First of all I want to thank you for once again nominating me to contest a General Election on behalf of the Fianna Fáil organisation in Cork South Central. I have always believed that it is one of the highest honours any person can receive to be chosen to represent their community. At all stages of my public life the lessons and values I learned from growing up, being educated, working and raising a family in this community have been at the core of everything I have tried to achieve.
I am very proud of what we have achieved together over the years. We are proud of the contribution we have made to building Cork as a world leader in many industries, developing our schools, colleges and hospitals, investing in our infrastructure. We have every right to be proud of what we have all achieved for and with the people of Cork. Equally I believe we can be proud of the contribution Fianna Fáil in Cork has made and continues to make to vital national issues.
I want to welcome the nomination again of Michael McGrath as my running mate. In the most difficult election in our party’s history we held our own in Cork South Central. We did this because we’ve offered a balanced ticket and a proven record of delivery both locally and nationally.
Cork South Central has lost a seat but I can assure you of something – Fianna Fáil will be ready, will be strong and will be successful when the time comes for the next election.
Let no one be in doubt, this arrogant and out of touch government is increasingly rattled. It has spent so long in the bubble it created for itself it doesn’t understand why it is so unpopular. It doesn’t understand why it got such a drubbing in May. It expected the people to buy the fairy tale of Fine Gael and Labour as our national saviours and doesn’t have a Plan B.
Fine Gael and Labour are so disoriented that they have stopped governing and started flat-out panicking. That’s why we had the incredible situation of a Taoiseach throwing out election promises nearly a year and a half before what he claimed would be the election date.
When Enda Kenny says that there will be a clear choice at the next election he’s absolutely right – but it won’t be the choice he claims. What Fine Gael and Labour are offering is more of the same, and if you want to know what that means just look at the ESRI report today.
This is a government which in every major decision has hit struggling families the most and given priority to the wealthiest. At a moment when even people in good secure jobs are finding things difficult, it was the government’s decision to hit them with more taxes and charges – and to use this to give money to the wealthiest in society.
This is a deeply divisive and unfair government and its agenda for the future is to carry on with this. That’s why their sole election promise so far is to weight tax cuts to benefit the highest earners.
Fianna Fáil’s job is to provide an alternative to this. FG and Labour are happy with a divisive and unfair recovery – we must be the party which stands up for social solidarity.
Unlike many other countries, Ireland has never bought into the zero-sum class politics which tries build some people up by tearing down others. We believe that Ireland is strongest when it stands together, values community and helps those who are struggling. Today, more than ever, we are republicans who believe that it is the duty of the state to serve its citizens and that is at the core of our programme.
It’s not very glamorous work, but Fianna Fáil has been putting the time into building specific credible policies which show how we can have a fairer country. We’ve refused to join the other parties in their game of finding issues to exploit rather than problems to solve. Before the Budget we were the only party which showed how to meet budget targets and address urgent social needs. This will stand to us.
Let me tell you about the core principles which will underpin our platform for the next general election and the years ahead.
We will stand up for the squeezed middle in our society; the huge majority which have lost faith in the idea that their work and effort will be recognised by the state. There must be a return to the core principle of ability to pay being respected when taxes and charges are levied. The priority for tax relief must be for it to be fairly spread with the greatest benefit going to those most under pressure.
We will show our commitment to ending unfair austerity – which is the way that the government has targeted cuts at services and communities which can least afford them. Time after time vital services relied on by the weakest in our society have been the first in the firing line. This doesn’t have to be. There is a decent and fair alternative.
We will put the interests of children to the fore. Everywhere you go in our country people tell you about the fear they have of their children losing opportunities and being denied a fair chance. This government’s education policy has not just been a shambles it has been a disgrace. To end all guidance and counselling support in disadvantaged schools is a policy which no government could take if it cared for educational opportunity. Our policies will show how schools can be funded properly, important pre-school programmes expanded, apprenticeships made available and access to 3rd and 4th- level restored.
We will address a growing crisis, which is the exploitation of many vulnerable workers. The growing casualization of parts of the workforce and the expansion of deplorable zero-hours contracts must be tackled immediately. These practices are not required for growth or competitiveness. They simply build a two-tiered labour force and deny opportunities to many skilled and hard-working people. An industrial policy which expands the groups and regions which benefit is an absolute priority and so too is the principle that we must have a recovery based on decent employment opportunities.
Of course nothing will change unless there is a meaningful reform of politics and public life in our country. Six years into the crisis there has not been one single significant change to the way Ireland is governed. In fact, many of the worst aspects of the system have been strengthened. Fianna Fáil took the lead in defeating the government’s plan for strengthening its control in the Seanad referendum and we will set before the people the most comprehensive and credible political reform plan ever produced in a general election.
If you want evidence of the corrosive effects of the Government’s contempt for the Dáil, you need only look at the debate on Irish Water that has been taking place over recent days. They play the game, work to make it look like they are listening, but they have no respect for different opinions or the mandate of those on the opposition benches.
Our principles are for a country which moves forward in solidarity; which is determined to leave no community or group behind.
If there’s one thing which this government of spin and broken promises has done is to end any public tolerance for cynical and incredible promises. They want credible policies and clear commitment and that’s what Fianna Fáil will offer.
I’ve already challenged every member of our party at every level to play their part in the coming months as we debate and bring together our manifesto. We’ll be ready in the middle of next year for whatever comes.
And just as we know the government will promise more of the same – that’s also exactly what they will be offered by Sinn Fein and the other leftwing parties.
They are following the Gilmore-plan of opposition. They are opposing everything and pretending that there are no hard decisions ever to be faced.
Of course the most cynical of all is Sinn Fein. As recently as September they said they were going to be paying their water charges and believed that Irish Water should be retained. The got scared by Joe Higgins and have done a massive u-turn.
Time and again Sinn Fein are demonstrating that they don’t offer new politics, in fact they offer the very worst of cynical politics. Eamon Gilmore said “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”. Gerry Adams says “the EU should be told to bugger off”. There’s no difference. Empty, cynical politics. It can give a short-term poll bounce but it disappears when votes are counted.
That’s exactly what happened in May. The average had us in 3rd place behind Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. In the event, we secured more votes and more seats than any other party.
Fianna Fáil has a core strength in its organisation, its candidates and crucially in its history. We’ve made mistakes and been punished for them – and unlike other parties we’ve learned from them. They just want their turn and what we want is to show that politics can again deliver for the people. Just as it did when Fianna Fáil governments over the years built social housing, created the welfare safety net, opened up education, attracted foreign investment and secured peace.
If this government keeps going as it is there will continue to be a huge crisis every other week of its own making. The water debacle is only one part. There is homelessness, there is a dramatic increase in hospital waiting lists, there is rising class sizes, school strikes, plummeting public sector morale – the list goes on and on.
Whenever Enda Kenny gets the courage to go to the people we’ll be ready. We’ll have tickets with strong candidates in place. Our organisation will be prepared. Most of all we’ll be ready to offer a real alternative of a fairer and inclusive future for our country.