Presidential Address by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin – 77ú Ard Fheis, Citywest, Dublin
Published on: 18 January 2016
Thank you. Thank you for your welcome and thank you for the great support which you give to Fianna Fáil.
In a few weeks’ time we face a fundamental choice about what sort of Ireland we as a people can create.
Will we move forward together – a country which works in the interests of all? Or will we become more unequal and more unfair?
Will we secure decent public services or will we lose them to neglect and underfunding?
Will we help families struggling with growing costs or will we make the interests of the wealthiest our priority?
Will we have a government which works to solve problems or one which puts politics first in everything?
Fianna Fáil is clear where it stands.
Our country needs a new government.
Ireland needs a new government determined to serve all of its people.
A new government which will not let a two-tier recovery become a two-tier Ireland.
A new government which helps families to thrive and not just survive.
Most of all we need a new government which takes seriously the founding principles of this republic.
The men and women who risked everything for us 100 years ago set a noble and progressive vision.
They were no narrow nationalists. They demanded that the Republic be democratic and inclusive – and they said that no person could call themselves a republican if they acted with inhumane or debased methods.
That’s something the sectarian and false republicans of the Provisional movement must never be allowed to forget.
The Rising’s centenary is proving once again how the Irish people revere the memory, sacrifice and principles of 1916.
The core republican value of a state which serves the interest of all is more relevant today than it has ever been.
90 years ago our party was founded by people who understood this and were determined to act.
1916 belongs to no party but it played a special role in our foundation.
On the list of those who attended our first meeting you find the names Markievicz, de Valera, Pearse, Clarke, Lemass and many others – those who fought and the families left behind by those who gave their lives for us.
They founded Fianna Fáil because they saw an urgent need to use freedom in the interests of all of the people and not just the powerful.
They adopted a radical programme to clear tenements and build housing, develop social protection and to create good jobs through supporting enterprise. They expanded education for all and helped the weakest in our society.
Our founding generation and those who followed them achieved many great things. They still inspire us today.
Over the last five years we’ve worked to reconnect with the communities we serve and to develop policies for tackling the real problems they face.
In this election we will show that our country doesn’t have to accept that nothing can change, that we just have to keep quiet and let this government back in.
They don’t want a debate about the future. They don’t want the reality of their policies exposed.
This is an arrogant and out of touch government.
They want a coronation not an election.
Well this is a republic and we don’t do coronations. The Irish people will decide.
In opposition they voted against every single measure proposed by Brian Lenihan. Then they denounced him – today they try to claim credit for his work.
Enda Kenny is a man fond of telling stories about men with pints and the army at ATMs. But the biggest fairy tale of all is his claim to have delivered recovery.
This government didn’t deliver recovery – it delayed it and made it more unfair. And it refused to tackle any problem until it became a crisis.
In emergency departments, in waiting lists, burglaries, rural crime, response to floods, housing, homelessness, disability services, special education, serious drug abuse and in many other areas they have failed.
And they have also delivered a massive rise in inequality.
This didn’t happen by chance, it was their choice.
Every time a new bill arrived in your home it was because of their policy to shift how government is funded. Their 45 new taxes and charges ignored the basic principle of ability to pay.
They had 5 budgets and all 5 – all 5 – gave priority to the wealthiest. Even Labour admits that Fine Gael wanted to help the wealthiest most.
And now they want to go much, much further. The billions upon billions in tax cuts promised in daily headlines fit into their aim of reducing taxes to the level of the United States.
Stop for a moment and look at what that actually means.
It means tax increases for lower and average families and huge tax cuts for the top few percent. It means hikes in charges and taxes on water, property, prescriptions, education and other basic items. But even more seriously, it means a major and permanent cut in public services.
Less for pensions, for schools, for hospitals, for fighting crime, for supporting new business and for every other public service.
That’s Fine Gael’s way.
A harsher, a more unequal, unfair, unjust Ireland.
Fianna Fáil will never stop fighting this.
There is a fairer way – a way which secures a strong economy and decent public services.
In this election we are going to stand on the basis of four core priorities, showing what can be achieved in the next five years. How we can build ‘An Ireland for All’.
Create decent jobs and support enterprise
Cut costs for families and improve the services they rely on
Tackle crime and develop community services; and
Secure home ownership and tackle homelessness.
I want to outline for you tonight what this means and how each objective can be achieved with a new government.
We know that a strong economy is essential to have decent public services, and we understand that the lessons of the past have to be learned.
That’s something this government doesn’t understand.
Because of the Irish people our economy will generate new resources – but nowhere near enough to pay for Fine Gael’s escalating promises.
All of our proposals are affordable within current economic projections and we’ll go further. We will create a special reserve fund. Available only in times of economic pressure, it will protect key services and allow economic stimulus when it’s most needed.
But of course I know people are cynical about political promises. They will ask ‘why should we believe you after the broken promises of Fine Gael and Labour?’
