seanad Éireann this month on the first count.
It made up for the disappointment of the general election in February where he lost out on a seat in the Dáil.
“The general election was a huge disappointment. The seismic shift in people’s votes towards Sinn Féin meant that there were going to be casualties, and I was a casualty of that election and that was disappointing and deeply upsetting.
“The Seanad campaign, whilst a different electorate, it was a challenge, and it was a very affirming result for me personally to be elected on the first count,” Mr Buttimer said.
He previously served as a TD, and was a Senator again previous to his four years in the Dáil. He also served as a City Councillor.
Prior to all of this, however, Jerry Buttimer spent five years studying to be a priest at St Patrick’s College in Maynooth, and he says he is still a man of faith, despite coming out as gay in 2012, and marrying his long-term partner in 2017.
Asked whether the Church’s teachings affect his relationship with it, he said: “That is the big dilemma for many people who are religious. God made us in his own image and likeness, so I would see that as being part of God’s plan for me.
“I would have a lot of issues with some of the teachings of the Church, but I would have huge faith and belief, and I would admire the work of many good priests in our society. Like many I would have been appalled at the wrongdoings that took place, but I recognise that there are many good people in the church.
“I think we need to have faith and belief and prayer, and that’s just a personal view. My attitude towards the institution of the Church may be different, but I believe prayer and faith and belief is important,” Mr Buttimer added.
However, he said he considers himself more spiritual than religious: “For me it gives me that solace, when things don’t necessarily go right that you can turn to prayer.”
Mr Buttimer has also praised the many priests who are enabling church-goers to watch mass online during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think one thing that we have seen in this pandemic is the amount of people who have been unable to go to mass, but who have reconnected through Facebook or through webcams. It’s been extraordinary.
“I think it’s great that many priests in parishes have modernised, and are reaching out to people through Facebook. It just shows the importance of prayer and belief.”
As regards what the future government must do in a post-Covid world, Mr Buttimer says that a new hospital in Cork is crucial, and that our healthcare model needs to be examined.
“It is important to recognise that in the case of Cork the new hospital is one we must deliver. Equally, we need to have a conversation as a country and as a society about how we deal with our elders and their care, and particularly around nursing homes and the model of delivery,” Mr Buttimer said.
Asked about another of the proposed large-scale developments in Cork, the events centre, Mr Buttimer said he hopes and believes it will still go ahead, despite all the uncertainty - both economy-wise and with legal challenges.
“I think the commitment of the government and the commitment of Simon Coveney has never been other than 100%. I certainly believe that we still require an Event Centre.
“It would be a focal point and a catalyst to bring people to Cork and it would offer different alternatives in terms of a conference, an exhibition or concerts to the people of Cork and the Southern region.
“I think it is important that we continue to prioritise this events centre and that we see it developed.”