Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD closing address at Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis November 4th 2023
Published on: 04 November 2023
Thank you for your welcome.
Thank you for the spirit in which this Árd Fheis has been held.
And most of all, thank you for everything you do for our party in communities throughout our country.
This Árd Fheis is about positive action – action to address urgent problems today and action to secure a positive future for our country.
And as we look to our country’s future, we should remember just how much we can achieve when we work together.
This year we have marked the end of a decade of commemorations focused particularly on our struggle for independence.
There have been moments of deep pride – but also of sad reflection on lives lost and lasting divisions.
In all of this one thing stood out – by every measure our country has seen sustained progress since independence.
The poorest country in Europe, only a generation from famine, faced enormous hurdles when it sought and won independence.
Since then, time and again we have shown how the spirit of the Irish people can overcome any obstacle.
The Ireland of today stands proudly as one of the oldest democracies in the world.
A republic with record levels of employment and the highest population for a century and a half.
Today we face many problems, but this progress is a true vindication of those who secured our independence and built our country.
And we in Fianna Fáil are proud of how, through different generations, we have worked with the people of Ireland to secure this progress.
When Fianna Fáil’s first meeting was chaired by Constance Markiewicz our founders had a clear vision.
They were determined to show how practical republicanism could deliver real social and economic progress.
A new Irish story was written with dramatic moves like a republican constitution, free education, securing international investment, joining the European Union and the historic Good Friday Agreement.
But while we in Fianna Fáil are proud of these achievements for us the priority is, and must always be, the future.
As we meet this evening nobody can possibly doubt the scale of the threats faced by our country and the wider world.
At home and internationally there are economic, political, social, and environmental challenges which demand urgent and sustained action.
Every day we can see evidence of a world which is in deep trouble and where many find it hard to see a way forward.
I have no doubt of just how serious the challenges we face are. And I also have no doubt that we can, and we will overcome them.
I know that this is an age when people are so often encouraged to be cynical about politics.
But I believe passionately in the power of politics to deliver for people.
And that is why I want to talk with you about a programme of ambitious and practical change.
Change which is already starting to show progress, but which will deliver much, much more in the months and years ahead.
This is a diverse democracy. To govern means to find compromises and to work with others who share core values.
We respect our partners in government and our common commitment to working constructively together.
Fianna Fáil is not in government to deliver just for those who voted for us. We are there to deliver for all of the people of our country.
That is why we sought the toughest ministerial challenges.
There are many things which make this a unique moment in our history.
In only twenty years our population has risen by over one million people.
People are living longer and healthier lives. Demand for expanded and improved public services is rising all of the time.
The need to be more inclusive and to address the needs of all of our people is as important as ever.
And Ireland’s economic success cannot be taken for granted.
Fianna Fáil is very clear on what we believe needs to be done.
We want to invest in, to modernise and to expand key public services.
We want to help people to be able to afford homes, to buy or rent and to have access to social housing when they need it.
We want an Ireland which shows leadership in promoting international cooperation and fundamental human rights.
An Ireland which goes much, much further in securing peace, reconciliation, and unity on our island.
So let me outline for you some of the urgent and ambitious plans we are moving forward with.
Underlying everything is the need to secure our economy as much as possible.
And we are determined to deliver this.
That is why we are creating the Future Ireland Fund.
It is about protecting public services and living standards for current and future generations.
We know today that our rising population and increased demand for services will create pressures.
The Future Ireland Fund will be there to protect vital state supports like pensions and health services.
The Ireland Future Fund is an historic development – it will be there when our people need it to deliver real and sustained benefits to every part of our country.
And we also need to make sure that vital investments can continue even in a downturn – when they are actually needed more than ever.
That is why we are creating the Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund. This Fund will be ready to ensure sustained investment in areas like transport, health, nature restoration and community facilities.
And it will support the expansion of new affordable and sustainable energy sources.
In all of this our commitment is to invest in sustaining the community spirit which is central to our identity.
During next year’s local elections our candidates will bring a positive message into every community in the country.
And we understand that every family is today facing real pressures because of rising prices and the general cost of living.
Our commitment is to help people today and also to make key services more affordable on a permanent basis.
Everyone knows the huge increases in energy costs – for home heating, lighting, cooking, running a car.
We can, and we are helping people.
We are continuing with a direct credit of €450 to help every household with their energy bills. We have expanded the fuel allowance to far more people, particularly older people and provided special extra payments.
We are funding improvements in both pay and social protection to help with permanent increases in costs. And we have implemented tax reductions. But we are going much further in terms of actions to reduce other costs. Across different areas we are cutting charges and making services more affordable on a permanent basis.
A 25% reduction in childcare costs this year, will be followed by another 25% reduction next year.
A series of health charges, education fees and transport fares have been permanently abolished or reduced. And we are introducing new schemes.
Half a million more people have access to free GP care. Next year, 800,000 pupils will benefit from free school books for primary and Junior Certificate classes.