That’s why we’re going to take a lead and do something no party has done before. We are going to get an independent analysis of our commitments which reviews the accuracy and affordability of our costings and their impact on economic growth. We will publish this with the manifesto.
There will be no auction politics. No uncosted promises. No proposals which could damage the economy.
I challenge other parties to follow our lead. Then let’s have an honest debate about policies which can be implemented. The work of restoring trust in politics can’t be delayed any more.
Our first priority is creating decent jobs and supporting enterprise.
The jobs being created now don’t come from PR campaigns. They come from past investment in education, support for science and research, development of infrastructure, encouragement for enterprise through fair taxation and support for entrepreneurs.
But we can’t stand still. We have to respond to ever-faster changes in the workplace and in the marketplace.
If we don’t, Ireland will end up with a two-tiered economy, where many groups and communities are excluded from well-paid, secure employment.
And this is happening today. Divisions between people with well-paid, skilled jobs and others with low pay and poor conditions are growing all the time as are divisions between and within the regions.
This drift must stop. Our plans show how decent jobs in successful businesses can be created in all parts of our country.
We will continue to support our dynamic multi-national sector. I know from leading the effort to win many new investments for our country how important it is that we keep investing in our people and in our core infrastructure.
Support for education and training has always been a core value of this party and this will never change. We will broaden apprenticeship programmes and places, restore grants for post graduates and make sure that every Irish child has access to career guidance and counselling.
Our plans would allow for more investment to accelerate regional road infrastructure, flood relief schemes, water infrastructure and, crucially create extra capacity in our health system.
We don’t need more government by crisis, we need investment in the future and that’s what Fianna Fáil’s plan will deliver.
An economy which benefits all has to support job creators in all types of businesses. Over 800,000 people are employed in small and medium sized enterprises, and they need more than just lip service.
They are too often starved of funding at critical moments and the tax system works against those who take risks to start companies and create jobs. Our plan contains a detailed series of actions to support and drive forward Irish-owned business.
We will provide relief from employer’s PRSI, level the tax playing field for the
self-employed and create a social protection safety net for them.
Just as it does for other business, Ireland must match and beat our competitors
when it comes to supporting start-ups – and that means cutting the Capital Gains tax rate to 10% for start-up entrepreneurs.
We will also make sure that critical infrastructure, including high-speed broadband and proper mobile coverage is available in all communities.
We must help our most successful domestic industry, the agri-food sector, to grow and provide good incomes for all who work within it.
Fair prices for primary producers, investment in new products and support for the next generation of family farmers – that’s our commitment.
And we must address job contracts which give people, and particularly young people, no security and no way of planning for the future. These contracts damage those involved and they mean unfair competition for businesses that treat their employees well. We will ban exploitative contracts.
Families are under immense pressure because of unfair taxes and cuts to vital public services. And unless we have a new government, this pressure will continue.
Ministers talk about how the good times are rolling while many household budgets are stretched to the limit. And when people try to access services more and more, they find them in crisis.
This is not inevitable. Fianna Fáil has a fairer way.
First of all we want to help people to reduce their cost of living and increase their disposable income.
Our tax plans will give the greatest benefit to lower and middle income families. Reducing and then eliminating the USC for these earners will be possible, and so too will be an increase in tax credits. Together with a number of other changes and increases in social protection and pensions, we will deliver an affordable and fair increase in disposable income for all.
For families with children we will create a childcare support tax credit and expand maternity leave because a parent is the best carer a child can have in its early months.
Direct taxes are only one part of the problem – families need help with the steep rise in many expenses. We will reform laws regulating utility bills in order to prevent excessive increases.
We will reform the property tax and prevent the large and unfair increases which will happen if the current law remains.
And we will scrap Irish Water and the failed, loss-making charge which funds it.
The time has come to end the attack on the public services which are essential for us to have a decent society.
Children and adults with disabilities have seen new barriers erected in their way.
We will knock them down and create new opportunities.
We will radically expand and reform the provision of essential therapies – and we’ll make them available where they are most accessible and most needed –
on school campuses.
Fianna Fáil introduced some of the world’s strongest equality legislation for people with disabilities and invested in expanding support. We will reverse this government’s neglect of disability services and publish a long-term development plan. To have an Ireland for all we must empower people with disabilities as full Irish citizens.
And we will immediately end this government’s attack on supports for the elderly. They have been relentless in seeing the elderly as a group which can be targeted for cuts and increased charges. They promised to abolish prescription charges – but increased them fivefold.
They cut benefit after benefit and then gave the pensioners an insulting three euro increase. This is unjust and unfair.
We have always prioritised funding for older people and we will undo the damage that this government has done.
No area demonstrates so completely the chaos this government is bringing to public services than health.
After five years they are desperately trying to cover up the scale of their failure.
