Ladies and Gentlemen,
They said it couldn’t be done.
They said it wouldn’t be done.
They told us the party was dead and our support was gone.
They were wrong.
Tonight, we have 4,500 people in this hall from every community and every corner of the country.
This party is very much alive.
This party is very much present.
The truth is, the Fight Back has begun.
It is an honour and a privilege to address you in the lead-in to Micheál Martin’s first presidential address to our Ard Fheis in this iconic building, where the foundations were laid for many great Fianna Fáil successes in the past.
And I know that people will look back at this Ard Fheis, on this weekend, in this building, in years to come as the occasion where the foundation was laid for the revitalisation and renewal of our great party.
It would be wrong not acknowledge the General Election of just over a year ago. It was a traumatic and difficult time for our party. People were angry and we were held accountable. And we respect that.
It was a great honour for me personally to be elected for the first time to Dáil Éireann, representing the people of Longford-Westmeath. I am extremely grateful to be elected.
Unfortunately good colleagues and capable Fianna Fáil candidates all around the country were not so fortunate.
My admiration and appreciation, and that of all my colleagues who stood for election, goes out to all of you – the people who canvassed all over the country in the most difficult election in our party’s history.
It took courage, it took commitment and it took pride in our party to go to the doorsteps when the prevailing political wind was so much against us. That spirit of loyalty and dedication that will be the bedrock of our future success.
We’ve a long road ahead of us but the job has well and truly begun.
I want to commend our leader Micheál Martin for the outstanding work he has done in this regard in the past year.
He has shown an incredible appetite for hard-work and an openness and accessibility which is very encouraging for the future.
In the past year, he has been in every corner in this country engaging with our membership.
He has addressed dozens of renewal meeting and, very importantly, he has listened.
He has listened to your concerns, your suggestions and your ideas.
We have not tried to delude anyone about the scale of the job that needs to be done.
Nor have we taken the easy option of saying that the electoral cycle will swing back to us if we sit tight and wait for this government to get it wrong.
As a party, we know that we have to learn from our mistakes.
And this has been a great Ard Fheis, where every member has had an opportunity to have their say.
It was important that we discussed frankly, honestly and passionately where Fianna Fail is today and, more importantly still, how we can renew and revitalise our party for the future.
We all agree that we need to get this party back on-track because a renewed Fianna Fáil will play a vital role in the future of this country and of its people.
All political parties exist because of their membership.
I’m extremely proud of our members.
Our members are ordinary, decent, patriotic people who want nothing more than to see our communities thrive and prosper.
The practical know-how and the everyday experiences of Fianna Fáil members in every community on this island must be at the core of future policy development.
Never again Ladies and Gentlemen, never again should we allow a disconnect to occur between the practical needs of people on the ground and the policy makers in high office.
Unfortunately, already, that is exactly what is happening with this Government– a total disconnect with reality.
They insulted the people of Ireland by making a range of election promises, when they knew full well at the time that they had no intention of keeping them.
They signed pledges for photo opportunities that weren’t worth the paper they were written on.
Ask the people of Roscommon about pledges on the hospital.
Ask the people of Sligo about pledges on cancer services.
Ask the third level students about pledges on fees.
Ask the retailers about pledges on rent reviews.
Ask the small rural schools about pledges on frontline services.
And of course the infamous pledge: Not another red cent to the banks!
A litany of deceit and lies.
The people will think twice before believing them again.
And if that old style politics wasn’t bad enough, Ladies and Gentlemen, we can certainly do without the arrogance and ignorance of raking over the coals of the civil of war for the sake of cheap political sound-bites.
Of course there are others who are putting forward easy-street, pie in the sky policies which they know have no chance in the world of ever being implemented.
Sinn Féin and the dolly-mix of left-wing TDs are against everything and for nothing.
Theirs is the politics of opportunism, negativity and despair – and there is no place for it in the creation of a new future for Ireland.
And for all their moralising Sinn Féin are reverting-to-type with the politics of the ballot paper in one hand and the cartridges … 50 thousand euro worth… in the other.
Fianna Fáil stands for new politics.
We are the only party in opposition which is prepared to challenge on the basis of credible debate and workable alternatives.
In the past 12 months, Fianna Fáil has produced 20 Bills, offering solutions to problems people are facing every day in battling mortgage arrears and in creating jobs.
It is to Micheál Martin’s credit that he has not played populist politics, when it would have been easy to do so.
The situation in this country with so many families struggling is far too serious for that.
We have held the Government to account where they have gone wrong.
But we haven’t played petty politics.
And where they are doing something that will, in our opinion, help people, we have supported them.
That’s real Republicanism – putting the welfare of all the Irish people first.
And Fianna Fáil has been a guardian of true republicanism when others have sullied its name.
Our Republicanism is not defined solely by our desire for a united Ireland. It is a Republicanism of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality across all sections of Irish society.
History has taught us that when we are open, inclusive and responsive to the aspirations of the Irish people – then great things can be achieved.
As the party’s youngest TD, I want to say to any young person interested in politics or influencing policy, that Fianna Fáil is the place where your voice will be heard.
We are a party dedicated to dealing practically with the real issues:
Helping people who are struggling with debt, supporting jobs, developing our education system, improving our health services and reforming our public service and make it fit for purpose.
We need your input. Your voice is important and it matters to us.
We have a Leader, a man of integrity, vision and energy.
Micheál Martin has always been a politician who has been on the people’s side.
He was on the people’s side when he implemented a huge expansion in special needs provision in our schools.
He was on the people’s side when he introduced Research and Development programmes in our colleges.
He was on the people’s side when he set up the Small Business Forum to assist a sector which is so vital for jobs and economic growth.
He was on the people’s side when he led the world on the smoking ban – saving thousands of lives and making work places healthier.
He was on the people’s side when he negotiated the Hillsborough Agreement which stabilised the cause of peace on this island.
And he was on Ireland’s side when it was HE who started the Global Economic Forum in Farmleigh when Ireland’s brightest and best came home to see how they can contribute to our recovery.
Today, Micheál is on the people’s side – by inspiring all of us to look at politics in a new way – a constructive, credible alternative.
He inspired renewal in our party.
He inspired renewal in our values.
He inspired a renewal of self-belief.
And he will inspire us to work with one single focus: To make this great country great again.
A chairde ….. Úachtaran Fhianna Fáil, Micheál Martin.