An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Cáirde Fáil Dinner, Dublin, Saturday 22nd October 2022
Published on: 24 October 2022
It’s a great pleasure to welcome you tonight.
This evening is the largest attendance we have had at this annual dinner in over a decade. It proves yet again that our members are positive and enthusiastic about our party.
Only three weeks ago we held a great Árd Fheis. What struck me most that weekend was the uplifting, constructive and forward-looking spirit. We unanimously adopted a clear, modernised statement of our core aims and we talked about how we are going to deliver this on a daily basis.
And at the Árd Fheis and as I’ve met members and supporters throughout the country they’ve made absolutely clear about how they want us to work together, to use the mandate for government they have given us and focus on serving our country.
I’ve longed believed that there is a fundamental division between two separate views of politics. There are those who see politics as a game of who’s up and who’s down - spending their time focused on the confined world of Leinster House. And then there are those who see politics as a way to serve people, which involves activists working in every community and focused on addressing complex issues.
When we look back at the proud history of our party. When we consider the work of enacting a republican constitution, opening up education, bringing Ireland into the now European Union, negotiating an historic peace treaty, securing sustained progress for our country. When we look at these and so many other achievements, the fact is that Fianna Fáil is a party which has always put substance ahead of soundbites.
We have always been at our best when we are willing to take on the toughest of challenges. We have delivered the most when we have worked together. And at every point of our history the key to our success has been our members.
I want to thank you for the great support which you give to our party and also the support and solidarity which you have given me both as leader of the party and as Taoiseach. This has been a tremendous support for us and so too has been the sheer scale of the mandate which we received from the members in the largest vote ever held by an Irish political party to enable us to enter government
We wanted to make a difference and we are making a difference.
One of the big themes to come from the Árd Fheis was a desire by our members for us to take our message directly to people. For nearly two years we were not able to get out on the doorsteps doing the type of work which has always been our greatest strength and has been the reason why we have so often performed well ahead of expectations.
So tonight, I want to talk with you about our priorities for the next two and a half years – about how our party will work to achieve more in government and how we are going to maximise our strength as a party.
When we agreed as a party to go into government many people commented about the fact that we were taking on huge challenges. Health in the middle of a pandemic. The budget in the middle of a recession. Housing in the middle of an unprecedented emergency. Agriculture at a time of urgent transformation. Education when huge pressures are on our schools to support all students and prepare them for a rapidly changing world.
We were told that we would face deep problems with no easy answers.
Yet, that’s exactly what we did. And we did it because we are in politics to tackle the biggest problems, we are in government because we want to deliver progress for the people not because we want to manage news coverage.
I’m proud of our decision as a party to do this, and our focus during the rest of our time in government is to complete the delivery of the ambitious programme of reform and development we agreed on.
In delivering that programme we will ensure that this government is remembered for cross-government and sustained action to tackle climate change and the loss of critical biodiversity.
We will push forward our shared island agenda, delivering the first serious programme for building understanding, connections and cooperation on a whole-island basis.
And we will continue to support investment in community life, building on initiatives such as the largest ever programme of support for sports clubs and activities.
When our full mandate is completed we will be in a position to show real progress in each of these areas and more.
There are very serious issues to be addressed, and on the toughest issues progress takes time. When you include the lingering impact of the disruption of the pandemic they become even tougher.
Despite all the challenges, we have full employment and Ireland is in a far better position to meet the economic challenges that are facing us because of our management of the economy and public expenditure.
There is absolutely nothing positive to be achieved for people by adopting the type of cynical, short term politics which demands immediate success on every point.
To deliver real progress it takes focus and hard work. It takes honesty to point to hard decisions. It takes a willingness to stand against those who claim that nothing has been achieved until everything has been achieved.
In the budget we showed a government focused on helping our country out of recession, helping people through the historic disruption of the pandemic, helping people back to work, helping businesses to stay open, and, most of all, showing a sustained commitment to investment in public services.
The government allocated billions to targeted cost of living measures by doubling a wide range of social payments between now and Christmas. We are also contributing €600 credit to combat increased energy costs over the winter.
Our budgets have been fair, delivering the greatest benefit to those in the greatest need – and implementing emergency measures to tackle the dramatic increase in inflation because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Europe.
And what’s more, our Budgets have been based on credible and sustainable policies. It’s incredible how the largest opposition party had as its central demand for the recent Budget an energy policy modelled on the now abandoned UK policy. I think we can now all agree about how rapidly things can go downhill when you give in to the type of uncosted, knee-jerk, headline grabbing policies of our opposition.
Our Housing for All plan is enabling a new era in building social houses and we are absolutely determined that we will show that it is possible to deliver on housing. It’s by far the most comprehensive strategy yet produced, and one where its opponents fail every time they challenge Darragh O’Brien in a real debate. And let me be clear, we will continue to go beyond the strategy and do whatever it takes on this fundamental issue.
Before the last election we made it clear that we wanted Ireland to be more active and ambitious in Europe.
