A thoscairí, a bhaill agus a chairde go léir i bpáirtí Fhianna Fáil ,is mór an chúis áthais agus onóra dom céad míle fáilte a chur romhaibh uilig chuig an séú Ard Fheis is seachtó dár bpáirtí.
Seo an ócáid bhliantúil is mó agus is tábhachtaí dúinn mar pháirtí agus beimid ag plé agus ag ullmhú go dian ag an Ard Fheis seo i mbliana.
Tá obair mhór le déanamh againn go léir an deireadh seachtaine seo agus mar is eol dúinn go léir tá bliain thábhachtach romhainn amach.
I stair Fhianna Fáil bhí guth daonlathach lárnach agus baint ghníomhach ag ballraíocht an Pháirtí seo chun feabhas a chur ar chaighdeán maireachtála na ngnáthdhaoine in Éirinn.
Is iad na baill a chuir agus a chuireann fós polasaithe an pháirtí chun cinn ag leibhéal áitiúil timpeall na tíre.
Mar Uachtarán agus Ceannaire, táimse fíorbhuíoch daoibh a chairde as an tsárghaisce atá déanta agaibh ar son Fhianna Fáil le blianta fada agus go háirithe i rith na dtoghchán áitiúla le déanaí nuair a d`éirigh linn dul chun cinn mór a dhéanamh, a bhuíochas sin leis an am agus an fuinneamh a chuir sibh isteach. Míle buíochas.
Beidh an díograis agus an tiomantas céanna ag teastáil arís go luath ach mar pháirtí aontaithe ag obair as lámha a chéile éireoidh linn. Deir an seanfhocal – Ní neart go cur le chéile agus is fíor é.
Tá súil agam go mbeidh deireadh seachtaine den scoth agaibh anseo san ardchathair ó thaobh polasaithe, malartú tuairimí agus smaointe agus gan amhras bainigí taitneamh as ag leibhéal sóisialta freisin.
I want to warmly welcome you to our 76th Árd Fheis. This will be a busy weekend. We have a lot to debate about the next stage in our work.
When our party was founded 89 years ago it was led by a generation of people who had tasted both victory and defeat but remained steadfast in their commitment to building an inclusive republic on this island.
They achieved great things for our country in its fight for independence and its work to develop a better future.
Every one of our 20,000 members has the right to feel proud of the core traditions of our party. And in the last four years they’ve made a huge contribution to renewing Fianna Fáil.
Four years ago most commentators predicted we were finished – something they often forget. But we are again the largest party in local government and whenever Enda Kenny finally decides to go the country we will be ready for him.
In only a handful of years we’ve implemented within the party our biggest reform since we were founded. Already there has been a huge amount of work done preparing for the next election.
The conventions are well underway, as well as the process of debating and adopting a new policy platform.
I want to pay tribute to the members and constituencies throughout the country who’ve been playing their part by holding policy meetings and submitting their ideas.
Their constructive contributions will define our positions for our party’s manifesto.
The people of Ireland want a government which works for them – a government which wants an Ireland which serves all of its people. And it’s our job to show them how this is possible.
That’s what we’re going to do at this Árd Fheis and in the months ahead. We’re going to take this fight to the doorsteps in every community in the country.
Bobby Aylward is already hitting the ground running in Carlow Kilkenny before people vote in the bye election on May 22nd.
For over a year Fine Gael and Labour have been going into overdrive in their efforts to buy their way out of unpopularity. By the time it’s over this will be the longest election campaign by any government in our history.
They’ve even invented a “Spring Financial Statement” which will allow them over the next few days to announce all sorts of giveaways without actually having to cost or implement them.
They’re going to keep this up and between now and the election every morning we’ll read another promise – another so-called media exclusive from a minister’s wish list.
Let them keep going on this, because the more they do it the more people can see through the myth of their claim to have turned around the public finances.
They voted and campaigned against all of the key measures which stabilised the budget – and in government it took them over three years before they produced even the most basic plan of their own.
