A chairde uilig,
Is mór an t-ardú croí domsa fíorchaoin fáilte a chur róimh go léir anocht chuig an 74ú Fheis do chuid Fhianna Fáil.
Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh uiligidir thaithneamh agus thairbhe as imeachtaí na deireadh seachtaine seo.
Is pairtí é Fianna Fáil a bhí i gcónaí freamhaithe go deimhin I gcultúr agus i gcroí na tire seo agus an dúshlán mór atá romhainn amach ná nasc, caudreamh agus teagmháil a athrú le muintir na hÉireann.
Two years ago we were held accountable by the people and suffered a serious defeat in the general election.
In the months afterwards I toured the country meeting every constituency organisation and thousands of our members.
We talked about what we had got wrong, what our party stands for and what our future should be.
The message was an absolutely clear one – Ireland needs a credible progressive republican alternative to the current government.
It needs a party which can bridge gaps between groups not widen them. It needs a party which works to combine both social and economic progress.
It needs a party which shows that it can learn from the past but is focused on the future. And this must be the role of Fianna Fáil.
The most important first phase in renewal was the implementation of the largest reform of the party’s rules since our foundation.
We agreed to put power directly into the hands of our active members and this weekend marks the completion of this process.
There are now over 20,000 paid up members from across the country. For the first time in our history all voting this weekend will be on the principle of one member, one vote.
It’s important to note the huge achievement in implementing such a major change in such a short time, and I want to thank everyone whose hard work and commitment made this possible, in particular Seán Dorgan and his team in party headquarters.
We also agreed to a new model of raising the funds we need to represent our communities and fight elections. The changes we’ve implemented and the dedication of our members means that now over 90% of all our fundraising comes from donations of €50or less.
Today when people ask “who funds Fianna Fáil?” the answer is a very simple one – many thousands of our members and supporters do, and they do it through small donations, draw tickets and membership fees.
Even more importantly we agreed that we must become a more activist party – one which re-establishes the direct link with people which was once our proudest boast.
We must show that we can listen and respond to people’s concerns. We are already preparing the ground for selection conventions for the Local and European elections next year.
We’ve appointed 80 local area representatives to increase our ‘on the ground’ work. We’ve held over 40 public meetings and conferences to give the public a direct opportunity to make their voices heard on major issues, and we are planning much more activity.Most of this work has taken place away from the media spotlight but I have no doubt it is having a major impact.
As I’ve consistently said in good times and bad, polls don’t matter. The public are tired of nonstop elections. They can see that what you get from permanent campaigning is a government with an unprecedented majority elected on the basis of promises it never intended keeping.
Our success in renewing our party and reconnecting with the people will only become clear after a longer period than we have had.
However, there is no doubt that when we go to the doorsteps today people are willing to engage with us.
When we show a combination of good candidates and a strong policy position on urgent issues they respond.
Our vote went up in the recent by-election by nearly 14% and it is a result we have every right to be pleased with. But there is no room for complacency.
Every time Fianna Fáil is doing well and having an impact the usual suspects in Fine Gael and Labour start attacking even more.
They don’t believe that anybody has the right to challenge them. They think that they can just keep rerunning the last general election and everything will be fine for them.
Well their rising unpopularity and falling support shows that the public is not interested in their politics as usual – it wants parties which are focused on responding to the issues of today and the future.
What our opponents and many others don’t understand is that we are not trying to restore the old political balance.
We understand that we and all parties have to learn the lessons of the past and change to reflect the Ireland of today.
Fianna Fáil isn’t focused on the past. We are not trying to recreate the old political balance.
We are focused on the future and that’s what people are engaging with.
Tomorrow we will move on with our agenda of internal reform.
We will consider a motion to hand over to members the final say on whether Fianna Fáil joins a coalition and on any programme for government we sign up to in the future.
We will also circulate a detailed proposal for introducing party-wide democracy into the election of party leader.
Based on a study of best practice internationally, the proposals will be brought to the members for direct consultation and final rules changes will be brought up for a vote next year.
In a very short period Fianna Fáil is implementing a radical reform of its own rules based on the core principle of empowering its members. I have no doubt that these changes will be central to our future success.
But while this is important our core business this weekend is not about rules changes, it’s about having serious discussions about the most important issues facing our country.
At a time of unprecedented pressures there are many decisions to be taken and this government is consistently taking unfair ones which are damaging recovery and creating new problems for the future.
From the first day of the Dáil we have adopted a constructive approach. We have been consistent in our support for bringing the deficit down and have not opposed reasonable measures to achieve this.
But we will not be silent in the face of this government’s record. We will not let them away with their growing list of broken promises.
We will not shy away from tackling them on policies which are causing huge damage to the social fabric of many communities.
As everyone can see, Fine Gael and Labour have started to manoeuvre against each other – briefing constantly about how they are going to put manners on the other. This is empty political game playing.
They remain totally committed to their only real strategy – spinning every minor development and hoping that something turns up.
Today the Taoiseach gave himself an ‘A’ on job creation.
They believe that if they hang around for long enough things must get better and they can roll-out their pre-prepared claims of having saved the nation.
The reality is that over the last two years they have consistently failed to respond to new developments. They have ignored the growing household debt crisis.
They have cut supports for small businesses. They have cut capital spending too deeply and this has resulted in job losses
This week they started claiming that, to quote Pat Rabbitte, “the heavy lifting has been done” and things will be easier from now on. What he of course didn’t say is that over 70% of that ‘heavy lifting’ was done in budgets Fine Gael and Labour voted and campaigned against.
What he also didn’t say is that the decisions of the previous government were progressive and as fair as possible – while this Fine Gael and Labour’s biggest policy decision has been a decisive move to target cuts and taxes disproportionately against those who can afford them least.
