Presidential Address by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD at the 79ú Ard Fheis, City West, Dublin

Published on: 25 February 2019

Thank you.  Thank you for your welcome.  Thank you for your commitment to our party.  And most of all, thank you for the work that you do in the communities you serve.

This Árd Fheis has been a chance to take a step away from daily events.  A chance to look at the big challenges our country faces.

And no one can doubt for even one moment just how serious these challenges are.

In many ways we are at a defining moment in our history.

Profound issues concerning relations on this island, with our nearest neighbour and with Europe are becoming more urgent every day.

The Northern institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement which delivered a hard-won peace, have been suspended for over two years and sectarian tensions are rising.

In less than five weeks Brexit is due to take effect, ripping up a core foundation which underpinned so much cooperation and progress over many decades.

And if this was not enough, we also have to confront emergencies in housing, homelessness and health which are deepening, while belief that anything will be done keeps falling.

Yet, at this moment of great challenge and uncertainty, a moment when real leadership is needed, we have an out-of-touch government which is chronically incapable of delivering its plans.

The only thing ministers are passionate about is using public money to promote themselves.

But tonight, I want to talk with you, not just about the problems our country faces, but also why I believe they can be overcome, and the future that, working together we can achieve.

Let’s start by remembering a powerful lesson from the past.  A lesson which shows us just how much the Irish people can achieve.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the first Dáil.  For its many flaws, Ireland today is one of very few states in the world which has sustained democracy since its foundation.

We owe this to the visionary generation which convened the first Dáil and demanded that democracy be a central part of our revolution.

They talked of equality.  Of overcoming deep poverty.  Of the moral need to provide for our children.  Of Ireland’s place in a world defined by cooperation, not conflict.

And in doing this, they gave us a touchstone by which we could both measure our progress and recognise our failings.

Their struggles and their victories were followed in every corner of the globe, inspiring others to seek freedom.

One hundred years on, it is right that we honour all that they achieved for us.

Ireland’s history belongs to no party, but we in Fianna Fáil are deeply proud of the role our founders played in leading the cause of Irish freedom.

We remember our first Chairperson, Constance Markiewicz, who was a powerful leader of both the causes of Irish freedom and the political rights of women.

And of course we remember our founder, Éamon de Valera, whose inspirational leadership secured the mandate and legitimacy for Dáil Éireann.

So let’s always remember that in 1919 and in the century since then, our country has overcome many deeper challenges than we face today.

And we can do so again.

The first thing we need is a government which can recognise, acknowledge and  respond to people’s problems.

A government which doesn’t just announce plans, but actually delivers them.

A government which understands the pressures which people face every day in getting a home, in accessing health services, in affording childcare.

In normal times there would be no question about what should happen to this government, but we have to accept the harsh reality of this very moment.

Ireland faces a genuinely historic threat from Brexit and it has to have a government in place if we are to have any chance of limiting its damage.

Brexit isn’t some small passing issue.  It is a blow at the very foundations of much of the progress which our country and Europe have secured together in the past fifty years.

If there is a chaotic Brexit, then the damage will be severe and it will be swift.

The Department of Finance says it will reduce job numbers by 55,000 and hit public finances by €600 per household within months, and with much worse to come.

Farmers and agrifood companies could lose an incredible €1.7 billion the type of loss which of course would be felt far beyond their sector.

British politics is paralysed and the Bank of England says that Brexit is already damaging Britain by over half a billion per week, before it has even taken place.

In the face of the political shambles in London, Ireland simply has to be able to react quickly to every development.

Ireland needs a government and parliament which are in place and capable of taking decisions.

Calling an election today would see us spend up to four months both campaigning and forming a government.  Nobody who genuinely has Ireland’s interests at heart could tolerate this.

Of course Sinn Fein is jumping up and down every day calling for everything to be collapsed.  They collapsed the Assembly and government in Northern Ireland over two years ago, causing huge damage and leaving the anti-Brexit majority at the mercy of anti-Europe parties.

We’ll take no lectures from them about the national interest when 100 times out of 100, they put their party and movements interests first.

