Presidential Address by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin – 78ú Ard Fheis, RDS, Dublin

Published on: 14 October 2017


Thank you for your warm welcome and thank you for everything which you do for our party.

When we last met at an Árd Fheis we were facing into a challenging election.

Commentators had written us off. They said that we would be pushed aside by an arrogant government and the hard left parties.

Together we agreed then that our country deserved better. That we would demand a real debate. That we would show people that there was an alternative.

You brought our positive message to every part of our country and we beat every prediction.

We secured:

The largest increase in votes.

The largest increase in percentage terms.

The largest increase in seats.

You did it. And you have every right to be proud.

But that’s now in the past. We have more important work to do than looking backwards.

Our first duty is to speak on behalf of the people who gave us their trust. To raise their concerns. To use our mandate to achieve change for the better.

I understand that when people look at the Dáil they can be frustrated. The reality is that the last election delivered an uncertain outcome.

We tried three times to remove Fine Gael from office and three times no other party or independent supported us.

Unlike others however, we believe there is a duty to be constructive. So we reached a limited agreement, based on our core priorities and this ensured that the Dáil met its first duty – putting a government in place.

And we also achieved a number of very specific things.

We stopped the worst of the unfair and regressive policies of Fine Gael.

We secured higher pensions and social welfare payments. Cuts in USC.

And secured specific investments in public services such as housing, health and schools in order to cut waiting lists and class sizes.

And of course we delivered the end of the unfair, loss-making fiasco of water charges.

But I’m not going to pretend for one moment that we are happy with this government or that we can achieve anything close to our full programme.

The fact is that in area after area they are simply failing to deliver for people.

So much spin, so little action.

And under their changed leadership things are actually getting worse.

In the midst of the self-congratulation and extended fanfare the reality is a worrying new direction.

There are two main elements to this.

The first is an addiction to spin.

There are today more political appointees working on communications than at any time in our history. The Taoiseach has actually appointed a marketing expert to his department.

He has appointed no expert to advise on health, or housing, or Brexit or any other of the most urgent problems – but he has an entire team to shoot videos to sell his image.

And now millions more are to be spent next year because he says he wants to be sure government’s message is getting out.

That tells us a lot.

To them the challenge is to get people listening to government – but to us the urgent need is for a government which is listening to the people.

The other change in recent months has been a big move to the right by Fine Gael.

Their biggest priority has been a push for a more divisive and regressive tax policy – and no interest in tackling the deep problems in public services.

Only an out-of-touch elite could have come up with the idea of trying to divide society into those who get up early in the morning and everyone else.

I’m sorry, but we will never accept labelling the sick, pensioners, children with special needs, people with disabilities or people looking for a home as being less entitled to society’s support.

The decision by Fine Gael to head off on this new divisive road is more about positioning for an election than trying to govern.

And they’re not the only ones – off on the left the message is that more tax and more spending is the answer to everything. They claim that the people who create jobs and who we rely on to build a strong enterprise economy can be squeezed more and more.

What the other parties just don’t understand is that it is the duty of a government to work for all of the people – not just a targeted few.

Fianna Fáil is absolutely clear where we stand – we reject their divisive politics. We believe our country is only strong when we work together.

When we look after our weakest citizens. When we see enterprise and public services as reinforcing each other – not competing.

And we are not going to abandon our beliefs to fit some new marketing plan. Today, just as before, we want an Ireland which serves all of its people.

This week’s budget is not a Fianna Fáil budget. But we have used our influence to make last year’s and this year’s budget more progressive and to invest more in public services.

In August their Minister for Social Protection said that pensioners should be at the back of the queue. It is only because of Fianna Fáil’s pressure that there will now be an increase for all pensioners.

The Taoiseach himself repeatedly pushed for the core of the budget to be a major tax cut weighted so that the greatest benefit would go to the highest earners. We ensured that every tax payer will benefit from a cut in USC.

