A chairde go leir i bhFianna Fáil ta luchair orm fáilte a chur romhaibh chuig an gcuigiu ard fheis is seachto de chuid an phairtí seo.

I mbliana is cuis mhor athais dom go bhfuilimid uilig bailithe anseo i lar na Riochta, contae ina bhfuil na traidisiuin agus an ghaeilge beo beathach. Míle buiochas le baill an phairtí sa cheantar seo a chabhraigh linn an ocaid thabhachtach seo a eagru.

On ollthoghchan deireanach trí bliana o shin is ag dul i bhfeabhas agus i dtreise ataimid mar phairtí.

Tá ballraíocht Fhianna Fáil meadaithe agus is cinnte go bhfuil obair den scoth ar siul ag ionadaithe an phairtí ag leibheal aitiuil agus naisiunta.

Tá baill Fhianna Fáil gniomhach gnothach ag obair ar son mhuintir na hEireann.

Mar cheannaire tuigim go rimhaith an dushlan mor an obair mhor atá le deanamh idir seo agus na toghchain aitiula agus Eorpacha ,ach a chairde ,is le  fuinneamh agus misneach atáimid ag tabhairt faoi seo.

Tá suil agam go mbeidh deireadh seachtaine den scoth agaibh go leir anseo i gCiarrai agus ar aghaidh le Fianna Fáil.

We have a very busy Clár this weekend.  Unlike the other parties, we have a full range of issues and motions to be debated.

While they have gone the way of trying to close down debate, we have encouraged it and have ended the days where every motion is pre-approved before it gets on the Clár.

This Árd Fheis comes after what has been a very active year.  Bedding down the major reforms we agreed for the Party’s structures has required a huge amount of work.

We don’t have a big staff but we certainly have the hardest working and most dedicated staff of any party on this island.

We are a party of 20,000 people who are to be found in every community in our country.

We are a party funded by small donations from our members and supporters.

We have a history of which we can be proud. A party founded by people who fought for our independence.

We embedded constitutional republicanism as the guiding principle of our state.

We led development, opened up education and brought Ireland to a proud and influential place on the world stage.

We were founded as a reforming party and this is the spirit which I find wherever I go in the country attending meetings and knocking on doors with our members.

We are also realists.  The election of 2011 and the events which led up to that result have given us our greatest ever challenge.

The spirit of reflection on what went wrong and the determination to renew the Fianna Fáil tradition in the last three years has been inspiring.

We are reforming, but we are not complacent or naïve enough to be unrealistic.  We know we have to work every day to reconnect with the people.

Over the last six months we have held conventions in every constituency.  Over 15,000 of our members have participated – making this the largest participation we have had, or any party has had, in the selection process for many decades.

When we introduced radical changes to our rules and structures we didn’t end the possibility that we might disagree from time to time – but the level of unity and common purpose we have today is well ahead of where we’ve been before.

The local elections in May will see us field over 430 candidates.  They are a great mix of proven representatives who’ve earned the trust of the people they serve and new faces.  Over one third are running for any office for the first time – and many of these are entirely new to politics.

The government is claiming that they are implementing radical reform to local government.

Just like much of what they claim this is empty spin.  What they’ve done is implement a lot of change but no reform.

The only thing Phil Hogan has been micromanaging in the Department of the Environment is his attempt to maximise Fine Gael and Labour seats in May.

He’s completely changed local authority boundaries and seat numbers to try and save as many of their seats as possible.

It is the biggest attempt to manipulate election boundaries in the 35 years since Fianna Fáil introduced independent Boundary Commissions.

As part of this he has completely abolished Town Councils.  This makes Ireland one of the few countries in the democratic world that will have no elected councils at town level.  This is part of their wider disregard for the idea of community in policy.

On the day they formed their government they abolished any cabinet-level responsibility for communities, and the task of local development, including tackling crisis problems like drugs, which isn’t even assigned to a junior minister.

Communities matter and having a body to be a focus for town activities – to ensure that there is somebody working to support community spirit – is not something which should be seen as an option.

It’s ironic that just as government is abandoning it as a priority, it is community spirit which is seen as our greatest strength in helping people during the recession.

Our focus is on maximising our representation on the City and County Councils, but let’s not let this weekend go by without saying thank you to the Town Councillors of our party and every party for the work they have done over many years.

Fine Gael and Labour have controlled many counties for over a decade and many more for the last five years.  They have a record to defend and we will hold them to account for it.

We will also hold them to account for their massively wasteful and unfair approach to water charges and property tax.

The only positive message that Phil Hogan kept saying about the Property tax was that it would fund local services.

This week he again confirmed that he is already abandoning this promise.  The money has been siphoned away from local authorities and used by Ministers to pay for their own priorities – in this case the creation of the Irish Water Quango.

€180 million and counting – that’s the cost of establishing a body whose main task is to implement a new regressive tax.  The scale of the new costs and bonus culture was being hidden until it was forced out of them by our dogged pursuit.

I want to thank Barry Cowen for his great work on exposing the mounting cost and excesses of Fine Gael’s pet project and biggest tax.

The founding meeting of our party was chaired by a woman, Countess Markievicz.

Nearly 90 years later the low representation of women in political office, within our party and in politics as a whole is simply unacceptable.

We have published an action plan to increase the representation of women at all levels of the party. Let’s implement it.

That’s why I’m establishing the Markievicz Commission, which will be responsible for delivering on our ambitious targets.

