Taoiseachs Opening Address Fianna Fáil 80ú Ard Fheis
Published on: 03 October 2022
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to welcome you to the formal opening of the 80th Ard Fheis of Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party.
This is the first time in three years that we’ve been able to come together, to debate, to renew old friendships and to reaffirm our commitment to this great party.
I want to start, as I do at every Árd Fheis, by saying thank you to you our members for again electing me to serve as Úachtaráin Fhianna Fáil. It is a very great honour to hold this position, and I never take it lightly.
I also want to acknowledge that since we last met we have returned to government following the largest internal referendum ever held by a political party.
As we all know, in this modern age more and more public debate quickly descends in angry name calling and empty slogans. I am very proud of the spirit in which we held our debate and vote on entering government. There was a respectful discussion with all views being heard.
The overwhelming mandate which you our members gave for the agreed programme for government gives us great strength. It helps us, as we push to implement that programme in full while also responding to urgent new issues.
When we voted at a past Ard Fheis on whether to give members the final say in decisions about entering government, there were predictions that this would be unmanageable and could easily derail the process. I think we all saw that it was the right decision to empower our members and that giving them a greater role in our party is key to its future.
Our plans to hold Árd Fheiseanna in the last two years could not go ahead because of essential public health restrictions.
As a country we got through the pandemic because of a wonderful community spirit and the remarkable professionalism of medical professionals and public servants.
I think we can all agree that it was a reminder of the great strengths of our country and just how much can be achieved when we all work together.
On a more personal level, I want to pay tribute to colleagues from Fianna Fáil and our partners in government for their dedication, hard work and support throughout the pandemic.
And I want to thank the members of Fianna Fáil from throughout the country who kept in contact through the lockdowns and encouraged us through the toughest of times.
I am proud of our role in helping our country through the greatest public health emergency of modern times, and it’s right that we talk about the lessons we learned.
But our priority is to focus on today and the future.
We are, as we have always been, a party which puts action ahead of words.
We are not interested in trying to compete with the angry populist speeches of others. We are about doing the much harder work of developing practical solutions and implementing them.
This weekend we are holding many sessions and we are going to discuss the full range of issues which face our country and our party. Ministers and spokespeople will outline their priorities and, in turn, members will get an opportunity to have their voices heard.
We are going to discuss ambitious and urgent action on the cost of living, on housing, on health and on the full range of challenges which our country faces. Our focus will be on specifics, on what we’ve done in the past two years, but also, and more importantly, on what we intend to do during the rest of this term in government.
At this Ard Fheis we will also debate the adoption of a new version of our core aims and objectives – those things which define us and guide us. This is only the second time in 96 years that we have undertaken to adopt revised aims and objectives, so it is a very significant moment for us.
The proposal we will vote on was developed by a special committee, led by James Lawless and including members of our parliamentary party, councillors and other members of the party.
They have done a wonderful job and the great strength of their work was that they engaged with every constituency and gave everyone a chance to contribute.
This process confirmed that our members are very clear in their views of our party and our unique position.
The starting point for this is a very deep pride in the history of our party. Pride in what different generations have done to help secure progress in our country and to secure our place as a strong voice on the world stage.
When our great founding leader Éamon de Valera called a public meeting to discuss the foundation of a new republican party, he and his colleagues had no certainty that they would succeed. But they had an absolute determination to help move our country forward.
Our founders were mainly people who had opposed the Treaty of 1921 because it placed limits on the rights of Ireland and failed to respect the will of the Irish people for full sovereignty.
It is the great tragedy of those times that the leaders of the two main sides were not allowed to find a compromise. Interference from those who bore our country no good was central to the outbreak of a civil war which no one wanted and all regretted.
During this year’s commemoration of the outbreak of the civil war I have taken opportunities to talk about how we can remember it and respect all those involved without trying to reignite old debates.
I want to thank the family of Michael Collins and the Collins Commemoration for inviting me to speak at Beal na Blath last month, not just as Taoiseach but also as leader of Fianna Fáil. It was a respectful and important occasion which I believe showed yet again the strength of the Irish democracy which we all seek to serve.
