Keynote Address by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin, 76ú Ard Fheis

Published on: 25 April 2015

Thank you for your commitment to Fianna Fáil. For the spirit which you have shown this weekend and which you show every day in communities throughout the country.

It is the work of thousands of our members which has helped us to move forward and why, last May, we became the largest party in local government with a new generation of councillors and proven local leaders.

This is a moment when the future direction of our country will be shaped for decades to come.

People feel a great uncertainty about what lies ahead.

They see a system which ignores every problem until it becomes a national crisis.

They see a country which is becoming more divided and more unjust.

Our economy is recovering, but it is leaving many families and communities behind.

This government didn’t deliver recovery. It is the Irish people who delivered recovery through the skills and dedication they built up over decades.

What this government actually did was to make the recovery as unfair as possible.

They have made us a more divided society through their sustained, relentless policy of giving priority to the wealthiest few and hitting services relied on by the many.

This is not just a political attack – it’s a fact confirmed by independent reviews of four budgets in a row.

A government of spin and broken promises is now obsessed with trying to buy re-election.

They just don’t get it.

They are so out of touch and arrogant that they have absolutely no idea why people are so angry with them.

They think a press release can cover up the impact of taxes and charges which ignore your ability to pay.

They think a photo op and a fist-pump can get through any problem.

But just look at the reality of their record.

Every major crisis – in hospitals, in household debt, in housing, in town centres, in drugs, in class sizes, in low and zero hour contracts – every one of these came about because this government would not listen.

And now Fine Gael and Labour say they want more of the same – but Ireland can’t afford more of the same.

We can’t afford the growing social divisions, the hollowed-out services, the lack of direction.

Let me be clear, what Sinn Fein is offering is even worse. In the Republic they promise everything to everybody, while in the North they are implementing savage cuts which will decimate public services.

But there is another way – there is a choice. We don’t have to accept that it’s more of the same or the cynical, promise-whatever-it-takes strategy of others.

Fianna Fáil will never settle for the idea that you can have either a strong economy or a fair society but not both.

Fianna Fáil absolutely believes we can have an Ireland which serves all.

An Ireland which will not leave people behind.

An Ireland which sees economic and social progress as part of the same agenda.

Ours is a republican vision of a state which serves all its people and all its communities.

Other parties see an Ireland where you pick a side – we see an Ireland where we all must be on the same side.

And when our country has achieved the most, it has been true to this ideal.

The republican constitution which Eamon de Valera wrote gave power to the majority – but it also gave rights and protections to all.

Sean Lemass’ leadership sparked a sustained period of growth and prosperity – and this was used to open up education, expand social welfare and to give supports to the elderly which are relied on to this very day.

This is the spirit which we need again in our country – we must stop the growing social divisions and alienation.

We know how much has changed and we understand the realities of Ireland today.

And it’s exactly because we understand the mistakes of the past that unlike others, we are determined that these mistakes will not be repeated.

Our country does not have to accept – it must not accept – the division, the unfairness, the neglect of this government.

Let me talk with you about some of Fianna Fáil’s specific and costed plans for making this an Ireland which serves all its people.

Sound public finances are essential – and the biggest threat to them is the bidding war between a government desperate for re-election and parties who ignore the economy completely.

But there are real opportunities now to tackle the two-tiered economy.

People rightly get angry when they hear ministers claiming that everyone’s better off. People don’t believe the Taoiseach when he says that anonymous callers are ringing him to say thank you for tax cuts.

Because, as every family in this country knows, what matters is not just income tax – it’s what’s left after you’ve paid the growing number of new taxes and charges.

The headlines announced on Budget day bear no relationship to what you actually have to pay to the state. Every income tax change is matched and exceeded by a rising number of other taxes and charges.

This Government gives with one hand and it takes back twice as much with the other.

And families who can least afford the extra bills are getting hammered.

It’s time to have honest budgets which reflect the reality of what people actually pay – and to start targeting relief on those who need it the most.

That’s why Fianna Fáil is proposing a new approach to open and honest budgeting by government.

We are committed to a fairer tax system. We understand the need to reform and reduce the USC. There is now room to reduce it and this should be done as a priority.

We will introduce increased PRSI benefits and reduce the burden of USC on the self-employed.

Mortgage interest relief should be increased from 30 to 40%.

The government should be helping people to cut their costs, not add to them.

People are also right not to trust the government’s agenda in creating Irish Water.

It is almost the exact opposite of what a public service should be.

€180 million has been spent on setting up a company which itself does nothing but install redundant meters and issue bills. The work of fixing pipes is still being done by the same people as always – in our local authorities – and because of Irish Water, there is less money for this than before.

Irish Water should be abolished. It has failed and it should go before it does any more damage.

