Ba mhaith liom fíor fáilte a cuir romhaibh go léir anocht chuig ceiliúradh Chairde Fháil arís i mbliana. Nach bhfuil áthas orainn or táimse breá sásta a bheith ar ais sa Burlington anocht i measc ár gcairde go léir don oíche speisialta seo!Is léir ón méid duine atá anseo linn an méid fuinneamh agus neart atá fós ag an bpáirtí agus fós ionainn go léir.
I want to welcome you tonight to what is another successful Cáirde Fáil dinner. The people who are here are once again a testament to the energy and commitment which is within our party.
This has been an active year for Fianna Fáil. We’ve talked candidly about the past, and now our focus has moved to the future. It’s on building up a modern party which reconnects with people. It’s on opening ourselves up to new members and new ideas. Most importantly, it’s on putting forward credible solutions to the problems our country is facing.
We all understand that we have a long distance to go. We have to work every day to renew and reconnect. And it’s not going to be easy – but we have made a good start.
In March we held what was by far the largest, most passionate and most successful Árd Fheis of any party since the last election. Those who expected an event showing a party giving up saw the exact opposite. They saw our members speaking up for a renewal of our founding spirit. They saw open and free debate of a type not allowed in an Irish political party for many years. They saw a party which is determined that a mainstream republican alternative will prosper in Irish politics.
At the Árd Fheis we agreed the most significant series of internal reforms in our history. They were developed in full consultation with members and directly reflected their input. The process of enrolling members with individual voting rights is now under way. When we begin to select candidates for the Local and European Elections the new system will be fully in place.
Today we have a party whose rules give real power to members and which is redirecting its activities where they should be – on active engagement with the communities we exist to serve.
I have visited every constituency and seen a real desire amongst our members to move on. Internal reform of the party only matters if it helps us to be more effective in representing the people.
That’s why we’ve started holding open meetings dealing with issues of major public concern throughout the country. A new national policy conference is being prepared which will be held shortly and which will set out a clear framework for our work.
Each week I try to spend at least two evenings going door to door with party members in their own communities around the country. We don’t bring the media and we don’t bring an agenda. We’re not looking for anything but to talk to people about their concerns and what they want from the people elected to serve them.
No matter what communities I visit – urban or rural, comfortable or disadvantaged – the same message comes back. People feel even more let down by politics than before.
There are hard messages for us. We can grow and win again but only if we show day in and day out that we understand the need for real change.
It’s also clear that the demand for change is even larger today than it was in January last year.
There was a lengthy honeymoon period when this government was given the benefit of the doubt. They got a lot of free passes for mistakes because of a shared national wish for them to do well. Today, not even their biggest supporters can deny that people are angry at an ever growing list of broken promises and believe that they are not being listened to.
This is an unprecedented crisis facing our country and much of the developed world. People understand this. They know that changed circumstances demands a changed politics – and they are not getting it from this government.
They are also not getting this from the other opposition parties and groups. They continue to follow the old Gilmore and Labour playbook of offering anger rather than an alternative. They believe in attacking their opponents not in attacking problems – and that’s where you will find the biggest difference between us and them and that’s why eventually we will be more successful.
We reject the idea of destructive opposition because it is wrong. It also doesn’t work. It is the very definition of a short-term and unsustainable strategy. Both Labour and Sinn Fein saw this in the run-up to the last election. They lost a third of their support in just over a month. When people come to cast their vote they can see through the empty exploitation by those who claim that there are easy answers to even the hardest of problems.
During the European referendum they chose the path of cynical posturing. We chose the path of principled support. The public saw us standing clearly for our core beliefs – and this has stood in our favour.
They have been completely absent without leave when it comes to the real work of scrutinising the policies and actions of ministers. When fundamental legislation on issues such as personal debt has come before the Dáil, they have opted-out of the work of trying to shape the legislation to help people in need.
In area after area, the party which is starting to have a real impact on demanding accountability from this government is Fianna Fáil.
