I want to thank you, over 1,000 supporters and members of Fianna Fáil, for being here this evening. Your continued active work for the party makes a huge difference.
When Fianna Fáil has been at its best, when it has made the most difference, it has been a party which values and empowers its members. We should always remember that the most radical thing about our party when it was set up was how it built its strength from the bottom up.
Today, as much as ever before, I believe that a successful, strong and vibrant Fianna Fáil is essential. Tonight I want to talk to you about this, and about the next year and a half during which the people will make a fundamental decision about the future direction of our country.
But before I talk about the future, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who worked in the various bye-elections over the last year. The candidates and their teams. I have no doubt that this work has built the foundation to ensure that each of these candidates join me in the next Dáil. I’d also like to thank everyone who was involved in securing our victory in the local elections. Look through the commentary for the entire year before the elections and you see claims that we were unprepared, that we would do badly and that we would be pushed aside by the other parties.
Every single poll, including the exit poll, got the result wrong. Some even said we would come a bad third.
Well we didn’t. Because of your dedication, because of our candidates and because of our work to reconnect with the people Fianna Fáil tonight is once again the largest party in Irish local government.
We may not have had the benefit of positive predictions but we did have 20,000 members who took our case directly to the people.
Nothing was accidental about the result. There are a lot of people who deserve our thanks but let me just mention our Director of Election Michael Moynihan and our General Secretary Sean Dorgan. They never seek out the spotlight and they get a lot of what you can diplomatically call ‘feedback’ from within our always lively organisation – but they out-campaigned the other parties by some distance.
We have every right to take great satisfaction from this success, but we must now move forward and focus on the challenges ahead.
This week the government delivered the first of two election budgets. The only objective was to try and get Fine Gael and Labour out of the hole they have dug for themselves. It was the most leaked budget in Irish history and they have rolled-out a full media campaign to try and sway public opinion. They hailed it as a national turning-point – just like they hailed last year’s budget as a national turning-point.
Underlying their budget is a desperation as people refuse to simply kneel-down and acknowledge Fine Gael and Labour as their saviours. A government of spin and broken promises is so badly out of touch that it believes its own propaganda and simply does not understand what is going on.
The budget sums up why they are in so much trouble. It was a short-term budget designed to paper over long-term problem not to deal with them.
The economy has returned to growth, and that is absolutely a good thing. This growth is based on the skills that the Irish people built up over many years.
What is not a good thing, what is actually a deeply damaging and divisive thing, is that a two-tiered recovery has developed, where some are doing well and many are left behind. There are families and communities in all parts of our country who hear the rhetoric of good times rolling again and they react with a combination of anger and despair.
Even for those who are doing well they have family and friends who are not. They live in communities losing vital services. They see policies which are unfair and they refuse to support them.
One of the really positive things about our country has been the fact that we have never embraced the right-wing ‘attack the state and gut public services’ ideology seen in other countries. We have always believed in letting individuals succeed but we have also always believed in the core value of community.
What we’ve been getting from this government is a completely different route. For three and a half years they have implemented measures which are deeply regressive, which have centralised services and which have undermined basic supports for our most vulnerable citizens. Rural and disadvantaged communities are being left behind because of the direct impact of government policy.
According to Michael Noonan earning €100,000 is ‘fairly average’ – so of course he thinks it’s OK to give the biggest benefit from the budget to those who have the most.
In this week’s budget Fine Gael and Labour doubled-down on their regressive policies and they doubled-down on a strategy which is all about getting over political problems and nothing about setting a vision for our country.
‘The best small country in the world to do business in’ is a good slogan and a laudable objective but it’s not a vision for a country.
Why are we not talking about being the best small country in the world to grow old in, or be educated in or be an innovator in? Why are we not talking about the centrality of community to our identity or how we want to gain from and contribute to the wider world? Why has the government failed to produce a plan on the long-term future of any aspect of what the state does or how much it should cost? It hasn’t even replaced the overall fiscal plan it inherited three and a half years ago.
The future of Irish politics will not be fought over the daily stories of who’s up and who’s down. It will be decided by who is willing to show where they want to lead our country.
And the divisions between the parties are growing faster than ever.
The current government is wedded to a short-term and highly divisive approach.
Sinn Fein and the others are even more divisive. They think there’s a huge group of people which can be squeezed to pay for massive spending increases. They talk a lot about problems – but only to exploit them never to solve them. To them politics is about conflict not cooperation.
Fianna Fáil must stand in contrast to them. We must stand for the core republican vision of a state which serves all of its citizens. A state which both helps people to succeed and supports its weakest members.