In May we will also compete in the most important European Elections since direct elections to the parliament began.

Clear failings in the policies and powers of the European Union were central to much of the current economic crisis here and throughout the Union.

That’s not a Eurosceptic thing to say – it’s what everyone who wants the Union to work has to admit.

We want a better, stronger, more effective European Union and to get this Ireland needs to best possible MEPs.

We have by far the strongest ticket of candidates in these elections.  Other parties have a lot of candidates who are great in getting media attention, but none can match ours in terms of their ability to have a concrete impact.

We saw this recently where our MEPs, only three in number, succeeded in getting a proposal to support debt relief for Ireland onto the agenda of the European Parliament.

Our leader in Europe, Pat the Cope Gallagher has made a huge impact.

He has an incredible work rate.  Brian Crowley is renowned as an MEP who gets out amongst his constituents every spare moment he has and brings their issues straight back to the Parliament.

Liam Aylward’s ten years in the Parliament have shown what someone can do when given the chance in a Parliament which takes its members seriously.

He’s written major reports which have directly influenced important EU policies.  Liam has decided not to go forward again and I want to thank him for the great work he has done for our party and the people of our country.

Pat the Cope and Brian are being joined by three great candidates – Thomas Byrne, Mary Fitzpatrick and Kieran Hartley. They are standing on a progressive platform and with the commitment to be MEPs who are in touch and effective.

Let’s do everything we can to support them in this important election.

Health is a big issue for debate this weekend and it will be one of the most important issues through the rest of this government’s term.

Fine Gael and Labour know that there is a rising crisis in the health system because of their policies.

This is why for the first time ever the cabinet intervened to censor the HSE’s Annual Plan.

Ministers removed statements which confirmed that the claims they are making about service levels this year are a fantasy.

This is not just Fine Gael’s work – Labour played a full part in the censorship.

What we’re going to see in the next two years is an ever more frantic public relations strategy to try and convince people black is white and everything is fine.

Look at the GP-care proposal.  First we discovered that a ‘free for all’ service was only going to be for under-6s.  Then we discovered that ‘free’ is to be redefined as ‘with a charge’.

Now we are finding out that over 90% of the people expected to deliver the service are refusing to implement a scheme they believe is flawed and which they have never consulted.

Two months ago James Reilly wrote that he would soon introduce a compulsory health insurance system which would cost less but deliver more for everyone.

Since then a non-stop series of leaks have shown that he has no idea what it would cover, no idea how much it would cost and no idea when he can actually implement it.

This is what you get when you have a government more concerned with managing the media than setting out credible policies for the future.

It’s the difference between the rhetoric and the reality is the biggest thing behind why this government has been so unpopular for so long.

While Joan Burton has been very successful so far in her campaign to pretend to be different from the rest of the government, her record is mounting as a minister who is implementing deeply regressive measures.

She couldn’t hide her cuts to child benefit or her targeting of the under 25’s.  The justification she used for cutting their support was as right-wing as anything you’d here from a British Tory.

They say “get on your bike” and she says “get off your couch” – and both are equally dismissive of the real issue of youth unemployment.

Something she was successful in hiding for two years was her cuts to the pensions of many thousands of women who took time off to raise families.

Changes she pushed through have seen women losing up to €1,000 each year from their pensions.

If you want to know where to find the remnants of the left-wing credibility of the Labour Deputy Leader you’ll find them in her garden shed with the Gilmore for Taoiseach posters.

At his Árd Fheis two weeks ago the Taoiseach singled out Alan Shatter for praise.  He repeated the idea that any criticism of Minister Shatter is the same as an attack on An Garda Siochána.

After only three years in office they already see no difference between themselves and the state they are supposed to serve.

Let’s be clear here, no party comes close to matching Fianna Fáil in its commitment to An Garda Siochána.

That’s why in office we expanded the force, invested in its facilities, gave it access to new technologies, tackled legal problems which were hindering them from doing their jobs of protecting us all from the criminal gangs.

Let’s compare this to the record of a government which has so little commitment to the role of Gardaí in our communities that they have been closing down stations in every part of the country.

Alan Shatter even said that a Garda travelling in a squad car through a huge rural area was better than having a local station.

It is because we believe in the proud record and status of the Gardaí that we will not fear to speak up when any issues arise about failures within the force.

The only reason there are now three inquiries going on is that Alan Shatter has failed in his duties.

His own donor and friend, who he appointed as the Garda Confidential Recipient, said that he goes after people if he thinks they are causing him trouble.

Fine Gael can give Alan Shatter all the standing ovations they want, but the longer he remains as Minister for Justice the more they show that they put politics first in everything – even the duty to protect the good name of our police force.

This is a government of spin and broken promises.  Growing more arrogant and out of touch by the day we have an obligation to challenge them.

Our differences with them are large and growing by the day – but we are not defined by these differences, we are defined by what we stand for.

This is what will be our focus through this Árd Fheis.  We are a party which rejects the Gilmore-Kenny approach of total opposition.  We will always match our criticism of them with a commitment to providing credible alternatives.

We’ll debate how to deliver an inclusive and effective public health system.

How, to expand educational opportunity.

How to support communities.

And we’ll debate how to change the two-tier recovery and replace it with one which delivers opportunity and fairness for all.

I want to thank you all for your commitment to our party.  I look forward to our debates and I look forward to talking with you as we work to build our party and serve our people.