We’ve known since last year that James Reilly was failing as Minister for Health. We exposed him and his colleagues for the cynical abandonment of the promises to Roscommon, Nenagh, Ennis and other hospitals throughout the country. We did the work of asking the detailed questions about what was happening in his Department and in the HSE. When it became absolutely clear that he was turning a difficult situation into a crisis we put down a motion of no confidence. This has revealed even more of the dysfunction not just in James Reilly’s area but within the entire government.
Every day Fine Gael and Labour have come into the Dáil chamber with another aggressive attempt to try to dismiss legitimate concern and every day they are forced to respond because we’ve done the work to expose them.
Put aside their bluff and bluster and you find a simple, core fact: James Reilly prioritised two towns in his own constituency and two areas in Roscommon for political gain rather than prioritising centres that were already agreed based on a deprivation criteria. Basically, he fixed the list. He has directly misled the Dáil on a number of occasions and his associate tried to hide the strength of their relationship.
Yesterday Eamon Gilmore made the incredible admission that he feared Fine Gael might break the coalition if he tried to tackle Reilly’s behaviour.
James Reilly is not managing his department. He is causing a crisis through the health system. He has misled the Dáil. He has broken direct and solemn promises to communities throughout the country. He has proven to be incapable of working with colleagues. Every day he stays as Minister for Health is a day that will not be forgotten by voters when they come to deliver their judgement on Fine Gael and Labour.
The mortgage and household debt crisis is having an enormous social and economic impact in all parts of the country. The government’s response has been to try to do almost nothing. We’re the ones who have kept pushing it back onto the agenda. Producing legislation that has forced them to respond and refusing to let Ministers get away with claiming that everything is under control.
In other areas like Phil Hogan’s incompetent and unfair household tax, Ruairi Quinn’s betrayal of his promise to third-level students and destruction of Déis supports and Special Needs Assistants in our schools, it’s our work that is having the impact.
Our focus in the Dáil is going to continue to be a balance between holding the government to account and offering credible solutions. Health, education and personal debts and job creation will be our priorities, though we will be active on all areas.
As I’ve said before, I want you and members throughout the country to play your part in helping us to offer a strong policy alternative to both this arrogant government and the cynical parties of the left.
The need to increase protections for children and to recognise their rights in the constitution is a priority for us. Well before the election we produced a wording for a constitutional amendment which we believed would achieve these objectives. A referendum was delayed because other parties didn’t agree with the wording. This has now changed and an amendment is to be voted on by the people which is nearly identical to our proposal.
It is a good and balanced amendment and we will be campaigning for its passage in the referendum. I have appointed Barry Andrews as our Director of Elections and, working with our Spokesperson on Children, Robert Troy, we will be holding information meetings around the country. Fianna Fáil is determined to get our members out to vote yes on November 10th.
This has been a positive year for Fianna Fáil. Our organisation is stronger and we’ve begun again to have a significant impact on behalf of the people. We’re going to continue to build on this momentum. We’ll complete the organisational changes. We’ll bring in new members. In the last month we recruited 1500 new Ogra members. We’ve extended Ogra into new colleges and today we are once again the largest political party in 3rd level colleges.
We have appointed 40 Local area representatives who are already getting active representing their communities in both rural and urban areas. We will be appointing more over the coming months. Our Councillors and MEP’s are already preparing for 2014. It is up to each and every one of us to work tirelessly for all our candidates in the local and European elections in 2014.
In the next year we’ll put in place candidates for the local elections who are a combination of proven representatives and fresh faces. We’ll step-up our policy work on the issues that matter most to the people – and we’ll be relentless in holding this government to account.
A strong Fianna Fáil has a vital role to play in serving the Irish people. We have a tradition of which are proud and a determination to renew ourselves as a modern, forward-looking republican party.
Finally, I want to thank each and every one of you for making the effort to attend tonight and more importantly for your continuous support for our great party.
Ar Aghaidh le Fianna Fáil.