What we’re going to do is to set out a real alternative to the spin, to the broken promises, to the growing inequality and unfairness of Fine Gael and Labour.
The number of public services which they have pushed into a crisis position is mounting all the time – and there is no area where their policy has been more of a shambles or caused more damage than in health.
Health is rightly going to be a major issue in the election and we are ready to expose their failures and to show a better way.
There’s no doubt that there were challenges with the health service when the government took over, but there was also real progress being seen.
Even at a time of tough budgets, the number of people being treated and the quality of their treatment had risen.
Hundreds of extra cases were being dealt with and patient outcomes were improving. It was a public health system with many problems but it was working to overcome them.
What’s happened now is that the system has been driven into crisis by hugely damaging changes. And even more damage is being threatened.
Today there are 405,000 people simply waiting for outpatient appointments. Nearly 67,000 are waiting for inpatient treatment. For 18 months 30,000 people had their discretionary medical cards culled while the government denied it was happening.
Emergency trollies are consistently at unsafe levels. Last month had the highest number of patients on trollies since records began. Fair Deal waiting times have increased to 3 months causing mayhem in hospitals.
Services are being closed. GP vacancies cannot be filled. Mental Health service funding is not being spent.
Staff morale in the system has collapsed.
This didn’t happen by chance it happened because of the choices made by this government.
In 2011 they said they had the answer to all the problems. A so-called ‘Dutch Model’ of health insurance would, they promised, create a system with no waiting and no trouble.
And for most of the time since then they have been trying to implement it while covering up the impact their changes are having.
First of all they said things were getting better. They then blamed James Reilly. Then Enda Kenny said he was taking personal charge of Health. When that didn’t work they blamed James Reilly again and fired him.
Now they’ve put a new face in who is available to discuss anything but a long-term plan for the health services.
The more he gets challenged the more political he’s getting and the more photo opportunities he schedules.
If you think Irish Water is bad – if you think the Water Charges and Property Tax are unfair – just wait until you see the stark reality of the bill for their compulsory private health insurance plan.
This plan is not going to deliver universal health care.
Compulsory health insurance will not improve services or treat more patients. It will end secure funding for local health services and shift more and more of the burden of funding on the public.
A regulatory approach which has failed to control Irish Water, which has allowed excessive increases in gas and electricity bills, would take charge of what you pay for health.
It would take something you pay for today through tax and create a whole new bureaucracy to charge you for it.
It would be an open-ended bill which evidence from other countries shows would simply escalate costs.
Dutch experts have confirmed that an average family with a combined income of under €50,000 is paying almost €6,000 in health insurance premiums.
And the simple fact is that every step they take towards this new system, the bigger the chaos is in the current one.
There are those on both the right and left who love the idea of a compulsory insurance model for different ideological reasons. And they are wrong.
It is not the way to deliver a high-quality universal system. It will not deliver maximum service for your money. Universal health insurance does not guarantee universal health care.
We have a better way forward for health.
Two years ago we published an extensive expert analysis on the options for improving health services. We consulted widely with professionals and the public. We examined international practice.
And the health policy which we have now launched is credible, costed and can be delivered in full.
We are the only party which has set out exactly how public health services can be developed while protecting local services and avoiding massive uncosted bills.
In all of the changes this government has made they have never tried one thing: developing our public health services.
That’s what we believe in. Putting patients and services first. Giving the public health system the support it needs to deliver for people in their communities.
We want a fundamental shift in policy towards primary and community care – taking pressure off acute hospitals and providing home care and therapy supports which are too often impossible to access.
We want to move all hospitals to a 7-day working basis and address areas of chronic under-provision.
Unlike the other parties, we believe that health professionals can be at the centre of driving reform and new services. But the first thing they need is a government which commits to giving some long-term security.
They don’t need the constant upheavals and search for a single reform focused on commentators rather than services.
At the heart of primary care must be the family GP. Under this government around one in 12 practices are under financial risk of closing.
