Thank you all for your kind welcome and thank you for all that you do for our party.
This is a social night where we get to renew and strengthen connections which stretch into every part of our country.
I am pleased to say that by every possible measure the work of our activists and representatives has ensured that Fianna Fáil is growing and is writing a new chapter in its proud history.
Membership is at its highest level since we introduced our radical membership reforms. We’ve made big advances in local government and over-doubled our Dáil representation. In the last six years we’ve confounded every single prediction about our situation.
This didn’t happen by chance. This success is built on solid foundations – not on campaigning gimmicks. Our strength has been our members and our commitment to renewing our party in the great spirit of its founders and its record of reforming and developing our country.
Throughout Europe there are parties which have tried to grow by exploiting fears and promoting division. We have rejected that approach.
Where others looked for enemies to blame, we actively and relentlessly campaigned for a generous and inclusive future. Where others preached division we have argued for solidarity.
We have spoken up for a republican tradition which demands that we work for all groups and that we embrace positive cooperation with other nations.
We have shown that a constructive, ambitious and active political agenda can succeed even at what is one of the darkest times in recent European history.
I am incredibly proud of our members and the work which they put into taking our message to the heart of our communities. I want to say again how much I value what they do, something I see every week when I go with them to listen to people in their homes and work to make sure that our policies reflect the reality of peoples’ lives.
This is why we understand that the endless spin, the relativising of statistics, the image of action, rather than the substance of action will not succeed.
There may well be countries where people vote for brands rather than policies, where selective images triumph over reality – but Ireland is not one of them.
There’s been a lot of controversy about the new Taoiseach’s priority in allocating huge staffing and funding resources behind a massive new marketing effort. What hasn’t really been understood is what actually lies behind this.
As he told the Dáil two weeks ago, the Taoiseach believes that the media gives out a distorted picture of the country and is too negative. He said that 80% of the coverage is negative and it should be only 50% at most.
The new Strategic Communications Unit is to be a balance to the independent media, to sell positive messages about the government. This is why he needs his new spin machine and its unprecedented resources. That’s not a political charge, it’s a simple fact.
No other issue, not Brexit, not Northern Ireland, not housing, not health is to benefit from resources like this.
So let’s all be clear what we are facing into in the next few months. The spin machine will reach a whole new level and the effort to sell political messages using public money will reach into every community.
Our response has to be equally determined. We have to redouble our efforts in the Dáil and throughout the country. We have to challenge them and we have to push for action on urgent issues.
And there’s no doubt that housing is going to continue to be the public’s dominant concern.
Today every single element of the housing sector is in an emergency condition much worse than anything which we have seen before.
If you need social housing to provide a secure home for your family the waiting lists have never been longer.
If you are just out of college and lucky enough at all to find a place you can afford to rent, you are then facing monthly payments which stop you saving and squeeze even basic spending.
If you are a young family looking for a home to raise your children you are confronted with high deposit demands, unaffordable prices and almost no choice.
And yet the Taoiseach actually announced last week that all we face in housing is some “challenges” and that, and this is a direct quote, “the plan is working” and that the homeless figures in Ireland are low by international standards.
After only a few months in office he seems to think that putting on a hard hat and wearing high visibility jackets shows that things are moving. He seems to have no understanding of just how many people are impacted by the failure to address housing pressures, evident five years ago, would lead inevitably to this emergency.
And there are few more stark links between cause and effect as between Fine Gael’s neglect of housing and the current emergency.
The current level of housing demand is a surprise to no one – it is entirely in line with basic projections. What happened was they decided to ignore the projections and allow a massive decrease in housing supply. They even cut the Affordable Housing Scheme in 2011.
If even the level of social housing provided in 2010 was maintained – which was the toughest year of the recession and the biggest year of cutbacks – there would today be over 5,000 more families in social housing.
That would have meant children not stuck in emergency housing.
It would have meant families not struggling to avoid homelessness.
I think they were surprised by the scale of the anger at their effort this week to recast the homelessness situation as really not that bad. And have no doubt – it was a strategy not a mistake.
The Taoiseach and others worked to put out the idea that as long as things are worse somewhere else we shouldn’t be so negative.
They got their response in the swift and overwhelming reaction of everyone.
In the Dáil over the last five years we have been constantly active in promoting solutions on housing as well as household debt. We’ve proposed legislation, budget measures and policy changes. And we’ve succeeded in pushing for action in some areas.
But the government should be aware that the time for spin is long over. There must be urgent and sustained delivery. Put aside the staged photos and focus. If they put half as much effort into building houses as they put into launching documents we wouldn’t be caught in the middle of such an unprecedented crisis.
During this year we marked another milestone in our countries independence struggle which was the incredible victory of Eamon de Valera in the 1917 Clare By-Election. This was the moment when the republican vision of 1916 established that it had won the allegiance of the people and it gave to Ireland its most effective leader.
