Irish Politics: Fine Gael's 76th Ard Fheis (party conference)
Fine Gael's 76th Ard Fheis (party conference) on Friday, March 30 and Saturday 31, is an historic occasion. It is the first Ard Fheis held by the Party whilst in Government, for 16 years.
Address By Enda Kenny
Welcome to our elected representatives – Dáil deputies, Ministers and Ministers of State, Senators, MEPs and Councillors. To those who will contest the various elections to the party executive and other officerships, I wish you well.
I welcome in particular our party members from every city town and parish in Ireland. Since we last gathered for a national conference in Killarney two years ago, we have achieved our goal of becoming the largest party in the Dáil. But with that progress comes a great responsibility, and a greater goal. In a time of national crisis, the Irish people turned to us and to our partners in the Labour Party to provide the country with strong and stable government.
We remember how things were then: An economy in freefall; unstable government, lurching from one crisis to the next, the public finances out of control, banks on the brink of collapse, deposits streaming out of the country, penal interest rates on our borrowings. Jobs.....lives..... hopes...... decimated.
We told the people then that we had a plan to get Ireland working again. In the past year, we have worked hard to stabilise the economy and to deliver our plan. I am glad to report to you that our partnership government is working very well with a shared commitment to delivering our Programme for Government.
We have made a solid start but we have a long way to go.
The public finances are coming under control.
The banks have been downsized and recapitalised.
We have made some progress on improving the terms of the EU/IMF programme. The interest rates have been reduced.
The promissory note payment due this weekend has been deferred pending the wider negotiations we are pursuing to reduce the burden on the Irish people of the previous government’s bank bailout.
We have also worked hard to rebuild Ireland’s international reputation which had been so undermined by our predecessors.
We have made a start on jobs but there is much more to be done.
In our first Budget, we didn’t increase income tax because that would damage jobs.
To make work pay, we reversed the cut in the minimum wage and took 330,000 low paid and part time workers out of the Universal Social Charge net.
To close the gap in our public finances, we must instead broaden the tax base to include a property based charge because this is less harmful than taxes on work and investment.
I know that new taxes are never popular. The Household Charge is no exception. But it is needed to fund essential local services.
I thank those who have registered and paid for the charge to date and I welcome the significant increase in the numbers registering in recent days.
I urge others to make their contribution to the restoration of sound public finances in this country by registering between now and the deadline at midnight tomorrow.
Our economic progress in the last year has been constrained by the crisis in the Eurozone.
I have consistently argued that Europe needed to take resolute action in three areas:
Firstly, to focus on the potential of the single European market for the creation of growth and jobs for our people.
I am pleased to say that, following pressure from several heads of government including myself, growth and jobs have now become central to the agenda of the European Council.
Secondly, Europe needs to create credible firewalls that will convince the financial markets that we are serious about the protection of our common currency.
I welcome the decision made today by the Eurozone finance ministers to increase the European rescue fund to over €700 billion, an increase of 40%. This decision will both help to prevent contagion and ease Ireland’s exit from the EU/IMF programme.
Thirdly, Europe needs clear and enforceable rules to ensure responsible budgeting. This has been achieved in the European Stability Treaty.
On the 31st May when the Irish people vote on this Treaty, we can take another important step towards economic recovery.
Throughout my recent visits to the United States, and to China this week, the consistent message from both political and business leaders is that they see Ireland’s place as fully committed member of the Eurozone as a crucial element of Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for investment.
The issue at stake in this referendum is straightforward: will we do what is needed to keep getting jobs back and get Ireland working?
We will have a serious national discussion about this.
And I am confident our people will reject the idea that we can stand outside of Europe; put our recovery funds at risk; undermine the European economy that helps lift our own; and alarm the international companies and investors we rely on for new jobs.
I am confident they will instead approve this treaty, which will ensure other EU members follow the same sound budget rules we ourselves have now adopted, build confidence in both Europe and Ireland, and ensure that investment and jobs keep flowing into our country.
This referendum offers this country a vital and unique opportunity to send out a powerful signal around the globe that Ireland believes in the future of Europe, and of the Euro currency.
In committing to these good housekeeping rules, we will also ensure that no future government will behave recklessly with the people’s money and the people’s futures.
In recent months, numerous multi- national companies have voted confidence in Ireland by committing to new investments to create new jobs.
I want this strong flow of inward investment to continue and grow in the future.
I want Ireland to have the same access as other countries to the insurance policy of the European Stability Mechanism – a crucial reassurance for investors.
The best way we can ensure this is a resounding Yes to jobs, Yes to Ireland and Yes to Europe on 31st May.
As we have always done, both in government and in opposition, Fine Gael will put the national interest first by campaigning strongly in every city, town and parish in the country for a Yes vote.
To coordinate that campaign, I have appointed the Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Simon Coveney as Fine Gael’s National Director for this crucial referendum.
I ask all members of Fine Gael, at all levels, to work with Simon and his team to ensuring a positive outcome for Ireland.
Finally, I again welcome you and wish you a successful and enjoyable weekend.
Throughout the discussions and debates here this weekend, let us always be conscious of the huge responsibility that has been given to us and our government partners.
The responsibility to restore economic health and economic independence to our great country.