Speech by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin at 2013 President’s Dinner, Dublin
Published on: 06 October 2013
I want to thank you all for coming and making this another incredibly successful evening.
I know that many of you have just a brief break after the count. This has been a good day for Irish democracy.
Fine Gael and Labour, with the assistance of Sinn Fein and various hard-left groups thought they could use a highly cynical campaign to push through the largest ever amendment to our constitution.
They thought that no one would take the time to look beyond their slogans and attacks.
Today they have been proven wrong. The Irish people said No to the power grab, they said they want real political reform not just empty spin about reform.
They also said that they expect their leaders to be willing to debate.
When the referendum proposal was published in the summer the polls predicted a 74% yes vote. The government saw these figures and decided to rush the campaign and limit debate. Sinn Fein saw these figures and decided to switch sides even though their leader compared the proposal to a coup d’état.
We saw those figures and decided to stand by the principle that we want real reform of Irish politics.
We also published detailed documents setting out our proposals for reforming Ireland’s political system. The people want real reform of not just Seanad Éireann, but Dáil Éireann and Rialtas na hÉireann as well.
We believe in fundamental reform and not just tinkering around the edges. There was a strong message sent to the government today. As there is already a legislative template available to deliver on real reform of Seanad Eireann, this should be agreed and implemented without delay.
I want to acknowledge the great work of our campaign director Niall Collins. Unlike some others, Niall focus was on getting results and he toured the country and made sure that this party had an important impact on the referendum.
I also want to say that we were very happy to work together with people from all parties and none in a campaign which serves as a wake-up call to anyone who things Irish politics can just keep going as it has for decades.
This has been an incredibly active year for our party. You, our members and supporters, have been pushing forward with a rejuvenation of our work in communities throughout the country.
The most important thing I can do tonight is to say thank you for all that you are doing for Fianna Fáil. We still have a lot to do, but we’ve made a good start.
We are a party that believes in respecting traditions – and one of our oldest is standing up at meetings and blaming everything on ‘Mount Street’. Let me break that tradition tonight and say that the enormous changes which are underway in our party would not have been possible without Seán Dorgan and his team.
The single most important thing we have done is to say that the days of everything being decided at the centre are over. People who want to use membership of our party to make a difference now have the chance.
Every office within our party is now decided by the votes of individual members. Our funding today relies solely on the small donations of our members and supporters. One member one vote is working. Up and down the country thousands of people are already attending selection conventions for next year’s local elections.
In future, the decision to agree any programme for government or to enter into any coalition will rest with our members.
These changes are giving a new life to our organisation. Membership is up, Ógra recruitment is at record levels and there is a greater energy and commitment than we’ve seen for decades.
In putting forward candidates next year we have to make sure that we give a real opportunity to young people and women to stand.
Our organisation has also started a deep dialogue with the communities we serve about the issues which matters most to them.
We’ve held a wide range of public meetings on urgent issues such as policing, mortgage relief, the rural economy, education and health. We are publishing detailed policy discussion documents setting out our alternatives.
Dealing with vital areas such as the financing of the health system, early years’ education and helping families with serious debt problems – we’re showing how even in these tough times our state can do better in serving people.
For any party to be effective it has to be a team and I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues in these areas.
As I said at the Árd Fheis, the worst thing in modern politics is how there is a non-stop discussion about the short-term politics of who’s up and who’s down – where opinion polls lead the news but long-term issues get ignored.
I have no doubt at all that the public are tired of this. They are eager to hear something other than fights about the past. They want no more of the hype and spin.
What the public want is a politics which is as serious as the issues they confront every day – a politics focused on the long-term success of our country and not just tomorrow’s headlines.
This is where Fianna Fáil can and must play an essential and distinctive role.
And let no one be in any doubt – the differences between us and the others are growing all the time.
Instead of developing any vision for Ireland’s future, the governing parties are obsessed with their positioning.
Fine Gael has taken a marked move to the right. In the last two budgets its policies were deliberately skewed to putting the biggest impact of spending cuts and tax increases on struggling parts of our society.
It is also the party which is working to change as little as possible in how Ireland is governed. It talks the talk of change, but its conservative and reactionary core is stronger than it’s ever been.
As we’ve seen in the last week the Labour Party’s primary concern is the Labour Party. They’ve spent more time talking about what posters are in Joan Burton’s shed than their growing list of broken promises.
Two and a half years away from an election they are in crisis not because of the deeply unfair budgets they delivered or the broken promises on education, health and welfare they enacted – but because they think they might lose lots of seats.
Labour and Fine Gael’s policy on the North is to neglect it until it becomes a crisis and on Europe it is to wait for things to happen which they think they might be able to claim credit for.
There is no attempt to set out a vision for our future. There is no sense of what sort of Ireland they want us to be in five or ten years’ time other than the fact that they want to be in government.
And as for Sinn Fein – in the Dáil they are following the Gilmore strategy of pretending to be angry about everything and offering solutions to nothing. In the North they are putting party interests ahead of everything, and with the DUP have alienated communities so much that we risk a deep and damaging crisis of a like not seen since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
In this political situation there is more need than ever for a constructive centre-ground party. A party which rejects sterile ideological debates and combines a progressive approach to state services with pro-enterprise policies.
We must always remember that our party was founded not because of the wish to continue the civil war split but the determination to offer a different way forward for our country.
The great generation who created Fianna Fáil believed above all that the duty of a political party is to respond to the issues of today and to deliver a future of progress.
They were proud of the republican tradition they came from, but they felt Ireland needed a party which worked outside narrow ideologies to make government work for the people.
Expanding public housing, education and welfare were combined with the development of private enterprise in the programme that first brought us to government and defined our most successful periods in government.
Fianna Fáil grew because it refused to stand still. It earned the trust of people because it was willing to change. It did not want to keep refighting the battles of the past, it wanted to move on to share the future.
In the last two years we’ve made a good start to renewing this tradition – but we will move much further. We are only just beginning.
At the next general election we will set out for the people our vision of Ireland in the years ahead. We will not present a sound bite list of 5-points designed to last four weeks before being discarded; we will show how we want to support lasting social and economic progress.
We will talk about an economy strong enough to support the jobs and services we need. We will also detail how the institutions of our state can be modernised in the service of the people.
Fianna Fáil wants a fairer future for Ireland.
We will of course keep up the work of holding this increasingly out of touch and arrogant government to account.
The defining characteristic of this government is that it sees Ireland’s problems solely through political eyes. For them the spin comes first and the substance is an afterthought. They spend their time trying to refight the last election and waiting for developments which they can try to claim credit for.
In October four years ago Enda Kenny went to his party’s annual dinner and decided that he needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat – and that rabbit was Seanad abolition.
Let me tell you, given what happened today I’m not going to copy him tonight.
I’m very grateful to you all for everything you have done for the party.
Thank you and enjoy your evening.