These actions are about a sustainable and permanent reduction in costs. Taken together they have and will make a big difference to family incomes.
We understand the fact that helping people to afford to buy or rent a home is a defining challenge of our time.
There is almost no other area where the pressure of a rising population and rising employment is felt as much.
There is only one sustainable solution – build more houses to own and rent.
And to deliver this, we need action on every front.
Action which is underway is making a real difference.
For the first time in years, we have started to make strides forward.
Central to this is the Housing for All Plan which is delivering a sustained and growing increase in homes being built.
I deeply understand how people can look at the difficulties of being able to get a home and be dispirited.
But things are changing. By every measure of home permissions, completions, home purchases, first-time buyers, and mortgage drawdowns, we are seeing positive movement.
By the end of this year 100,000 homes will have been built since we took up this challenge.
We have started a new era of providing social homes in all parts of the country, with up to 30,000 delivered to date. In addition, there are over 22,000 social homes either on-site or at design and tender stage.
The new Land Development Agency is having a real impact, with thousands of new affordable and social homes being developed on state-owned and private land.
And we believe we must support people in the private rented sector who are particularly squeezed because of lack of available places and rising rents.
We have introduced a special tax credit for every renter and a series of measures to try and maintain and increase the number of homes available for rent.
The problem of derelict and vacant buildings is being targeted with generous Grant schemes and dedicated funding in every county.
The facts show that every week 500 first-time buyers are buying a new home.
We are not there yet, but for the first time in years a real momentum is building.
And it is now absolutely clear that there is a major difference between government and opposition in relation to housing.
We believe that home ownership should be supported.
That is why we have expanded and created the Help to Buy and First Homes schemes, and it is why we are helping thousands through dedicated schemes for affordable homes.
However, the main opposition party has opposed all of these affordable housing schemes and is consistently negative towards the concept of supporting home ownership.
We could not disagree more. We will continue to support people who want to buy a home.
The impact of a growing population is also felt deeply in our health services.
This year our hospitals will handle over 6 million appointments and treatments for inpatients, outpatients and emergency cases.
More importantly, the outcomes for patients have improved in every major area.
The extra doctors, nurses, other professionals, and support staff who we have hired are delivering new and better services.
And these services are more accessible because we have reduced and abolished many charges and introduced the biggest expansion ever of access to free GP care – with 60% of the population now having this access.
The new consultants’ contract puts public health services first.
1,000 new hospital beds are in place and a 25% increase in new intensive care beds.
The first comprehensive plan for dementia care is being implemented, with a number of well-resourced day care centres delivered.
With our focus on community, an entire new community health service including primary care, chronic disease management and services for older people, have been built up in just two years.
And the first ever dedicated services for women’s health are in place including menopause clinics, free contraception, and state funded IVF.
We are not there yet. We have many issues where we want to deliver far more progress. For example, we are determined to significantly expand access to quality mental health services, particularly for children and young people.
And we are also determined to improve access for children with additional needs to therapists and early intervention.
But whatever way you look at it, the largest investment and reform programme in the history of Irish health services can be seen on health campuses throughout the country.
From the first days of our party, we have been committed to the idea that education is vital for our people and our country to succeed.
Our schools are more important than ever as they work with families to help children to cope with and succeed in the face of rapid change and new pressures.
We are determined to implement a programme of investment, modernisation and reform.
Since we returned to government, over 650 schools have completed a major investment project – and over 300 more are on-site today.
The pupil teacher ratio has been reduced. We have hired additional special education teachers and special needs assistants.
In addition, we are opening new special schools to provide the best possible programmes for children with additional needs.
With more modern facilities and more teachers we need curricula which reflect the reality of today’s world not that of fifty years ago. A major reform of the Leaving Certificate is underway, and every part of the school curriculum is under review to ensure that pupils develop the knowledge and skills they need.
We have extended dedicated supports to more schools serving disadvantaged areas – and addressed one of the biggest costs for parents by introducing free school books from primary up to the Junior Certificate.
And one of the greatest challenges of today is helping children to navigate an online world – one which brings new threats and affects the ability to maintain healthy connections.
That is why we will be expanding guidelines and controls on smartphone access in schools – and every family and school will receive guidance on how to navigate this challenge with their children to keep them safe and healthy.
As we have seen in recent weeks with terrible flooding and through the year with record temperatures, climate change is not a threat for the future, it is happening right now.
Across government we are delivering sustained action on climate as well as on the loss of our biodiversity. We accept that tough decisions are required.
At the core of our policy is to help families, businesses, and communities to transition to more sustainable practices.
We have to show that people can have both a secure long-term income and help the environment.
This is why we are investing in the retrofitting of homes and in creating a new offshore wind energy sector which will create thousands of good jobs in coastal communities.
It is why we are determined to work together with farmers to help them implement innovations and practices which will secure their future with good incomes and make Ireland a world-leader.