After 13 u-turns by the government, the water charges will give the state little or no additional net income – and they are not required to fund the renewal of the water system.

Instead of charging people to receive sub-standard services we say fix it first.

People who want to work hard to provide for themselves and their families deserve decent treatment. Low and zero-hour jobs and victimisation for speaking up should have no place in our country.

We must respond to companies who treat their workers with a lack of basic decency and respect. They are not increasing employment, they are undermining other companies and dragging standards downwards.

And that’s why Fianna Fáil will propose legislation to ban zero-hour contracts and to protect workers from victimisation.

This is also a moment when the future shape of our economy will be decided – the type of jobs to be created, the businesses and industries of the future to be encouraged.

Government has not and will not create the jobs we need – but it has a role to play and so far it is just sitting back.

We have to invest in the people and ideas which will create the industries and jobs of the future.

It isn’t by chance that world-leading companies in this country employ tens of thousands in sectors which didn’t exist ten and twenty years ago.

It happened because of a sustained commitment to, and investment in, research and development by Fianna Fáil-led governments.

But now ministers have decided to slash funding for vital basic research and direct it to areas they choose. Research teams who are world-leaders in the search to cure major diseases for example, are being excluded from funding programmes.

For the first time we are seeing world-class teachers and researchers leaving Ireland.

This can’t continue. It will cause immense damage to a system which has delivered for Ireland.

We have to start focusing on the quality and security of the jobs we create.

And we need to support all types of business – not justthe ones that allow ministers to attend big announcements.

In this government’s policies, small and medium sized businesses have been ignored. They’ve stood by as businesses have been squeezed by banks being fattened-up for sale. You can see it in main streets throughout the country.

A new approach to supporting smaller businesses is urgently needed.

Fianna Fáil believes that the energy and innovation of people throughout the country can be an engine for growth and good employment. That’s why we have set out detailed proposals for helping businesses to grow and prosper.

Social welfare protection should be extended to the self-employed. This will reduce the risk for people who want to start their own business and it will enhance a sector which is the back-bone of job creation across our country.

We are committed to the creation of a Business Bank to provide fair access to funding for businesses failed by the current system. And we want to reform employers PRSI so that job creation is rewarded.

Agriculture and food remains Ireland’s largest home-grown business and family farms need to be protected. Fianna Fáil’s ‘Harvest 2020’ remains the blue-print for this sector and must be implemented.

These are the measures which can deliver good jobs in all parts of our country.

Ireland is successful when its communities are strong.

Throughout the country community spirit has helped people through the toughest of times.

For this spirit to be protected and to thrive, every community needs basic support.

Yet what’s happening is that vital supports are being knocked away by a government which has no interest in local services. Schools and health facilities are under pressure. Post Offices and Garda stations are being closed.

Local development funding including Leader funding is being cut. Rising drugs and anti-social problems are being ignored.

The hollowing-out of community services must stop or we will lose something which is core to who we are as a people.

Fianna Fáil is proposing a new departure for community services and development.

Communities need a voice at the cabinet table. We want a Minister for Community Support and Development whose first job will be to prepare a Community Services Guarantee.

This Guarantee would bring together specific targets on the availability of schools, health services, sports and recreational facilities, as well as public transport.

We want a decisive shift back to community policing. We need more Gardaí on the ground in their communities, policing smaller areas. Communities need to know and trust their Gardaí.

We want an all-out effort to stop the spread of hard drugs and the devastating impact they are having on communities.

And we want to restore and expand programmes which have been proven to help young people in danger of dropping out of school and getting into trouble.

No young person should ever be left behind.

Local schools are the heartbeat of our communities, but they’re being attacked with targeted cuts. Fianna Fáil believes in protecting these schools and also in ensuring that children with special needs have the opportunities and the supports to attend their local school.

Dedicated local development funding works. It helped reverse 100 years of decline in the rural population and it helped begin the renewal of many urban areas.

For the last four years there has been a steady policy of cutting local development funding and bringing everything under political control.

We would reverse the government cuts to Leader funding and reinstate the autonomy that Leader companies had in their communities.

Supporting communities shouldn’t be an afterthought of government – it should be its core mission.

A Chairde go léir, táimse go láidir den tuairim gur seoid bheo luachmhar í an Ghaeilge dár dtír agus dár bhféiniúlacht Éireannach.

Gan amhras, tá an Ghaeilge ar na láidreachtaí is mó atá againn mar phobal. Tá dílseacht agus an tiomantas dár dteanga léirithe ina sluaite neamhtheoranta ag tuismitheoirí agus a bpáistí trí thacaíocht a thabhairt don oideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge atá ag forbairt go leanúnach timpeall na hÉireann, agus is maith sin.