Their ‘Dutch model’ of funding has fallen apart. Waiting lists are climbing. The emergency department crisis continues to get worse. This year the budget for hospitals is already €100 million short for essential services. And now Enda Kenny has said promises on tax cuts for the wealthiest comes before solving the trolley crisis.
Fianna Fáil is the only party with a comprehensive and credible plan to improve our public health services. We’ll stop the privatisation agenda and the shifting of extra costs onto vulnerable patients. We’ll develop important new services in mental health, invest in primary care and recruit the extra staff essential for tackling today’s crisis.
Most of all, we will end the politics and spin of Fine Gael which is doing such damage to our health services.
Ireland succeeds when its communities are strong.
Yet our government is undermining local services. Schools, health facilities, post offices, Garda stations, Leader and development funding and many others are under pressure or being closed.
Fianna Fáil believes in supporting strong communities and our first step in doing this will be to tackle the rising menace of crime in our communities.
People need to know that Gardaí will be there when they need them. We need more Gardaí working in the community.
We will implement a sustained expansion of the force targeted on communities most vulnerable to crime, including the current burglary epidemic.
We will act urgently against the scourge of serious drugs which is spreading into more and more areas. Immediately we will reverse the huge cut in Drug Squad numbers and expand them so that they can work on a local and regional level where the most damage is being done.
In many parts of our country burglaries have increased by up to 40%. We will introduce mandatory sentences for repeat burglary offenders and for those who commit assaults on older people.
Communities which feel safe from crime and which feel secure about their future – that is Fianna Fáil’s commitment.
Le blianta beaga anuas, is éacht iontach é an tslí ina bhfuil pobail ar fud na tíre seo ina gceannródaithe chun athbheochan a dhéanamh ar ár dteanga dhúchais.
I scoileanna agus i measc grúpaí ar fud na hÉireann, tá díograis, fuinneamh agus tiomantas úrnua i leith na Gaeilge.
Tá an baol ann go gcaillfimid an dul chun cinn dearfach seo de dheasca Rialtais nach léiríonn suim ar bith i bforbairt na Gaeilge go fadtréimhseach.
Le Fianna Fáil, cuirfear deireadh leis an bhfaillí seo agus cuirfimid ár straitéis fiche bliain i bhfeidhm chun forbairt a dhéanamh agus áit cheart chuí a thabhairt don Ghaeilge inár saol náisiúnta.
An Ireland for all means we have to build a lasting and deep co-operation on both sides of the Border. Fianna Fáil is and always will be a party committed to a single state, uniting us all on this island.
The 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 must not be squandered.
It’s long past time for an investment plan to develop areas still damaged by an illegitimate conflict and paramilitary gangsters. The North/South bodies must be developed and reinvigorated.
We need a government which understands that defeating sectarianism and building reconciliation must be a priority.
Our final major priority is to support home ownership and tackle homelessness.
In the last five years a housing crisis has been allowed to develop because of the abject neglect of this government. The problem isn’t in any one sector – it’s in every sector. Whether it’s home ownership, rental, social housing or emergency accommodation, an acute shortage has developed.
Desperate to show some action, Fine Gael and Labour have launched 7 action plans on housing in the last 12 months – each one exposed as over-spun and under-delivered.
An emergency situation like this needs action on many fronts.
Fianna Fáil will take this action. We will implement new and bold policies – not government by press release.
Using the Strategic Investment Fund we will provide for 45,000 social houses, we will introduce a help-to-buy scheme for new home owners and we will tackle the mortgage arrears crisis by getting rid of the Banker’s Veto and extending mortgage interest relief.
We will immediately increase Rent Supplement to help those at risk of losing their homes.
Let’s not think for one moment that this is just another issue.
Tonight there are 1,500 children in emergency accommodation.
On the streets of this city and throughout our country, there are hundreds of people sleeping in doorways and under bridges.
If there is the money to fund Fine Gael’s massive giveaways to the wealthiest, then there is the money to end this scandal and end the growing homelessness emergency in this country.
Every day Fine Gael and its cheerleaders relentlessly like to push the line that we can’t risk change. The truth is our country can’t risk five more years of this government.
We can’t risk more chaos in our public services.
We can’t risk massive waste on bodies like Irish Water.
We can’t risk the growing inequality.
We can’t risk the charge after charge heaped on families.
We can’t risk more of the arrogance, the refusal to plan, the blocking of political reform, the addiction to telling stories rather than tackling problems.
Let no one tell you that there is no choice – that we just have to let them carry on.
Now is the moment when Ireland can choose a fairer way.
We can secure economic progress without sacrificing the sense of community, the commitment to looking after each other which represents the best of us.
An Ireland which supports enterprise and the creation of good jobs.
Which cuts costs for families and improves the services they rely on.
Which has safe and successful communities.
And which secures home ownership and tackles homelessness.
A fairer, stronger, more prosperous Ireland.
An Ireland for all.
That’s what this party, Fianna Fáil the Republican Party, stands for and we will not rest until we have secured that future for our country.