We protected mortgage interest relief – relied on by nearly 400,000 people.

And we secured funding for a number of vital public services. Funding to cut waiting lists, to expand mental health services, to help children with smaller class sizes, to help more post-graduates get grants, to employ more career guidance counsellors, and to help urban and rural communities under pressure.

These are important achievements but there are still major gaps which are damaging public services which people in every community rely on.

And there is the fundamental problem with this government – which is its absolute failure to actually deliver results.

Every time they announce an action plan we end up discovering that they have done little planning and will deliver no action.

So let’s be very clear, people are tired of excuses. Too much time has been wasted and too many people are suffering from the emergencies they caused in health and housing.

Too little is being done to tackle the growing divide in our society which is leaving so many behind. Too little urgency is being shown to limiting the damage of Brexit.

They are in government. They have in their hands control of the resources and expertise needed to tackle and overcome the many problems made so much worse on their watch.

It’s time to stop the spinning and start delivering.

And we know what needs to be done.

I want to discuss just a few of the areas which need urgent and ambitious action from government.

We want to tackle the crisis in the health system, reversing the policies which have driven up waiting lists and to expand access to vital services.

We want a radical programme on homelessness, building social and affordable housing and giving people the chance to rent or buy a decent home at an affordable price.

We want a new emphasis on creating secure, well-paid jobs and reducing costs for struggling families.

We want to tackle head-on the enormous threat of Brexit to every community on this island.

And we absolutely believe we need government to work for all of the people and not just an elite few.

Health

A priority for us is building a public health system which is accessible to all. Unfortunately we have a government which wants people to think that nothing can be done.

Well we completely disagree. Real and sustained progress is possible with the right policies and political commitment.

And let’s remember that many of the worst problems today in Health have come about directly because of the damage done in the Reilly/Varadkar years.

There is an undeniable link between decisions they made and the headlines of a health system in crisis.

Let’s take just one example – hospital waiting lists.

Before the Fine Gael ministers took office, the National Treatment Purchase Fund was helping tens of thousands of people every year.

It had dramatically reduced waiting lists and the length of time people had to wait even in the toughest years of the recession.

But in their very first month in office they took away all its funding and used it for other projects. It wasn’t cut to fix the deficit, it was cut because they wanted to hold glittering launches on poorly thought-out projects.

And this directly set off a massive increase in the numbers waiting and the length of time they have to wait. Today the lists are at their highest level ever.

The numbers waiting more than six months are up an incredible 350%. And here’s the worst thing about it – if they had left the Treatment Purchase Fund in place as it was, 200,000 more patients would have been treated.

The highest waiting lists on record are not the failure of health professionals they are the result of disastrous political decisions.

And what’s their response?

Last month they actually contacted every hospital in the country asking that the Minister and Taoiseach be told of good news stories so that they can turn up to be photographed.

These same people go into hiding every time bad news appears – but if they can claim credit for someone else’s work they want to be there.

It’s time to end the chaos and start working to deliver a health service which people have a right to expect.

The first step is to put in place a secure multi-year plan to develop our public health services. This must include honest budgets where the promised levels of service are matched with the required funding.

No more making it up as you go along.

As part of this, we want to transform how people working within the health service are treated – we have to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis caused by collapsing morale in recent years.

And we are also firm in our commitment to people with disabilities. That’s why we insisted on extra funding for essential therapies, new services and other supports.

We want an all-out assault on waiting lists and times for treatment in our hospitals.

Due to our pressure, the Treatment Purchase Fund has been restored and is already targeting massive delays in key areas. It must go further, and be restored to a level where the average waiting time is cut to between three and six months.

And delivering a proper mental health service is an absolute priority for us.

It is a genuine scandal that so many are being denied access to this essential service. Even the number of children and adolescents waiting more than 12 months to meet a mental health professional is up by an incredible 78%.

In recent months Fianna Fáil has put important mental health reforms through the Dáil and we have secured €35 million extra this year to develop services.