Chabhraigh Fianna Fáil le tús a chur le ré dóchasach nua don Ghaeilge tríd ár bplean Fiche Bliain chun an teanga a chur chun cinn. Sin an fáth go leanfaimid orainn ag troid i gcoinne iarrachtaí an Chomhrialtais seo íosghrádú agus ísliú céime a thabhairt do ról lárnach ár dteanga dhúchais. Bhí an Ghaeilge agus meas uirthi mar theanga i gcónaí fíorlárnach in obair Fhianna Fáil agus geallaimse daoibh anocht go mbeidh go deo!

An Ireland for all must also show its support for families.

The tax reforms I’ve already mentioned would help – but much more needs to be done.

The household debt crisis has developed because government put fattening the banks for sale ahead of the interests of families.

Banks have been allowed to charge excessive interest rates and have been given full control of the process of dealing with families in mortgage trouble.

At every stage they’ve been doing as little as possible and as late as possible.

Today there are 300,000 families paying excessive interest on their variable mortgage rates – and 100,000 families are in severe arrears.

Incredibly, the government committee in charge of the banks hasn’t discussed mortgages with them for three years.

Fianna Fáil has proposed an Independent Debt Resolution Office which is needed immediately – and so too is constant pressure on the banks to reduce their rip-off variable interest rates which are driving many families and businesses deeper into debt.

More should and must be done.

The cost of childcare is imposing real hardship on many families. We are committed to investing in childcare to allow an extra guaranteed pre-school year by 2017.

We are also proposing a child care tax credit worth up to €2,000 per year to working families, and an additional month’s maternity leave.

This issue is a priority for Fianna Fail in our budget proposals and in comprehensive plans we have prepared.

As a society we should never accept a situation where up to 1,000 children and their families are in emergency accommodation in our capital city alone, with more across the country. It’s getting worse every week, yet Fine Gael and Labour are showing no urgency, they are standing by and doing nothing.

This scandal must be dealt with and dealt with now. That’s why we are proposing to give these families priority in the ambitious, costed and deliverable housing plans we have prepared.

As a minimum first step, cuts to the rent allowance have to be reversed.

Our proposal to use over €1 billion from the Strategic Investment Fund for social housing shows how action can begin immediately.

An Ireland for all means we have to build a lasting and deep co-operation on both sides of the Border.

Today, more than ever, a single state, uniting us all, would unleash tremendous economic and social progress on this island.

The neglect and drift of recent years must end. The decision of our government and the Tory government to leave everything in the hands of Sinn Fein and the DUP has failed dismally. Sectarianism, alienation and poverty have grown.

The historic opportunity for a lasting peace and prosperity is being squandered.

It’s time for our government to accept its responsibilities and to show the type of leadership for peace and reconciliation which Fianna Fáil showed.

An Ireland for all is the central vision which inspired the men and women of 1916. The centenary of their decisive action is a moment when we should recommit ourselves to their values.

The entire founding generation of our party emerged from the great men and women of 1916 and those who were closest to them. The names De Valera, Pearse, Markiewicz, Clarke and many others are recorded in the attendance of Fianna Fáil’s first meeting.

We take great pride from this, but we’re also clear that 1916 belongs to no party and no faction – it belongs to all of the people of Ireland.

We will never accept the claims of a sinister movement founded 40 years ago to have any link with 1916. The Provisionals remain a movement which covers-up the sickest of crimes in order to protect their members.

We will never allow them to rewrite Irish history to legitimise their despicable crimes.

The Proclamation is a noble statement of republican ideals. It was a profoundly modern document. It demanded that a true republic embrace change. It called for women to be given full political rights and the interests of children to be cherished.

Today it challenges us to make this a republic which treats all its people fairly.

That’s why, as a republican party, we must support the right of two people to make the great commitment of marriage to each other, irrespective of their gender.

Fianna Fáil stands for the radical republican vision of a country which unites people not divides them.

A country which allows people to achieve a better future for themselves and for their children.

A country which challenges itself to treat all its citizens fairly.

Under this government we are becoming a more divided and unfair country.

And they’re happy with this. They want more of the same. On the left we have a range of parties who think that if you say ‘anti-austerity’ enough there’ll be money for everything.

Fianna Fáil rejects this false choice of more of the same or a sharp move to the extreme left.

There is a much better way for our country.

We don’t have to accept the agenda of division – of setting economic and social goals against each other.

We can, we must stand with job creators and for decent terms for workers.

We must support strong public services, funded through fair taxation.

We must put the interests of communities back into the heart of government.

We must help families who work hard and are being ignored by a system which has lost touch with their needs.

An Ireland which serves all, not just part of its people.

Today, tomorrow, and always, that is what Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party will fight for.

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