Everyone agrees that the Brexit threat is historic and urgent and you just cannot tackle an historic and urgent threat with politics as usual.

The price of playing politics with Brexit would be felt by the Irish people in fewer jobs, lower salaries, less money for schools, hospitals and pensions.

We want this government gone, but we refuse to expose our country to the massive risk of having no functioning government or Dáil at this moment of great threat.

That is why we took the step of extending the confidence and supply agreement and it is why Ireland’s hand in the Brexit talks remains strong.

Every one of our members wants to get out on the doorsteps and sell a message of what a new government can do for our country.

It’s a difficult decision for us, but it’s the right decision and it reinforces the fact that Fianna Fáil is putting the national interest first.

We have to manage the immediate fallout of Brexit and by every available piece of evidence we don’t have a moment to waste.

We need clarity and urgency from our government.

Businesses scared of what they will face after Brexit need to know now, that the grants they require will be there to replace lost business.

They need real help in dealing with the challenge of finding new markets and overcoming new barriers.

Small Irish businesses and farmers, who together face the biggest threat from Brexit, need help to be in place before the worst hits and not just after the damage is done.

And communities on the border and which rely on trade with Britain, need new investment plans immediately.

A core part of our party’s heritage is that we are the party which set Ireland on a European course.

Seán Lemass and Jack Lynch with the solid backing of this party, understood that for Ireland to grow and prosper for Ireland to truly take its place amongst the nations of the world, we had to join a strong European partnership.

At a moment when Europe is under attack from so many sinister forces, we can’t be on the sidelines as observers, we have to take a stand.

The economic and political cost of Euroscepticism is there for everyone to see and

Fianna Fáil has no doubt that Ireland’s future is with a positive, strong and forward-looking Europe.

Just as it has for most of our party’s history, a strong and successful Europe is a core objective of Fianna Fáil and this is the message we will take to the doorstep at next May’s vital European elections.

Peace, reconciliation and unity by consent on this island are also core values for Fianna Fáil.

We are rightly proud of our record in government in achieving an unmatched series of historic breakthroughs.

Albert Reynolds created the conditions for the ceasefires with the Downing Street Declaration.

Bertie Ahern showed incredible leadership in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, securing its ratification and putting in place a precious peace.

The last seven years have seen a relentless decline in the political situation in Northern Ireland.

Everyone knows that the core issue has been with the DUP and Sinn Fein, who ran the Executive like a closed cartel looking after their own.

Brexit has been devastating to politics in Northern Ireland, but the problems started long before Brexit, and they still have to be dealt with no matter what happens with Brexit.

Many Northern communities are stuck in cycles of poverty.  There is no credible plan for developing a new economy or providing jobs for young people.

No one is leading the fight against sectarianism and for reconciliation.

And yet for two whole years, Northern Ireland hasn’t even had a government.

Most of all, we need a new agenda for development on both sides of the Border.

We need an agenda for growth.  For investment.  For respect and equality.

That’s why Fianna Fáil has decided to enter a new partnership with our friends in the SDLP.  The party of John Hume and Seamus Mallon already has an honoured place in our history.

Our parties achieved great things for Ireland in the past and will do so again.

Working together, we can help provide the new agenda which is so desperately needed both North and South.

And this party is also determined to offer the people a real alternative to Fine Gael’s out-of-touch and arrogant government.

They simply don’t understand the pressures which people are facing every day in finding a home, in giving their kids a good start, or in being able to get the right treatment or therapies when they need them.

The economy in general is doing well because of the education, skills and enterprise of the Irish people, but many families and communities are still struggling.  They look around and they wonder if anyone understands.

They look at the news in the evening, full of claims that everything is great and has never been better and they wonder what planet these ministers are living on.

And of course they see the flashy announcements, followed by massive overspends and a near complete failure to deliver and they rightly question where the basic competence is.

The housing emergency is the worst of it.

Tonight there are nearly 10,000 people in emergency accommodation and scandalously 3,500 of these are children.

Through this winter, every night over 150 people have been sleeping on the streets of our capital city.

And what have we heard from Fine Gael?

Their leader announced “we have a plan and it is working”.