We will stand for no more excuses – it’s time to deliver on mental health.

A health service which serves all our people, that’s Fianna Fáil’s commitment.

Housing & Homelessness

Our next core priority is action on housing.

Nearly every family is being hit by the crisis in the supply and cost of housing.

People are desperate for help. Whether it’s young people trying to buy a home or find a decent place to rent at an affordable price, or families in mortgage distress who are fighting to stay in their homes, or worst of all, a family which finds itself homeless.

These stories are found in every community in every part of our country.

Once again this is a crisis which is directly linked to government failures.

Housing demand has been in line with predictions – what’s been missing is the basic planning and funding to meet the demand.

Take emergency accommodation for example.

The numbers relying on this last-resort are up by over 300% – with over 3,000 children defined as being homeless. This is a scandal and a blight on our society.

This happened at exactly the same time as Fine Gael was implementing a sustained cut in the building of social housing.

2010 was a very tough year – but if they had simply maintained social housing at that year’s level over 6,000 more families would be in houses. That’s more than the entire number in emergency accommodation today.

The housing emergency is a direct result of government decisions – that’s a fact they can’t cover up with spin.

And this is where their basic failure to deliver comes in.

We finally persuaded them to admit that there is a crisis. So in the last three years there have been 4 housing ministers, 4 housing strategies and over 40 announcements – yet the crisis has kept getting worse.

This is not just about money – last year they actually underspent their homelessness budget and even handed back 11% of the budget designed to help prevent families becoming homeless.

They have shown a lack of urgency and a lack of basic competence to deliver any changes and the time for excuses is over.

Fianna Fáil has taken the lead in demanding action and showing solutions.

Our country needs a dramatic increase in funding to build social and affordable housing. For those who want to buy their first home we need to give a priority to affordable, family homes. Stable and fair capital for home building has to be put in place. We have to relieve pressure on the rental market by making thousands of unused units available.

Urgent, ambitious action on every element of the housing emergency – that is what Fianna Fáil will continue to fight for.

Jobs/Economy/Brexit

To achieve lasting progress we have to have a strong economy and we can’t take this for granted.

The biggest challenge we face is the growing division – where many are excluded from well-paid, secure employment.

There are far too many people who get up at all hours of the day who find it hard to make ends meet.

There are a growing number of people who are under employed and who cannot get full-time work or secure hours.

And there is a deep imbalance in regional development putting huge pressures on house prices and rents, on social services and driving up costs for everyone.

This has to stop.

Our country needs ambitious action to deliver broadband to all. We can’t expect businesses to compete if they are denied this basic infrastructure.

We need to accelerate road renewal, implement flood relief schemes, support the skills required for new industries, invest in public transport and in vital public services like our schools and hospitals.

We must secure fair prices for farmers and invest in new products and supports for our next generation of family farmers.

What we don’t need is another over-hyped launch – we need a real plan and real delivery.

And we must address job contracts which give people no security and no way of planning for the future. These contracts are unfair, they hurt those involved and they discriminate against businesses that treat their employees well. There can be no more delay in resolving this issue.

Our country faces a new threat because of the narrow victory of the Brexit referendum.

That result was driven by negative and defensive views, harking back to a distant imperial past. Those who campaigned for Brexit have forgotten the most important lesson of the last century – only by working closely and with shared rules can countries grow together and avoid destructive conflicts.

In the spirit of the great generation which inspired our independence, Ireland is a positive, outward-looking European nation.

Let no-one be in any doubt, Ireland will not be following Boris and his self-obsessed Brexiteers on their path of destruction.

Brexit is a threat which has many economic, social and political parts.

There are businesses and sectors which are already suffering.

We can only meet and overcome the threat of Brexit if we have clear leadership – and this is something we are not seeing.

Incredibly, the government has actually suppressed key information from the Revenue Commissioners and orders it to stop essential planning.

We need action on a range of fronts.

Businesses must be helped to develop new products and markets.

