Taoiseach's Closing Address Fianna Fáil 80ú Ard Fheis - Saturday October 1st
Published on: 02 October 2022
Taoiseach's Closing Address Fianna Fáil 80ú Ard Fheis - Saturday October 1st 2022
A Chairde uilig, míle buíochas as bhur bhfáilte chroíúil anseo.
Táimse fíorbhuíoch díbh as an obair agus as an am go léir a thugann sibh i gcónaí go deonach flaithiúil dár bpáirtí.
Agus gabhaim buíochas libh as an spiorad dearfach oscailte timpeall orainn ina bhfuil an Árd Fheis seo á reachtáil.
Let us always remember that our party was founded by a great generation of men and women. They fought for our country’s freedom and they were determined that Ireland would stand proudly amongst the democratic nations of the world.
It was because they believed in moving on from the civil war that they decided to found a new party – a party determined to develop our country, to end the days of Ireland being a by-word for poverty, to stand for democracy in the face of the extremes of right and left, to implement a republican vision of a state which creates new opportunities for its people.
That is the tradition which is now and will always be at the heart of Fianna Fáil.
And there has been enormous progress.
Two million more people live in our republic today than did one hundred years ago, and in area after area Ireland and her people’s lives have been transformed.
There is no doubt that today we face real and urgent challenges, there are many in our society who need our help – but those who dismiss the progress we have achieved and seek to tell a story of Ireland as some type of ‘failed state’ are deliberately misleading our people and selling our country short.
Perhaps the greatest divide in our politics today is between those who want to tackle our country’s problems and those who want to exploit them.
Between those who see politics as the means to advance the interests of the nation and those who only care about attacking others.
Let no one be in any doubt where Fianna Fáil stands – we believe in taking action.
We believe in the hard work of finding solutions, creating opportunities, and making Ireland a stronger, fairer country.
That’s why this evening I want to talk with you not just about the problems our country is facing, but about exactly what we can and will do to overcome them.
A lot has happened in the three years since we were last able to meet at an Árd Fheis.
After the last general election Fianna Fáil worked in good faith with other parties to put together a comprehensive programme equal to the challenges facing our country.
A programme that would help all sections of our society. A programme that was fair, ambitious and deliverable.
A programme with a positive commitment to Ireland’s role in Europe and the wider world.
Three different parties with different priorities engaged – but we were able to find common ground and agree an agenda of change.
We held the largest internal consultation and vote ever by an Irish political party before we agreed, by an overwhelming majority, to enter government.
Together, we agreed to take on these challenges and in doing so, we put our country’s interests first. I know that this was the right thing to do.
We knew about the ongoing challenges facing our country, but also that we had to immediately address two unique emergencies – the largest public health crisis and fastest-hitting recession of modern times.
No part of our society was untouched by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thousands of families mourn the loss of loved ones taken by this terrible virus, and it has had an impact which will take many years to truly understand and overcome.
The journey was not straightforward and there were some dark, difficult periods.
Each time when I stood in front of Government Buildings and addressed the nation, I was deeply conscious of the impact which our decisions would have and the need for us to do absolutely everything we could to get people through it.
And we did get through it.
We got through it by using every element of government and drawing on the deep bonds of community and solidarity that hold our people together.
When vaccines became available, we implemented one of the fastest and most effective vaccination programmes in the world.
I want once again to pay tribute to the workers in our essential services who did exceptional work – providing critical care and services in spite of the risks and never wavering.
When we look back at the restrictions we all had to accept, the days of fear and uncertainty, the enormous effort and investment, it can all be difficult to comprehend.
But these unprecedented actions by us all made a critical difference – thousands of lives were saved.
Ireland saw nearly 5,000 fewer deaths than if we had been simply at the European average in our pandemic response – and over 7,000 fewer than in our nearest neighbour.
We’ll always remember the toughest moments – but let’s also never forget just how much we achieved as a society by looking out for each other.
From our first hours in government we worked with our partners to limit
the damage of the fastest-hitting recession yet recorded.
New supports made sure that families still had a steady income and as many firms as possible were helped so that they could reopen as soon as possible.
It was enormously expensive, but it was the right thing to do. And it worked.
Independent reports show that Ireland emerged from the pandemic recession faster than any country in Europe and quickly began getting people back to work.
This month there are over 400,000 more people at work than there were on the day this government took up office.
That’s something we have every right to be proud of.
Guiding our country through the pandemic and securing a rapid economic recovery has been at the core of our work in government so far – but we have a much wider agenda.
And in spite of the enormous difficulties posed by the pandemic we have been able to respond to established challenges and react to emerging ones.
Cost of Living
Chief amongst these is of course the impact of rising prices, caused in the main by Russia's war on the people of Ukraine.
This is not just an Irish issue – it’s being seen throughout the world. But we are absolutely determined to do everything we can to help families, businesses and to protect jobs.
Some factors pushing up prices, and especially energy prices, will hopefully be short-term in their impact and prices will follow the historical trend
and reverse. Others will likely be more permanent.
However, notwithstanding the cause, we must act.