I want to acknowledge the great work of Eamon O’ Cuiv and our commemorations committee on marking the By-Election and also the passing of the great patriot Thomas Ashe.
This was also the 80th anniversary of the republican constitution which Eamon de Valera wrote and which was the first constitution in world history to be adopted in a free national referendum.
It is a disgrace that this achievement was once again ignored by our government because it doesn’t fit into their partisan narrative.
Bunreacht na hÉireann has its flaws, but the adoption of a constitution in the middle of the 1930s which reinforced personal rights, acknowledged diversity and limited political power is something we should, as a country, be very proud of.
Tonight, not far from here, the leader of an organisation founded in 1970 but which tries to pretend that it is the real Sinn Fein is announcing his intentions about stepping down.
This will be followed by a huge amount of overblown commentary about how important this is as a political moment and speculation about how this might mark a major turning point.
This is simply not true.
Today’s Sinn Fein has always been about putting the Provisional movement first. The party is much more than the person and the party remains as unreformed and as unsuitable for government as ever.
I take no satisfaction in saying that, 20 years after the ceasefire, Sinn Fein is unacceptable for us as a government party. As our members reaffirmed at the Ard Fheis, for Fianna Fáil they are not and will not be a possible partner.
And just in case people want to waste their time speculating on this not really being the position, please go back to 2015 and 2016 and look at the acres of newsprint devoted to the claim, often anonymously sourced, that we would run into government with Fine Gael.
We are the only party in Dáil Éireann which after the election did exactly what it promised it would do.
We kept our word then and we will keep it again.
So please, let’s have an end to talk about them being a partner and instead let’s talk about the substance of why they are unsuitable as partners.
They will change their leader, but the core of the Provisional movement’s approach to politics remains and has been constantly reaffirmed by all of their prospective leaders.
They might be new leaders but they are not new faces. For one moment let’s assume that Sinn Fein will act against type and actually hold a democratic election for its next leader.
The fact is that every one of their potential leaders joined Sinn Fein before the ceasefires and has repeatedly defended the Provisional IRA’s campaign.
Every one of their potential leaders has remained loyal to the movement in spite of revelations about the systematic covering up of crimes, including sex abuse, which happened both before and after the ceasefires.
Every one of them has been in the senior leadership during an epidemic of bullying of elected councillors unprecedented in Irish political history.
Every one of them has signed up the anti-worker agenda of taxing and undermining the private sector.
Every one of them has opposed the European Union and sided with those who want to wreck it.
And every one of them has fully signed up to a policy which is causing immense damage in Northern Ireland and threatening much worse on Brexit.
So please, spare us the idea that we are getting a new departure or a new generation from Sinn Fein.
Instead of wasting time about their future political strategies, they need to be held to account for their actions today.
For Northern Ireland and the island as a whole, their blockade against the Northern institutions is causing immense and potentially permanent damage.
Every day they prevent the Assembly and Executive starting their work is another day when British ministers preside over cuts to education, health and other essential services with no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland.
Even more importantly, every day they maintain their present position is a day when Northern Ireland is left with no voice in the Brexit negotiations.
The demand for a true equality agenda is widely held and it is central to achieving lasting progress and reconciliation. However, Brexit poses an economic and social catastrophe and unlike the equality agenda there is twelve months at most and no turning back.
Sinn Fein claims that Brexit is a threat to the Good Friday Agreement. The claim that they see it as hugely damaging, yet they and they alone are ensuring that the anti-Brexit majority in Northern Ireland has no voice.
The lack of an Assembly or Executive means that, 17 months after the referendum, there hasn’t even been an assessment of the huge scale of damage to wages and jobs when Brexit happens.
If they actually cared about Brexit they would take up the offer to re-establish the institutions for a fixed period at least and work with other anti-Brexit parties to assert Ireland’s interests.
Every day they choose to leave Northern Ireland exposed and voiceless is a day when Sinn Fein becomes more complicit in the Tory fiasco that is Brexit.
They can’t run away from their responsibility for the impact of their decisions. Maybe they want a chaotic Brexit because they think it will cause immense damage to Northern Ireland and will help them.
If so, let them have the basic honesty to admit that it is their choice to expose the people they claim to value to this grave threat.
For our part Fianna Fáil remains absolutely committed to the ideal of all of this island working cooperatively and being able to do so without an economic border. There are ways this can be done which respect the constitutional realities and protect the Good Friday settlement.
In this area, as in every other area, we will continue to be a voice of democratic republicanism. We will continue to argue for an Ireland which works for all of its people and not just priority groups.
And with your support we will continue to grow and to bring our message directly to the people.
Thank you all again for your support and work for the Party. I hope you all enjoy the rest of the evening.