Their minister celebrated the latest housing figures, which show a perfect record for his government of missing every target.

When faced with 3,500 homeless children, the Taoiseach went to his Árd Fheis and announced an unaffordable €3 billion tax cut weighted to the highest earners.  That tells us all we need to know about his priorities.

Homelessness is the hardest edge, but every single element of housing policy is in crisis.

Whether it’s young people trying to find a decent place to rent at an affordable price, a new family looking for a home they can afford, or older people trying to move to a more suitable house, Ireland’s housing policy is failing.

This didn’t happen by chance. It was the direct result of neglect, complacency and avoidable cuts.

We’ve put immense pressure on for a new approach.

A first start is a €300m affordable housing scheme that is now being established, which will build 6,000 homes, but much more can and must be done.

Credit Unions are ready and able to get involved in creating more social and affordable housing.  They should be allowed to do this.

Local authorities have to be freed from damaging bureaucracy which is stopping them from quickly providing housing on suitable state land.

You can’t build or maintain homes without essential skills being available, so we urgently need more apprenticeships and other training places for plumbers, electricians and other trades.

People who rent or who live in apartments and managed estates have to be protected from the abuse of excessive charges and extortionate increases.

Fianna Fáil is determined to return to the days when the state fulfilled its basic duty of making sure that all its people have the chance to buy or rent a decent place to live.

Another core responsibility for government should be providing quality care and treatment to people when they need it and it is another area where the current government is out-of-touch and out of ideas.

Today there are unprecedented waiting lists and there is a near complete lack of basic leadership.

There are over half a million patients waiting for hospital appointments, the highest number ever recorded.

An entirely avoidable dispute with nurses and midwives is what you get with the neglect and detachment we’ve seen from government.

People with disabilities shouldn’t have to fight to get basic services.  Parents of children with special needs shouldn’t face a lengthy struggle to get the basic assessment and supports they need to be able to participate and thrive in school and in the wider community.

Instead of working with doctors, nurses, administrators and other professionals to manage investment and focus on helping people, they have taken a different approach.

We can see this in the sorry tale of the new Children’s Hospital and a massive overrun which may be the tip of the iceberg.

The Government toured the country, advertising plans for projects which might start in ten years’ time, but they have gone missing every time the reality of rising  waiting lists and missed targets have been exposed.

And while they are massively overspending in some areas, in others they refuse to spend the money allocated to desperately-needed services.

We demanded and secured major new funding for mental health services to begin to address a massive need, yet three years in a row, the government has failed to hire the staff or deliver the service.

Of course there has been a lot of public outrage at scandals such as the handling of cervical smear tests and overspending.

There is a very easy way of stopping these scandals – ministers need to stop the secrecy and start being open and honest with the people.

We want to increase funding to the successful National Treatment Purchase Fund so that more patients can be treated and ensure that no child has to wait more than three months for a disability assessment.

Older people should be able to receive the Fair Deal Scheme to allow them to be cared for in their own homes.

We need to recruit more GPs to treat patients in their local community, employ more consultants for public service work and increase bed capacity.

It’s long past time to end Fine Gael’s failed approach in Health.

We need a commitment to develop our public health services, to implement credible plans and to value the work of the professionals we rely on.

That is Fianna Fáil’s commitment.

Strong communities are the lifeblood of Irish society.  They have sustained us through the hardest of times and given us our best values.

Yet in cities, towns and rural areas, communities are under pressure.

Communities feel threatened by the failure to deal with anti-social behaviour on the streets and in meeting places.

Shops and services continue to leave our main streets, forcing people to travel often long distances.  There is a sense that government doesn’t notice and doesn’t even care.

And of course there is the fiasco of the National Broadband Plan.

Seven years after the launch of the plan, not only is there no signed contract, costs are spiralling.

There are over half a million homes and businesses which have no access to a technology which is now a basic requirement for a lot of jobs and many industries.

The fact is that this government simply does not understand the importance of supporting communities or how much we will lose as a country if this neglect continues.

That’s why we want a Community Services Guarantee to give a real priority to regenerating our highstreets and allowing access to essential services.