The costs of complying with inevitable customs regulations have to be kept down. New schemes of not just loans but direct aid for the worst hit businesses and communities must be put in place immediately.

This has to include guidance, aid and low-cost finance for the Agrifood sector which employs many thousands and is threatened more than any other by Brexit.

And most of all, we need to stop the imposition of new barriers on this island.

The way to do this is to create a special economic zone which will allow continued full trade across the Border.

It’s not a new idea – there are actually 4,500 such zones in the world. But it is the only credible way of preventing grave damage from Brexit on our island.

Central to getting through Brexit is for the Northern Assembly and Executive to be re-established.

Northern Ireland is not at the table and its voice cannot be heard.

The failure of Sinn Fein and the DUP to govern is threatening progress achieved over the last 20 years.

It is leaving Northern Ireland with no say as the Tory civil war continues to make a bad Brexit decision even worse.

They need to get back to doing what they were elected to do and still being paid to do – establish a government and work for the people.

Community/Gaeilge

As we look forward and work for an Ireland which serves all of its people let’s never forget how important our sense of community and our culture are.

We need to renew our commitment to supporting and respecting the role of the arts in our society. We need fewer marketing campaigns about the arts and more investment in a new generation of creative people who will challenge us and inspire us.

Tá dualgas orainn deireadh a chur le faillí i leith na Gaeilge atá mar phríomhghné de pholasaí an Rialtais seo.

Tá suim ollmhór agus dea-thoil i leith na Gaeilge, agus caithfear filleadh go luath ar thacaíocht leanúnach fadtéarmach ón Rialtas.

Ina theannta sin, táimid fíorshoiléir go bhfuil dualgas ar gach duine meas ar an ngaeilge a léiriú sna dlithe agus sna buiséad faoi stiúir an Rialtais i dTuaisceart Éireann.

Is oidhreacht uasal í an Ghaeilge nach mbaineann le grúpa ar bith agus nach ndéannann aon damáiste d’aitheantas aon duine.

Bímis cinnte de rud amháin a chairde, ní cara don teanga é, aon pháirtí polaitíochta a bhaineann drochusáid as ár dteanga ar mhaithe leis an bpáirtí féin agus ní ar mhaite le pobal an Tuaiscirt – tá siad ag déanamh dochar fadtéarmach don teanga.

Maidir le cursaí Gaelige de – is í bunaidhm Fhianna Fáil ná tír a chruthú ina mbeidh seans ag gach duine teanga a fhoghlaim agus a úsáid, a thabharfaidh léargas agus radharc iontach soiléir ar ár n-anam, ár spiorad agus ar ár gcultúr náisiúnta.

Conclusion

Last year on the streets of Dublin and throughout the country the people of Ireland showed their pride in the 1916 generation and all they achieved for us.

People of every background, including our new citizens, honoured the ideal of a modern and inclusive republic.

At the very core of this ideal is the belief that we must work together.

That’s why we will never accept the attempt to divide our society into winners and losers – into the deserving and the dependent.

Our country is better than that.

A strong economy and a decent society. That’s what Fianna Fáil is working for.

We have a government which is over-spinning and under-delivering in nearly everything.

Obsessed with its own image, it is failing to address crisis after crisis caused by its own decisions.

People are tired of excuses – our country can’t afford any more delay.

We can end the scandal of record hospital waiting lists, of inadequate mental health services. We can give children access to vital services and therapies and give older people support in their homes.

We can tackle homelessness and stop the spiral of rising rents and house prices which is causing so much suffering.

We can reverse the two-tier economy by supporting the creation of good, secure jobs in all parts of the country.

We can prevail over the threat of Brexit.

What’s missing is a government with the will and capacity to deliver.

Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party is absolutely clear where we stand.

We will use our mandate to work for the people.

To oppose divisive policies, to develop public services, to support our weakest citizens, to empower enterprise, to demand a fairer way forward.

To build an Ireland for all.

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