A deep unfairness, a refusal to respond to developing problems is becoming a defining characteristic of this government.
Most of their worst decisions are entirely avoidable. They are not about hitting budget targets; they are about ministers making changes which are causing real harm.
Health is the biggest example of this.
James Reilly came into office promising that he would implement reform which would end all problems in the health service. He said he knew exactly how to introduce efficiencies so that money would be saved and treatments would go up. Citizens would pay less and get more.
Together with his leader and Fine Gael colleagues, Minister Reilly toured the country handing over assurances to every community that their local services were safe.
Some Labour people are now complaining that they have been unfairly singled out for breaking their promises. It’s hard to have any sympathy for them, but when it comes to breaking promises on health they are right – Fine Gael are the undoubted champions.
Fine Gael has not only broken promises on health made before the election, it has actually broken extra promises made since the election.
On James Reilly’s second day in office he announced that he would be scrapping prescription fees yet he has proceeded to double them. He announced that he was extending free GP care, yet he is actually limiting access.
Today James Reilly is the last person left in the country who believes the health system is experiencing anything other than a sharp decline.
As his first act as Minister he abolished the treatment purchase fund that had helped to treat thousands of people.
He set up what he termed a ‘Special Delivery Unit’ which he claims has improved services. The facts show waiting lists are up for adults waiting for surgery.
The only list James Reilly has actually improved is the one for a new primary care centre in his own constituency.
There are over 2000 public beds closed across the country and this includes 84 wards in our acute hospitals, so we can expect waiting lists to get even longer.
While claiming that services are getting better this Minister has actually cut one million home help hours from the sick and elderly in their homes.
At the same time as implementing these damaging changes the government has tried to single out health care staff for higher cuts in a new pay deal.
Morale within the system has never been lower and service levels are falling rapidly.
The bulk of the problems being experienced today are entirely traced to so-called reforms introduced by this government.
By their own words the reasons for these changes is nothing to do with money, so they can’t use their usual lines to cover up when things go wrong.
But things may soon get much worse. The government is promising later this year to start implementing a complete upheaval in how hospitals are funded At a moment when hospitals are struggling to cope, the move to a compulsory insurance model is their stated priority. The evidence is that hospitals will lose secure funding and patients will suffer.
Hospitals will be converted into trusts and insurers will be put in charge of negotiating services. This will result in many hospitals which are currently providing excellent services losing out on funding and being pushed to the edge of viability.
This model has already caused huge problems in Holland and elsewhere.
These unfair and damaging changes should be stopped. In their place should come a renewed commitment to directly funding our public health services through the tax system.
I believe that the core responsibility of government is to ensure that public services are in place to fulfil the promise of decent services for all who need them.
Funding has to allow public services to plan for the future and it has to give basic security to vital staff.
A core principle of a fairer system should be the introduction of a single, unified waiting list for public hospitals, with medical need being the one and only criteria for treatment.
As was shown with the Treatment Purchase Fund, buying services for public patients outside the public system can be a very cost effective way of delivering for patients, and this should be restored.
However our priority has to be a reform which will strengthen our public health service and make sure that there is fair access for all.
In response to Minister Reilly’s damaging changes we are going to offer a constructive, credible and costed alternative.
We have already commissioned Mr Brian Turner Health economist in UCC to do an independent paper of how best the Irish Health system should be funded.
The paper actually outlines the disadvantages of the suggested universal health insurance model very clearly. It also includes an analysis of where we believe the core problems are in the system. We will be publishing this before the summer. We will do everything to stand against the mounting chaos which is directly traceable to bad political decisions and destructive plans.
The issue of delivering a real reform to Irish politics is becoming more important every day. People can see the impact of a government which talks about reform but does nothing.
In fact, they are making things worse. A system which desperately needs more openness, more accountability and more expertise is actually going in the opposite direction.
Anyone who follows the business of the Dáil can see a government which is arrogantly pushing through its business and refuses to answer even basic questions.
When challenged they roar slogans from the last election, shout down the opposition and shut down debate.
By the far the biggest test of reform is whether government is willing to give up any element of its control over parliament and debate. The answer to this is clearly no.
When asked about why they voted down the Oireachtas Inquiries referendum the main answer people gave was a lack of trust that the majority would use this power with restraint. This is a well-founded and growing concern.
Some time this year the government will push through a measure to completely change our parliamentary system.
It is refusing to consult anyone about it. It expressly refused to let the Constitutional Convention consider the issue and it has refused to even discuss it in the Oireachtas.
I have spoken consistently about our willingness to consider all changes to the Oireachtas, including the direct election of the Seanad, but our absolute precondition is that change must begin with reforming the power and operation of government.
There is no doubt that there needs to be radical reform of the Seanad but what is to be voted on is in fact a major power-grab by government.
They are proposing to drive out of the system the last element which has even the potential to be independent of government control.
In a parliament which has failed to fully review policies in the past, they are proposing to halve the level of review.
We need a political system with a less controlling government which is genuinely open to parliamentary scrutiny.
They are proposing to give government more control and reduce scrutiny. I believe the people should reject this proposal and demand real reform.
The process of renewing Fianna Fáil is well underway. In a short time we have achieved a lot more than most people expected – but our work has only begun.
Let me thank you for of re-electing me as Uachtarán Fhianna Fáil. This is a great honour. I am very proud to lead this party and to work with you on creating a new chapter in the history of our party.
With a reinvigorated membership and a united party we have the foundations in place to have a real impact. We must now move on in our work of providing a real alternative to a government of spin and broken promises.
We must be true to our founding values and show the people our way to recovery, our way to a fairer recovery.
That is our business at this Árd Fheis and it must be our business every day.