The sheer scale of rising prices is hurting everyone – and that’s why we are responding with the largest ever programme of direct supports for families and businesses.
As well as delivering tax and social protection improvements, we are going much further.
We are directly helping families with children. Our Budget helps older people. It helps students. It helps apprentices. It helps renters. It helps small businesses. It helps people with disabilities. It helps farmers – and it helps many other groups.
Every single household and business will benefit – with the biggest benefits going to those who are most in need.
Pensions and social support payments are going up by the largest ever amount, with special extra payments addressing urgent needs.
Every household will receive €600 credit in their energy bills this winter.
All of these measures to help people cope with inflation add-up.
It won’t lift all of the pressures – but it will provide help when and where
it’s needed the most.
And because of the huge burden which childcare costs involve, we are providing significant additional resources to the sector and making it more affordable for parents.
We’re improving the pay and conditions of childcare workers. And parents
next year will see a cut of 25% in childcare costs.
That’s an unprecedented and sustained investment in childcare services.
And we understand that businesses, and small businesses in particular, are also facing huge increases in energy costs. That’s why this week we’ve announced a scheme to help small, medium and large businesses including Farms.
That’s real action to protect jobs at a critical moment.
Housing is the single most important social issue facing our country.
Access to a suitable and secure home is the foundation and the safeguard of national solidarity, social and economic progress, and community cohesion.
Within just a matter of months of entering government we developed, resourced and began implementing an innovative new strategy for action across all sectors; 'Housing for All'.
To address the housing crisis we have to take a range of actions – not just one or two. We will deliver more social homes, more affordable homes, more private homes and more rental homes. Because of this, 'Housing for All' is the first time such a strategy addresses the full range of housing needs.
Although the pandemic stopped a lot of building activity for a time, the strategy is starting to make an impact.
The Help to Buy and First Home schemes are in place for first time buyers, the Land Development Agency is finalising contracts to deliver thousands of new homes on state-owned lands.
And we have begun a new era of building social homes at scale.
Our action on housing is not being felt by everyone yet,
I know, but by every measure, home building and renovations are up.
The only way to tackle the unacceptable homelessness in our country is to urgently move forward these plans – but there are immediate actions which are being taken. That’s why we’re putting major new resources into working with those on the frontline to the homeless.
And we will also continue to take action to help people in private rental accommodation. This week we announced new tax credits worth €1,000 for every renter.
The emptiness of the opposition’s policy, their lack of a credible alternative shows that they know that our plans will deliver and they are doing everything they can to block them.
They claim to care about housing but have objected to 6,000 homes in Dublin alone in the last two years.
We will not be deterred. We will push on.
By the time this mandate is complete, we will have delivered a new era in support for quality social and affordable housing in our country.
We all saw during the pandemic how much we rely on our public health services and the wonderful professionals who work within it.
Every day tens of thousands of people get great care. Over the last twenty years Ireland has seen a steady rise in the numbers being treated successfully for the most serious diseases – with dramatic progress in
survival rates for cancer, heart and stroke patients.
But we have to do better – we have to provide faster access to services. We have to make new specialist services available. We have to dramatically increase support for people where it can matter the most – in the community.
To get faster access to treatments, and to reduce the waiting lists which have been made much worse because of the pandemic, there are many things which are being done, but the most important step is clear: We need to continue to provide more hospital beds – more doctors, nurses and health care professionals.
We’re doing exactly this – with hospitals already beginning a programme to get waiting times well down.
We are eliminating in-patient hospital charges for children and adults.
We've reduced the cost of medicines significantly and we are expanding free GP care for many more people.
We are putting in place new services in areas which have not been catered for in the past.
That’s why we’re creating a new range of supports specifically for women’s health, including specialised clinics and improved gynaecology and maternity care, free contraception and support for couples seeking IVF treatment.
It's also why we’re developing new supports specifically to help people with dementia and their families.
We are investing more in primary and community care settings, and implementing a new model of enhanced community care. A dramatic increase in funding for homecare packages is part of this.
Action across all parts of the service. Faster access. Lower costs. New services responding to clear needs. That’s an agenda for real change in our health services.
Education is the great enabler and expanding access to education has always been a core value for Fianna Fáil.
Every major expansion in access to education has been put in place by our party – and we are again working to build on this legacy.
We want children to be educated in modern classrooms, in smaller classes and with access to essential materials and new technologies.
That’s why the largest ever programme of building and upgrading schools is today underway. It’s why we’re creating new special education classes and posts throughout the country. It’s why we’ve reduced class sizes in every budget since returning to Government – and it’s why from next year... all primary school books will be provided for free.
But we also have to make sure that courses help students to prepare for the world of today and tomorrow.
The Leaving Certificate in its current form was designed following Fianna Fáil’s introduction of free secondary education.
But that was before most of the modern economy existed and before many of the pressures experienced by young people today had even been imagined.
The Leaving Certificate examination has to be reformed. It has to provide more options for assessment and to measure a more complete range of skills.
We’re determined to deliver on this and to ensure that education will continue to be the foundation stone for building social and economic progress in our country.