We want a new commitment to policing public spaces, to stamp out behaviour which is intimidating far too many people.

We are determined that the priority for investment will be community-level services.

And we also understand that a sustainable environment is crucial for healthy communities.

Everyone can see the impact of climate change in increasingly extreme weather patterns, but big parts of our natural environment are also in danger.

The neglect of the last seven years has to end.  This should be an issue which unites people of all parties and none.

There is no time left to debate and there is no doubt – our environment is under threat and sustained action is needed.

In the local elections this May, Fianna Fáil’s candidates will carry with them a clear message that for us, supporting and developing sustainable communities is an absolute priority.

Bhí an t-athbheochan iontach a spreag ár réabhlóid céad bliain ó shin bunaithe go daingean ar bhunchlocha a bhí curtha i bhfeidhm le roinnt blianta roimhe sin.

Creideadh gur chóir meas agus luach a bheith ar an gcultúr gaelach.

Níor fhéach ár mbunaitheoirí ar an gcultúr gaelach mar rud cúng, ar leith.

Bhí siad go tréan den tuairim gur chóir don chultúr seasamh go bródúil cróga i dteannta na gcultúr eile Eorpach.

D`fheách siad ar an gcultúr, ar an teanga agus ar an litríocht mar shlite chun léiriú ar leith a thabhairt ar ár stair, ar ár saolta agus ar ár mianta don todhchaí.

Seo ré an dóchais le deiseanna den scoth dóibh siúd ar mhaith leo ról bríomhar, fuinniúil a bheith ag an nGaeilge i saol nua-aimseartha na hÉireann.

Fud fad na tíre, tá teaghlaigh ag cur a bpáistí chun oideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge a fháil.  Tá glúin nua de scríbhneoirí agus d`ealaíontóirí ag obair trí Ghaeilge.

Tá ceannaireacht láidir fhadradharcach ag teastáil chun ré an dóchais seo don Ghaeilge a chur i bhfeidhm.

Ba chóir níos mó tacaíochta agus gnímh a chur ar fáil chun an Straitéis Fiche Bliain don Ghaeilge a chur i gcrích go héifeachtach láidir.

Caithfear níos mó múinteoirí Gaeilge a thraenáil, feabhas a chur ar mhúineadh na Gaeilge inár scoileanna, agus ba cheart gach iarracht a dheánamh úsáid ár dteanga náisiúnta a chur chun tosaigh, a chothú agus a fhorbairt sna Gaeltachtaí agus i ngach cearn den tír seo againne.

Arts and culture played a central role in building our unique identity.  They help us to question ourselves and to find new horizons.

But this government needs to understand that the surest way to destroy our creative communities is to deny people the opportunity to earn a decent wage or have some prospect of a secure job.

It’s time for the government to stop taking arts funding away from independent bodies and putting it into schemes controlled by ministers.

It’s time to start showing support for the artists, writers, curators and others who are central to our cultural life.

At this moment of great challenge for Ireland, a government which puts politics first and style over substance, is just not good enough.

We have to get through Brexit first.  We have to be able to quickly respond to whatever happens in the coming weeks and months.

We have to help businesses and communities to limit its damage.

And then we must focus on showing the Irish people that there is an alternative.

They don’t have to accept the chronic failure to deliver plans:

  • the rising waiting lists
  • the scandalous levels of homelessness
  • a government which just doesn’t get it.

    There is huge work to be done, but Fianna Fáil is absolutely committed to restoring peoples hope in the idea that government can understand and respond to their concerns.

That it will work with them:

•           for strong communities,

  • for decent housing,
  • for access to health care when you need it,
  • for an end to the funding crisis faced by our schools and universities,
  • for a sustainable environment,
  • for a return to progress and development in Northern Ireland,
  • for a government which is open and honest with people.

    A hundred years ago a revolutionary generation set out a vision for Irish democracy.

    For Fianna Fáil, this remains our challenge and our commitment.

    To build a fairer Ireland.

    An Ireland which listens and responds to its people’s concerns.

    Which fights divisive policies, supports its weakest citizens, values education, empowers enterprise.

    Now and always, an Ireland which serves all of its people.

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