Rural areas are being left without a GP and we believe salaried contracts should be introduced to fill these vacancies.
Having closed rural Garda stations and cut schools, the loss of basic GP coverage must be stopped now.
And more can be done to allow primary care teams to treat patients with chronic diseases to prevent them from attending hospitals for treatment.
This will require significant reform of how staff in hospitals and the community work. In our Health policy document we propose that there should be a dedicated reform budget to allow this change to occur.
We want an all-out national effort to address the impact of mental illness through the establishment of a Mental Health Authority – and we want a new commitment to addressing public health problems like childhood obesity.
Our health policy is for public health services which are accessible to all and funded in a fair and transparent way.
That’s a huge difference from a government which has slogans but no health policy – which ignores every problem until it becomes a crisis.
When Enda Kenny went touring around the country handing out pledges on local services and putting up posters promising more for less it was cynical politics of the worst type.
It doesn’t matter how much effort they put into changing the presentation the reality of their record in health and the scale of the promises they have broken will not be forgotten.
And Fianna Fáil is ready with a real alternative – one which can and will deliver sustained improvements putting patients and services first.
Since we last gathered for an Árd Fheis our former leader Albert Reynolds passed away. The great outpouring of public respect and thanks for his legacy was something he richly deserved.
There are many people alive today because Albert showed a deep commitment to overcome even the toughest obstacles to peace. He showed absolute determination in working to try to turn towards peace people who had waged an illegitimate campaign for three decades.
Albert also never wavered from embracing the role for our government as representing the public’s commitment to a nationalism which embraces the whole island.
He was in every respect a true peacemaker and we honour his memory.
We are a party founded by a generation which risked everything to assert Ireland’s right to freedom and self-determination. 1916 is the defining moment for the national ideal to which we owe our allegiance.
We want the centenary to be a moment of genuine celebration of heroes, of an unbowed spirit and a faith in new possibilities. We want it to be a genuinely inclusive moment – celebrating a history which should unite.
As the party of de Valera, Markiewicz, Clarke, Pearse and many others we are proudly holding a series of events to mark the centenary. But we will also be fully supporting non-political, cross-community events at both local and national.
Let’s make 2016 a celebration worthy of the immense sacrifice of the men and women of 1916.
And also let’s recommit ourselves to the work of bringing together both parts of our island.
A combination of the neglect of the Dublin and London governments and the party agendas of the DUP and Sinn Fein has caused huge damage and wasted opportunities.
They have presided over rising sectarian tensions and dysfunctional government. One of the few things they have been able to agree on is a deeply partitionist economic blueprint which ignore the enormous potential of cross-border cooperation.
This policy must be reversed. The social and economic damage caused by division and a vicious 30 year campaign of violence has barely begun to be overcome. Levels of poverty in affected communities are the highest on these islands.
There can and must be a better way forward. Fianna Fáil is determined that border communities and the cause of all-island development will not be lost because of government neglect and party politics.
Over this weekend we are publishing our proposals on Childcare and on Housing. Over the coming weeks we will be publishing our policy documents on Social Protection, Small Business and Protecting Rural Ireland.
We will be holding policy sessions tomorrow in the main hall and of course the debate on the motions by our members will feed into our party’s manifesto preparation.
As a party we must provide solutions to immediate challenges that face us but we must also ensure that we take a longer perspective. This government is failing to help struggling families.
And in nearly every area it is a government which has no policy but a desperate scramble to buy re-election.
There are 90,000 people on the social housing waiting list and there are thousands more under pressure to pay their mortgages. There is one in eight children living in consistent poverty in Ireland. This is a national scandal and Fianna Fáil’s policy proposals would address this.
Fianna Fáil believes in an Ireland for all. We believe in offering solutions to deep problems. We are constructive and we understand how much has changed in our country and how much change is still needed.
It’s in this spirit that I say thank you for the honour of re-electing me as Uactaráin Fhianna Fáil and open this, the 76th Árd Fheis of our party