And part of remembering the past, is that we must acknowledge that various atrocities have no legitimate place in the story of how our state developed. They did not secure our state and they did not further the cause of Irish sovereignty.
When Dick Barrett, Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor and Joe McKelvey were executed it was manifestly illegal and it damaged the standing and authority of the new state. It was a radicalising and destructive moment.
But it is also essential to acknowledge the full picture. For example, the murder of Deputy Seán Hales was manifestly wrong and promoted no positive cause.
I think it is right that we take time to remember those who served with many of our founders but who lost their lives in that terrible war. Their memory was a powerful motivation for finding a new way forward for republicanism.
And it is also right that we continue to confront the false idea that our party has been defined by so-called ‘civil war politics’. It is a lazy idea which looks for a model of total disagreement between parties, dismisses the democratic choices of voters who have welcomed a choice between centrist parties – and it is framed by ignoring the facts of political history.
The very reason Fianna Fáil was founded was because of a determination to move on from the civil war. To chart a new progressive direction. To show that Ireland could have a strong, independent and successful place amongst the nations of the world.
That’s why, when Constance Markiewicz opened the founding meeting of our party, the first item for discussion was the adoption of a clear set of principles to guide Fianna Fáil.
Drafted by a group led by Seán Lemass, this document has inspired and guided us since then.
We were founded to be a progressive republican party. A party which rejects the artificial and damaging division of politics into two competing ideologies. A party which believes that we need both a strong economy and a strong society.
This was a profoundly European vision – a belief that inclusive and diverse democracies should not be divided into fixed political ideologies.
It is this republicanism which reinforced democracy at a time when it was falling victim to extremism in much of the world. And it is this republicanism which has inspired the many great achievements of our party over nearly a century.
We are proud of our history, and part of that history is to always seek to be addressing the needs of Ireland today and in the future.
The new statement of core aims and objectives has been drafted in light of this, and the belief of our members that Fianna Fáil must continue to build on its founding ideals.
The proposal we will vote on has a very important summary of who we are and what we are working for:
Fianna Fáil is a progressive republican party, born out of a national movement to achieve an independent republic and unite Ireland. The party is grounded in the community, pro-enterprise and committed to social justice, aligned with European liberal democracy and the classic republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
And the proposal then goes further and lists eleven specific areas which are core priorities for us.
There will be a fuller discussion of this during the Árd Fheis, but I will mention just a few of these areas now.
To secure peace and harmony, the unity of Ireland and its people of different identities and cultures remains a core value for us. The framework within which this can be achieved is the Good Friday Agreement – a historic achievement which would have been impossible without the central role of Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil.
And our focus is on action not words – on doing the hard work of building understanding, confronting sectarianism and tackling disadvantage.
Ardchaighdeán a chur chun cinn sna hEalaíona agus slite beatha inmharthanacha a chur ar fáil do na daoine a bheidh ag obair iontu, chun ardmheas a thaispeáint dár n-oidhreacht uathúil agus í a roinnt leis an saol mór, ag cur béim ar leith ar fhorbairt na Gaeilge mar theanga bheo.
Cuirfidh Fianna Fáil an Ghaeilge chun cinn i gcónaí.
A unique part of Fianna Fáil’s core beliefs is that we emphasise both economic and social progress – supporting businesses, communities and families to thrive.
One of the most remarkable things about the last year has been how the opposition parties have absolutely no interest in the fundamental issue of creating and protecting jobs. They only ever talk about how to spend resources, never about how to generate them.
They never have a positive word to say about those who create jobs – and while sometimes they issue warm words promising to be no threat to anybody – they constantly attack the free trade we rely on and the tax system which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and our expanding public services.
Time and time again we have helped our country to progress by showing how sustainable social and economic growth depend on each other.
This remains a core value for Fianna Fáil.
We are reaffirming our belief in strong public services and we are going further.
On Wednesday, together with our partners in government, we announced a budget which is balanced and fair – helping people at a time of huge pressure from rising prices and making sure that the biggest benefit flows to those who need it the most.