As the party which brought our country into the now European Union, Fianna Fáil was determined that Ireland would speak up at a critical moment when the Union was under threat from forces both within and outside its borders.
I’m proud of what we have achieved in Europe in the last two years. Ireland has been one of the strongest voices for a reformed and more effective European Union – a Union strong enough to help countries when they need it the most and strong enough to demand the core values of democracy.
And part of this is that we have also been absolutely clear in our support for Ukraine in its fight against a brutal Russian invasion. This is also why we were determined that Ireland would take a lead in supporting Ukraine’s membership of the European Union.
When we next seek the support of the Irish people we will show them sustained progress.
We’ll do this through honouring our commitment to our members and the Irish people to implement our agreed programme - and also, we’ll continue to do everything we can to show that constructive cooperation is possible across party boundaries.
Far too often in the past Irish governments have been defined in the public’s mind by sniping and manoeuvring. That’s how you lose trust and it’s how you lose the ability to work together on behalf of the people.
Because of a lingering influence from Westminster-style politics, there has often been an assumption that you have to have total opposition or there is no difference between parties.
Throughout Europe countries got over this long ago – and they value the fact that having a choice within the democratic centre is incredibly valuable.
Each party in government stood on separate manifestos and we have separate core priorities which link to our histories and the communities we represent. But we succeeded in negotiating an ambitious programme which respects each party and sets a framework for a government which can work for the people.
As Taoiseach, I have been very conscious of the need to treat all members of government fairly and to actively help when needed. Fianna Fáil has fully honoured its commitment to cooperation within government.
New structures ensure the sharing of information across departments and the opportunity to have constructive and honest reviews on policy proposals. We’ve put the hard work of developing and implementing policy ahead of the search for soundbites and I think we’ve been right to do this.
We want this spirit to continue for the rest of the government’s term.
We are determined that we will show the Irish people that there is a huge difference between a government which believes in tackling problems and an opposition which only wants to exploit them.
During the pandemic much of the most valuable part of politics was not possible.
Day to day in-person interaction with each other and with the public has always been the lifeblood of our party and something where no one can match us.
When this is not possible you miss the perspective which only personal interaction can deliver and it reduces the number of voices which can be heard.
We did hold hundreds of online meetings, and we successfully established new networks within the party to provide a space and a voice for our diverse membership. These include the Disability Network, the LGTBI+ network and the Migrant’s Network as well as new activities by Ógra and the Women’s Network.
However, nothing can substitute for meeting together and campaigning together.
At the Árd Fheis members expressed a real eagerness to get back out on the doorsteps and to start taking our message directly into communities.
With a new and enthusiastic Árd Comháirle taking up its responsibilities, at its next meeting a plan will be implemented to make sure that every constituency, every cumann, every member, every minister and every representative can play their part in the new year.
The plan will have six core elements.
With pandemic restrictions lifted and the budget cycle over, as of January 1st every Fianna Fáil member of government will put in place a coordinated programme of constituency visits. Each will commit to at least three visits a month which will involve at least a full half day of activities. Councillors and the local organisation will have dedicated time set aside for them. There will be at least one visit to each constituency by a Fianna Fáil member of government in the period up to the end of April.
Local government remains a core strength for our party. Preparations for the local elections start now. They will be earlier and more comprehensive than ever before.
Selection conventions will begin immediately. At the same time, we’ll begin work on how to maximise our seats. We’ll start with how to support our 265 councillors in their work for re-election and then how to support a new generation of councillors, especially where our current representation is weak. [more young and women] Next month we will have a national councillor’s conference which I and other members of government will attend.
As a focus for local activity, every constituency will be asked to organise an action day between the start of January and Easter. This can take the form they choose, but it must involve some significant activity in the community. Headquarters will provide assistance in planning these days.
I want a greater engagement with our members in relation to the policy areas which we control in government. Online seminars we’ve held so far have been very positive, so let’s go further. A national policy conference on each of our cabinet responsibilities will be held. An Agriculture and Rural Development conference to be held in Westmeath will be the first. Others will address housing, health, education and the economy. We will also organise a conference on the shared island and delivering economic and social progress for the border region. We will also mark the 25th anniversary of an historic achievement for Fianna Fáil in government, the Good Friday Agreement.
To support this work, a wide range of new materials will be developed and available for use by representatives and the wider organisation.
As a start, every constituency will be asked to propose policy areas which are a priority for them.
Finally, at the next Árd Comháirle meeting members will be given specific responsibilities to aid this action programme through next year and up to the local elections.
One of the reasons why we have so often beaten expectations is that we are incredibly strong when we work together as an organisation to present our message and our people.
That’s what we’re now going to focus our attention on. That’s our collective work and challenge.
In government we have a programme we are determined to deliver.
As a party we have a shared belief in our great traditions and in our unmatched commitment to a politics founded on directly talking with the people we have the honour to serve.
I have no doubt that if we work together and in the spirit which has always motivated our party, we will continue for our people and to earn their trust.