Le céad bliain anuas i stair na tíre, tá sé léirithe ag Éirinn arís agus arís eile, an méid gur féidir le pobal na tíre seo a bhaint amach – agus cé chomh beomhar fuinniúil agus atá cultúr na tíre i gcónaí.
Tá teanga náisiúnta againn agus í beo beathach agus ag forbairt de shíor ag léiriú an scéil ar leith a bhaineann le muintir na hÉireann.
Is léir go bhfuil ár n-ealaíona agus ár litríocht ag leathnú ar fud an domhain – agus ina theannta sin, tá spiorad pobail agus cultúr an spóirt a dhéanann an oiread sin chun pobal uilig na hÉireann a thabhairt le chéile.
Ár gcultúr – ár dtuiscint ar luachanna comónta – beidh siad chomh tábhachtach sa todhchaí agus a bhíodh riamh anall in imeachtaí laethúla na tíre.
One of the great challenges for this generation remains building a lasting peace and reconciliation on our island.
We believe passionately that the brightest future for all would be for us to be united – yet we accept and understand that the first priority has to be to build understanding, respect and engagement between communities who have for too long drifted apart.
The Shared Island Initiative represents the first time in our history that sustained work is being done.
Under its three strands of dialogue, research and investment, it is deepening understanding on our island and showing what we can achieve by engagement and cooperation.
And on the ground, we are seeing investment in key projects such as the Ulster Canal, the Narrow Water Bridge and in the Magee Campus of Ulster University – linking communities and supporting our mutual interests.
There is no doubt that over time the Shared Island Initiative will be seen as marking a decisive and lasting move forward for peace and reconciliation on our island.
From our first days, we have been a republican party committed to international cooperation, fundamental human rights and peacekeeping.
Tonight we thank our Irish peacekeepers, serving in the Middle East and elsewhere for their courage in the pursuit of that most noble calling of all – peacekeeping.
The brutal savagery of Hamas has no justification whatsoever – and no one who believes in core human values should have a problem saying this.
And Israel has a fundamental obligation to respond within the boundaries of international humanitarian law. Civilians must be protected.
The unfolding tragedy and the rising toll of lost lives and especially of children has to stop. We urgently need a humanitarian ceasefire. We need all hostages to be released. And we need a significant scaling up of vital supplies for civilians and especially medical supplies.
This terrible conflict is achieving nothing but death and misery. It needs to stop.
And we also stand resolutely with the people of Ukraine as they fight against Putin’s attempt to destroy their independence and impose a new Russian empire.
This evil must not be allowed to prevail, and Ireland will always speak up for a proud European democracy determined to protect its freedoms.
Fianna Fáil is clear that we support Ukraine in its application to join a European Union which remains one of the greatest achievements of modern times.
Absolutely central to our development as a country has been the decision to join the now European Union.
Fianna Fáil’s leaders had to take their case to the Irish people that the only way to secure our future, to promote Ireland’s interests in the world, was to join with a strong and active Union.
And we should all be deeply thankful that they won that fight.
The Union is not perfect, but it is a fundamental foundation for progress in our country.
And it’s important to remember that on many foreign policy matters there are different opinions. Unanimity is hard but we can reach agreement –
as we did with our agreement to provide aid and call for a humanitarian pause in Gaza.
And at this moment, when the Union faces dramatic threats, there must be no doubt where we stand. Ireland must stand with Europe. Ireland must stand against the corrosive euroscepticism and anti-democratic regimes which seek to undermine the Union.
We can see in our nearest neighbour the damage which unchecked anti-EU politics can cause. We respect their right to leave, but we must never, ever allow euroscepticism to go unchallenged.
And that is why next year’s European elections are so vital.
In spite of how important the EU is for us, many of Ireland’s MEPs are aggressively anti-EU.
I am proud that in Billy Kelleher and Barry Andrews Fianna Fáil has two MEPs who are known for their hard work on behalf of the people of Ireland.
It is time for all of us who value the European Union, who see it as vital to Ireland’s interests, to stand up against those who want Ireland to take a radically damaging anti-EU direction.
We in Fianna Fáil believe that politics has to be about both addressing the challenges of today and building a secure future.
Those who always talk down our country – who claim that nothing has been achieved in a hundred years – are not serious about trying to help people, they are only serious about playing politics.
But when you see how far our country has come, you see a country with the capacity to achieve great things.
We can and will provide security for our future with the Ireland Future Fund.
We can and will reduce pressure on people facing major price rises today, and work to make key services more affordable on a permanent basis.
We can and will deliver more affordable housing, more social housing and direct support for renters.
We can and will modernise, expand and make more accessible vital public services such as health and education.
We can and will make Ireland a leader, not just in addressing the environmental crisis, but also providing a secure future for rural communities and family farms.
We can and will build a permanent peace and reconciliation amongst all who share this island.
We can, we will, we must stand with our European partners to promote shared prosperity and the fundamental values of democracy.
The next chapter of Ireland’s story will be one where, building on work well underway, we show that we can and will deliver a prosperous and inclusive Ireland.