CORK TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said that the recent Sinn Féin frontbench reshuffle is making a statement in preparation for government.
The Sinn Féin TD for Cork South Central, who has moved to the social protection portfolio from education, said the reshuffle is about choosing a team who wants to lead a government.
“This reshuffle is about freshening things up and is very much about making a statement about preparing for government,” said Mr Ó Laoghaire. “It is about picking the team that wants to be in a position to be taking up departments, lead government and substantial change.
“I don’t think that any government that doesn’t involve Sinn Féin is going to deliver the change we need in housing, healthcare, social protection, and the cost- of-living crisis.”
In the aftermath of the wide-ranging frontbench reshuffle, Mr Ó Laoghaire said his party will be holding the Government to account.
“We have a very strong lineup. We won’t be found wanting. We will certainly be holding the Government to account and standing up for the people. We are an opposition of substance. We will be producing policies that capture the imagination of people.
“What people have been struck by is the strength in depth that we have, not just on the front bench, but in terms of our junior spokespeople including fellow Cork TD Thomas Gould who is making a real impression. I think the strength in depth we have is impressing people and they understand that we are a team of real substance.”
Mr Ó Laoghaire said he is looking forward to getting started in his new role in social protection.
“It is a massive portfolio. It is one of the biggest spending departments. It affects so many people’s lives. Different people rely on it between pensions and working-age payments to maternity benefits, right across the board. It also involves the support of the community and voluntary sector which is crucially important.”
Mr Ó Laoghaire said that his immediate priority will be to ensure that older people, young families, young people, and people with disabilities get the support they require.
“I would be interested in ensuring that older people, particularly those who work in tough manual jobs, have the right to retire at a sensible age if protected and also ensuring that people are well supported when they want to. More and more young people are putting off having children because it is a very challenging climate with regard to housing and childcare matters.
“I will be anxious to do whatever is possible to support young families and young people to have families when they want to. It is also important to ensure that people with disabilities get the support that they need.
“There is huge potential to do exciting and interesting things,” he said about his new brief.
“There will be a wide variety of organisations I will be dealing with. Many of them would be people dealing with the most vulnerable. Social protection touches nearly everyone’s life at some stage in their lifetime. There are many organisations I will be looking to engage with, including in Cork.
“There will be a crossover from my previous brief in ensuring that there are school meals for schools that need them and other similar schemes. We are living in a cost-of-living crisis and it is important to take the edge off that as much as possible for people.”
The TD said he will miss the education portfolio, a role he really enjoyed.
“I will miss the education brief. It was very interesting. I want to thank all the Cork schools, their staff, and the parents who engaged with me. I think we had a few wins in terms of forcing the Government to act on back-to-school clothing and footwear grants last year.
“Sorca Clarke who has taken over from me will be an excellent replacement. I will continue to be very interested in education. I am concerned about the lack of special schools and class places in Cork. I won’t be quiet about that by any matter of means.”