As every day goes by, we are seeing more extreme weather and other impacts of climate change.
To protect our environment and to secure sustainable and affordable energy we simply have to end reliance on fossil fuels.
And the scale of biodiversity loss is becoming clearer all the time – we have to act to protect this most precious element of our natural heritage.
Our task becomes more urgent every day.
That’s why we are supporting a transformation in Ireland’s move to clean, cheap and sustainable energy. Ending our reliance on imported energy. Ending our exposure to the type of energy blackmail we’re seeing at the moment. Making Ireland a leader in tackling climate change.
Ireland has the potential to be a world leader in offshore wind energy – and we are determined that this will happen.
To protect some of our greatest natural heritage, we’re also dramatically increasing support for our Parks and Wildlife Service.
And every household, every school and every community can also benefit from insulation which reduces energy consumption and renewable energy which is secure and low cost.
We are determined to ensure that this Government is remembered for transforming Ireland’s action on climate change and bringing the benefits of clean, reliable and affordable energy to every part of our country.
Culture and Identity
Nuair a dhéanaimid machnamh agus caithimid súil siar ar chomóradh céad bliain dár gCogadh na Saoirse agus ar an gCogadh Cathartha a lean é, is ceart agus is cóir go dtugaimid onóir don spiorad agus don idéalachas a bhí mar phríomhaidhm acu siúd a d'oibrigh agus a throid ar son ár saoirse in Éirinn.
Cinnte, ba léir go raibh an spiorad seo bunaithe ar Phoblachtachas fial, éagsúil agus idirnáisiúnta.
Tá ár dtiomantas dár dteanga, dár gcultúr agus ár
n-oscailteacht do thuairimí difriúla ag croílár na hoibre againn sa Rialtas seo.
For the first time in our history, artists have access to a basic income support. Funding for arts, culture and support is being increased significantly.
Our commitment to our arts and culture, to our language, and our openness to different ideas is at the core of our work in Government.
We understand what it means to be a small nation seeking freedom and defending its culture. That’s why as a country we have been so open and strong in our support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression.
I want to pay tribute to the people of Ireland who have opened their communities, their homes and their hearts to the people of Ukraine.
Their struggle has been an inspiration. They have been willing to risk and sacrifice everything because they want to live in a European democracy.
To the Ambassador of Ukraine, who is with us tonight, to her government and to the Ukrainian people I want to assure you that this party will not waver in our support for you and your future as a member of the European Union.
When Fianna Fáil led Ireland into membership of what is today the European Union, we did so because we had faith that our country would modernise, grow and prosper in this community of free nations.
And today, as much as ever before, we believe that a strong and democratic European Union is vital for our future.
During the last two years we have spoken up for a more active Union. A Union which insists that all members honour basic democratic values. A Union which is strong enough to help us all through terrible threats such as the pandemic and war on our border.
And just as we have stood with Europe, Europe has stood with Ireland.
Next May it will be 25 years since the people of all parts of this island voted for the Good Friday Agreement.
Fianna Fáil will always be proud of its central role in securing ceasefires, negotiating the Agreement and developing North/South cooperation.
The Agreement gave us the peace we all yearned for and an opportunity for a new beginning.
But the harsh reality is that too little has been done to bring communities together.
Opportunities to tackle disadvantage and to tackle sectarianism have not been taken, and remain unfulfilled.
There has been a lot of talk about unity and reconciliation but very little work done to actually build the bridges which make it happen.
Well that time is over.
We have to get on with the hard work of moving from talk to action – and that’s exactly what we are doing.
The Shared Island Initiative which I established is the first time in our history where there is a sustained investment to support vital North/South projects, to build deeper connections and understanding.
Projects that have been talked about for decades are now underway.
The most inclusive dialogue ever between communities is taking place – and so too is a major series of research studies to start properly understanding the differences, similarities and opportunities in relation to health services, trade, childcare, education and other vital areas between North and South.
That’s real action.
Central to our identity as a party is that we believe in the Republican vision set out in 1916 of a country which truly unites all the people of our island, which respects diversity, different identities and puts behind it the divisions of the past.
And we believe that it is the duty of every one of us to do the hard work of building understanding, unity and a sense of shared community.
That is our work. That is our commitment.
In government, Fianna Fáil is determined to work with others to show the Irish people that the biggest challenges can be met and overcome.
Real and sustained progress demands that you don’t just look for headlines, but that you look for credible solutions.
Just as we did in helping our country through the pandemic and the recession, we will continue to work with our partners to meet urgent new challenges.
We know the impact which rising prices are having on families and business – and we will continue to provide help.
And we’ll go much further than that. When our full mandate is completed we will show real progress for the Irish people.
A new era of social and affordable housing,
Health care which is more accessible and affordable,
Investment in childcare and education,
Support for strong communities,
Moving from words to action on a shared island.
For Fianna Fáil, this remains our challenge and our commitment.
An Ireland which stands proudly in the world and listens to its people’s concerns. Which fights divisive policies, supports its weakest citizens, values education, empowers enterprise.
Now and always, putting action first, and serving all her people.