The Irish are a fundamentally fair people. They want to get ahead but they don’t want to see people left behind. They have pride in their community and they want to see the whole country do well. This is the spirit we must represent.
In government our budgets were tough but fair – delivering two-thirds of the changes which the government now says tackled the crisis. In opposition we’ve done the hard work of showing that there are alternatives. We’ve produced 78 bills and 27 policy documents to put substance to these alternatives. Whether or not it has received media attention, this work has led the way in holding the government to account and providing the foundation for the future.
It is Fianna Fáil spokespeople who exposed the shambles in health and forced the climb down on medical cards; who finally got Alan Shatter out of a job where he was undermining faith in the administration of justice; who hounded the government in Irish Water to show its true costs and failings.
This has been essential work, and it is work we must now build on.
I am determined that at the next election we will go before the people on a distinct platform which shows exactly what our vision for the future is. This will be based on the core philosophy that we believe Ireland can and must deliver for all its citizens, not just the strongest – that we can and must have a strong economy and an even stronger society.
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made in the past is that we’ve developed manifestoes without consulting the people or even our members. Those days are over.
Between now and the next Árd Fheis we will run a comprehensive and inclusive consultation. We will start by involving our members and we will engage both organisations and the general public.
I have written to every constituency asking them to organise at least one public policy conference in the next six months. They will be asked to address a policy priority of their area and party spokespeople will attend. We will have at least one policy discussion document in every policy area published before next Easter and actively seek feedback.
The basic structure will be addressing the four biggest challenges of the moment:
- A strong economy for all
- Quality public services available to all
- A real reform of politics and government
- All-Ireland reconciliation and prosperity
There will be four national conferences at which members will be able to put forward their ideas.
When we agreed two years ago to the biggest ever reform of our party’s structures it was never just about changing how we select candidates – it was about empowering our members and creating an activist base. It’s time to deliver on this. Every member has a stake in policy and I want every member to step-up and play their part.
Remember that after the next election there will be no private deals on whether we go into government or what policies Fianna Fáil signs up to. Our new rules mean that we cannot go into government or agree a programme for government without support for it in a special Árd Fheis.
Tonight we should take a moment to remember our late leader Albert Reynolds. The public outpouring of respect for his great achievements was incredibly moving.
Nothing about the great breakthroughs he enabled was inevitable. A steely determination underlay work which asserted the supremacy of democracy on our island. We all owe him our thanks. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Albert showed that only through the active involvement of our government could progress be achieved. Neither he or any Fianna Fáil Taoiseach or minister who followed him would ever have agreed that the affairs of Northern Ireland are not our business. According to the Ulster Unionist Party leader this is the very assurance he was given by Enda Kenny last week.
If it is true it is a disgrace and a direct abandonment of the dynamic central to every major achievement of the peace process.
I will return to this tomorrow at Bodenstown.
Táimid i bhFianna Fáil i gcónaí bródúil gur thugamar tacaíocht leanúnach tríd an stair do chuile gné den chultúr Gaelach. Ní náisiúnachas cúng nó cosanta é seo ach bród as an aitheantas agus féiniúlacht Éireannach agus mar a ghlac sé ról dearfach lárnach trí stair na tíre seo.
Thógamar institiúidí cultúrtha áitiúla agus náisiúnta agus ansin d`osclaíomar suas don phobal iad.
Ba chóir go mbeadh tréimhse spreagúil ann don teanga agus don chultúr ann anois. Seo ré nuair atá níos mó agus níos mó daoine óga ag léiriú spéise sa teanga agus an pobal sásta dul céim níos faide ná riamh chun seilbh a fháil ar ár dteanga agus stádas nua a thabhairt di.
Ach an méid a fheicimid ón Rialtas seo ná easpa measa agus suime inár dteanga agus inár saol cultúrtha.
This year we have had both political and electoral impact. We’ve shaken the government and we’ve received the most votes in two national electoral contests. A party that was written off three years ago is reconnecting with the people. We’ve shown that there is a big difference between what happens in the Leinster House bubble and on the doorsteps.
In the period ahead of us we’re going to continue to offer robust and effective opposition. But we’re going to step-up our work on offering real solutions to the problems that face people every day. We’re going to run the widest ever policy consultation and put in place our team for the general election.
The biggest reason why people keep underestimating Fianna Fáil is that they think we’re looking backwards. But we’re not focused on the past, we’re focused on the future. We’re focused on serving the needs of today’s Ireland and Ireland in the years ahead.
Only one party is interested in serving all sections of our society.
Only one party is willing to talk about the long-term success of our country.
Only one party is working to learn the lessons of the past to chart a new and stronger future.
Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party.