In area after area, we showed a sustained commitment to public services.
In the new statement of aims and objectives, for the first time we will be acknowledging education as a distinct point.
In reality, education has from our earliest years been a defining issue for Fianna Fáil.
The facts show that every major expansion in access to education, and educational achievement was initiated by Fianna Fáil.
The decisions by Fianna Fáil governments to introduce free secondary education, to create new higher education institutions, to create special education supports, to create research funding and to invest in new buildings and more places – these decisions were central to social and economic progress in our country.
And this is a tradition which will continue to define us.
To provide an education fit for the challenges of the modern world you have to keep looking for ways of improving and responding to new opportunities.
The announcement this week of free school books for primary schools is part of our wider work to make sure that all school children have access to materials – and we’re also implementing comprehensive plans to give schools ongoing access to new technologies.
Fianna Fáil will always be the party which puts schools and education first.
Climate change and the destruction of the natural environment are defining issues of our time. They are existential threats.
That’s why the Party’s core aims and objectives will, if agreed by the Ard Fheis, prioritise climate action and biodiversity for the first time.
Ireland’s security, the security of our natural heritage, the future of the wider world, demands action on moving to a zero-carbon economy and protecting our natural environment.
And key to sustainable action is to help industries and communities to not just make the transition, but to actually use the transition as an opportunity to become stronger and more secure.
Our commitment to rural Ireland remains absolute, and this means that we are taking the lead in making sure that farms and the wider agrifood sector can prosper. They can become the greatest beneficiaries of clean, secure and renewable energy. And investing in new products and new markets will guarantee both food security and higher incomes.
The revised CAP support schemes and the full range of actions which Charlie McConalogue is implementing, show that securing the future of farming and rural life remains a core priority for Fianna Fáil.
And during the debates and consultations of the last year our members have said time and again how proud they are that we are the party which brought Ireland into transformative membership of the now European Union.
The last act of our founding revolutionary generation was to show the Irish people that the way to secure sovereignty and democracy in Ireland was for us to become positive, outward-looking members of the European community of democratic nations.
And at this critical moment in world and European history, the protection of democracy and the rule of law, we need a strong and effective European Union more than ever.
That is why we are resolute in standing with Ukraine. The attempt by a bullying neighbour to partition Ukraine, to undermine its sovereignty, is something which must never be allowed stand.
In 2008 with the invasion of Georgia and 2014 with the first invasion of Ukraine, Russia told the world that it was willing to show contempt for smaller countries and to directly attack democracy.
The democratic world did too little to respond. We left ourselves too open to energy blackmail and interference in our democracies.
We must all now understand that Ukraine’s struggle is on behalf of us and our values – and there can be no going back to the days of complacency and dependence.
Energy independence must be a key objective to protect the sovereignty of the European Union and its member states.
This week we’ve taken major moves to help families and businesses cope with huge increases in energy prices caused by the Russian aggression. This is providing vital aid at a moment of pressure and uncertainty.
But the reality is, that we also have to plan for this disruption lasting longer. There is no certainty that the war will be over soon and how energy markets will change is largely unknown. Urgent action to develop Ireland’s own clean energy industry is not an option it is a necessity. And we also have to be ready to take more action next year if we have to.
That’s why it is critical that we have financial reserves in place – and it also why we are working so closely with other European countries on how to keep prices down, increase supply and protect households and businesses.
And let there be no doubt, we will not countenance energy firms making huge new profits on the back of this crisis. Action at a European level is progressing fast, and we will add to this with our own actions if they are necessary.
At this Ard Fheis we are going to talk about these and the other critical issues facing our country.
We are reaffirming Fianna Fáil’s core values.
Our commitment to a socially and economically strong and united Ireland.
Our determination to protect our democracy and to stand with others to defend democracy at a time of serious threat.
Our belief in the republican ideal of a state which serves all of its people and rejects the sterile ideologies of the left and right.
You are welcome to the 80th Árd Fheis and I look forward to the rest of this weekend.