I want to thank you all for coming out tonight for this convention. The Fianna Fáil organisation in Meath East is known throughout the country for its strength and commitment to the founding ideals of our party.
Through no fault of yours we suffered our worst ever election result two years ago. You campaigned with incredible energy but nothing could buck the national trend.
Even after that we have a lot of strength in Meath East. We have councillors working on behalf of their communities and members who have shown their determination to both renew Fianna Fáil and make sure that we are focusing on the issues which affect people in their everyday lives.
There is a great tradition in Meath Fianna Fáil of securing the election of representatives who work hard for the community and make a big contribution nationally.
Tonight I want to acknowledge Colm Hillard. Together with his father Michael the Hillard family represented the people of Meath for nearly half a century.
They are still remembered fondly throughout Meath and were a direct link from the great generation which secured our independence up to the eve of the millennium when Colm stepped down from Leinster House.
They also left a mark nationally, with milestones such as establishing RTÉ and securing Ireland’s first satellite link.
Noel Dempsey was a great colleague to be alongside. He was always by instinct a reformer and emotionally committed to doing his best for his county and country. His record will stand the test of time.
I also want to acknowledge Johnny Brady. As a TD Johnny was always a rock of good sense. He didn’t have any time for political posturing, he knew the people he represented and wanted action on their behalf. On agricultural and rural issues Johnny was listened to by all sides.
I would also like to acknowledge tonight my former colleague Mary Wallace. There are schools, sports facilities, community resources and many services in Meath, and particularly South and East Meath, which are there only because of Mary’s incredible work as a TD.
When I was Minister for Education she had me constantly pestered on behalf of the schools urgently needed to serve the growing communities she represented.
She also left the Dáil with a record of legislation and improving services which will stand the test of time.
In particular in the field of disability, no minister before or since her achieved anything close to Mary’s record.
I would like to thank Mary and all the others for their commitment to make sure that we once again elect a Fianna Fáil TD from Meath.
On behalf of the entire party I want to thank you, our Meath East organisation, and pay tribute to the CDC and the officer board Peter Mcloone, Grainne Bray and last but not least Dan O’Connell .
As a Cork man I have never said this before but here in Meath you have a great team and you chose a first class candidate to carry our banner in this by-election.
This is a time of crisis for our country. We need people in the Dáil who can make a real contribution to overcoming this crisis – and Thomas Byrne is just such a person.
Thomas is constantly working to address the needs of Meath communities. He understands that serving local needs is not a duty of office but a great opportunity.
He understands the challenges families are facing as he is a husband to Anne and father of three young children himself.
Thomas has real ability and makes a real impact on the national stage. If you look at just the period since he went into the Seanad you see him constantly working on issues which matter.
For example he has taken a lead in writing and promoting legislation to help people in trouble with mortgage and household debts. He’s been a constructive and effective legislator, working to make sure that Leinster House spends more time on the real priorities of families and communities in Meath and throughout the country.
In tough times there are those who see national troubles as something to be exploited for political end.
The record in opposition of Labour and Fine Gael shows this clearer than anything. Thomas has rejected this approach.
He’s been a constructive contributor to debate. He’s supported measures when they are the right thing for our country – but he’s also fought hard against the many wrong and deeply unfair decisions of this government.
As part of our finance and economics team he has played a central role in showing how even in these hard times there are alternatives to many of the unfair and damaging decisions of the government.
He’s helped show how the property tax does not have to be introduced, how our frontline nurses, Gardaí and firemen do not have to have their livelihoods attacked and how rural services could be protected if the government wanted to.
Within Fianna Fáil he’s been a steadfast worker on behalf of renewing the party by opening it up to new people and new ideas. He hasn’t spent the last two years looking back, he’s been looking forward.
By any measure Thomas Byrne is an excellent candidate. He would be a welcome voice in the Dáil for common sense policies to help people. He would also give a voice to the people of Meath who don’t want to be taken for granted.
Thomas is a great candidate and this is a great organisation, but let no one be in any doubt about the enormous task we face in this by-election. We are very much the underdogs taking on a government which will do everything possible to win.
At the last election the government parties in this constituency took 62% of the vote and 100% of the seats. They have good organisations, well-funded campaign teams and an absolute determination to use this by-election to vindicate their record in office.
As you can see every day in the Dáil, Sinn Fein and the other parties are wedded to the Gilmore model of opposition – opposing everything and working to exploit people’s problems. This is not something that will work in Meath East because the people here have shown that they elect people who want to make a positive impact.
On the final count this is going to come down to a direct contest between Thomas and the government parties. The people of Meath East will face a direct choice between giving another vote to an already huge government majority or taking a different road – supporting a voice which will demand a fairer and more effective approach.
No matter what happens in this by-election the government will remain the same; however if the government loses the huge advantage it has here the people of East Meath will have sent a powerful message.
Maybe an increasingly arrogant and out of touch government will start listening to the rising complaints of people who do not accept that there are no alternatives.
We must take our campaign to every door in the constituency. We must set out why we reject the idea that nothing can be done to help people in great pressure.
We will challenge the government for its many bad decisions, but ours will primarily be a about a positive message of what can and should be done.
There are hundreds of families in this constituency facing enormous debt pressures. This is an enormous social and economic crisis which must be addressed. Thomas’ plans for helping these families will be central to the campaign.
Every family in Meath East is facing a new and deeply unfair property tax. It takes no account of the how problems have grown for homeowners in the last two years, it will be felt hardest by families whose incomes have been targeted this year for the biggest cuts by the government and it is weighted against communities in and around Dublin.
It the wrong tax at the wrong time which will cause great harm to families and to the economy. During this campaign we’ll show people the alternative to the property tax and offer a candidate who will lead the fight to scrap the tax if he is elected to Dáil Éireann.
In 2011 people voted not just to change the government they voted for a change in the way politics has been done. In spite of this, Labour and Fine Gael have abandoned all real reform.
They’ve concentrated power and they’ve shut down debate more than any previous government. We will show people the alternative of a politics open to the people and a Dáil which works in the interests of the people not the parties.
This is the first chance since the general election for the people in any part of the country to send a message to the government.
If they lose this seat they will stay in power but they will know that they should stop taking the people for granted.
We face an uphill battle but we have a great candidate and a strong, positive message.
If we show the determination which I know is in the marrow of this organisation. If we do everything to get to every door, talk to every person. If we focus on the issues not politics – then I have no doubt we can win.