These are very difficult times.
There are no easy solutions
I want to be clear tonight about the many challenges facing our country.
In the coming days, a series of crucial decisions will be made which will be central to the future of Ireland and Europe.
I am absolutely convinced that our country can and will recover. To do so, we must protect education, support our export companies and develop our natural resources, particularly in Agriculture and Food.
But we must also reduce the amount government borrows to fund public services.
This will be challenging for all in our community.
Significant budget savings are necessary this week.
But we should be very clear– the government still has a lot of choices it can make.
If the Government wants to, it can choose to be fairer.
It can choose to help job creation.
And, it can choose to give priority to families under pressure.
Unfortunately, some of the decisions which have already been announced are far from fair.
These are decisions that will cost jobs, not create them.
And they will do nothing to help vulnerable families.
An immediate 2% increase in VAT is not necessary.
It will cost jobs. It is being demanded by no one.
It will cause significant damage.
The hard-pressed retail sector needs support, not another body-blow.
Other proposals – such as penalising pensioners to fund a failing jobs initiative is not the answer.
Withdrawing money from job creating capital projects is strategically the wrong choice.
In our party’s budget proposal, we show how government can meet its targets and still deliver greater investment in capital projects to create jobs and to invest in Ireland’s future.
In addition to government funding, we are proposing that pension funds would invest in commercial projects, in partnership with the state.
This is a credible and workable alternative to the government’s pension levy.
It’s not too late for the Government to change its mind.
I am urging the Taoiseach to do so.
Last week we set out how budget targets can also be met in a fairer way.
Speeding up agreed reforms, focussing tax increases on the highest incomes and driving further efficiencies can deliver the required savings.
One in every five Irish homes is experiencing real mortgage difficulties. It is time for more action to help them.
We have introduced legislation to give practical help to families in debt and we ask the Government to take it on board.
The banks too have a responsibility to our society and they should never forget it. They should lend to our businesses and they should pass on interest rate reductions to our homeowners.
On the mortgage issue and in other vital areas, such as education and business, we have set out positive and constructive alternatives.
This government has a big majority and a duty to respect the mandate it sought and received from the people.
As proposed, its Budget breaks too many promises, makes too many wrong decisions and will hold back rather than promote job creation.
Ireland is not alone in facing major economic challenges.
Throughout Europe governments are introducing tough budgets and on Friday leaders will meet to decide on the future of the Euro.
The Euro can still be a force for stability and growth.
I strongly support efforts to save the Euro, but these must be based on sound decisions which learn from the mistakes of the past.
The agenda of a fiscal union based solely on controlling national budgets is deeply flawed.
It will not save the Euro and it will not help the EU recover.
Europe was built on solidarity and mutual respect and needs the input from all Member States.
The Euro will not be saved by narrow, national agendas.
The Government should stop being a passive bystander and set out Ireland’s bottom line before Friday’s meeting.
At home and in Europe, we need constructive politics and innovative solutions.
As a nation we have achieved a lot since the foundation of the State.
We now need to harness the undoubted energies and talents of our people to come through this crisis together.
Mar a deairneann an seanfhoical ní neart go cur le chéile.