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Keynote Address By Fine Gael Leader, Enda Kenny TD, Ard Fheis 2009.
I come here tonight to speak to you about the challenges facing the country and about my plan to get Ireland working again.
I want to speak to you about my optimism for our people, about my confidence in the advantages we have and about my belief that with courage, fairness and decisiveness, we can point the way ahead to a new future, a fairer Ireland and a truly just society.
This current crisis presents us with enormous challenges, but massive opportunities.
I believe that Ireland can recover fully from this recession inside five years.
This mission can only be achieved if we choose the right options, make the tough but correct decisions, and act decisively and act now.
We must act for the benefit of everybody in this country and not pander to any powerful vested interest. Be assured that under my leadership, Fine Gael will step up to the mark. We have the people, the ideas and the ambition. We will accept the responsibility of leading this country to a strong and prosperous future.
It's time for a new Fine Gael Government to take Ireland in a new direction.
Fianna Fáil could have, and should have, anticipated the economic crisis. While I recognise that global factors are partly to blame for the downturn, the reality is that mismanagement by our own Government has meant that Ireland is suffering much more than other countries.
Make no mistake about this - Fianna Fáil are responsible for the state of our domestic woes.
When our economy was strong, they squandered your money on wasteful projects, like e-voting machines, rather than investing in improving vital public services like schools and healthcare.
Thankfully, their days in Government are numbered.
Fine Gael's alternative involves radical reform to eliminate wasteful spending and reduce bureaucracy.
Let me be straight - no country has ever taxed its way back to recovery.
The problem with the public finances cannot be fixed by tax increases and crude spending cuts alone. As more and more people lose their jobs, the hole in the public finances gets bigger and bigger. The cornerstone of Fine Gael's plan for economic renewal is the creation and protection of jobs for our people.
That will be our number one priority in government.
As I travel around the country listening to people, the single greatest issue that concerns them and that causes real anxiety is the safety of their jobs, the possibility of losing a job and the need for a plan to move our country forward.
Losing a job doesn't bring just financial hardship. Our sense of identity, dignity, self-worth and independence is bound up in our work. It gives our lives a purpose, without which it is all too easy to slip into feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
The shock of losing all that has now registered on the faces of over 375,000 people in this small country. That's why Fine Gael has continuously pointed the way forward and why we have placed job protection and job creation at the heart of our recovery plans. This country has drifted aimlessly in the past few years from one crisis to another with no vision of where to go or what to do.
It was always too little, too late.
Fine Gael has set the agenda all along. We were right on benchmarking, we were right on the scrapping of the National Pay Deal, we were right on Bank recapitalisation and on the need for a new Budget.
And we're right to focus on jobs now.
I believe that we can meet the challenge ahead and revive our country by setting out clear targets and then achieving them with determination. These are our targets:
1. Create 100,000 new jobs by the end of 2013.
2. Return the public finances to health by 2012 - without increasing the standard and current top rates of income tax.
3. Deliver a radical plan for renewable energy - pumped storage, wind, wave and biomass, that will meet a quarter of our energy needs by 2015, and make us net exporters of energy within 10 years.
4. Transform our education system so that 9 out of 10 children complete secondary school by 2013 and two thirds go onto third level.
5. Restore Ireland to the top 5 most competitive countries in the world within 3 years.
These targets are all achievable if driven by a new Fine Gael Government with new ideas and the energy and the commitment to do the job.
Our young people now have to compete against their peers around the world.
That world will change utterly in the next 20 years as a consequence of further developments in robotics, nanotechnology, genetics, the internet and climate change. We have to be at the vanguard of that change and education is the key.
Our young people have many advantages. Our education system can be and should be the best in the world. We have proven to be world class in music, literature, the arts and sport. We have a unique capacity in language and research.
But to meet the future challenges, we need more.
We need free access to 3rd level Colleges.
Fine Gael will not deny any family the opportunity to send a son or daughter to college because of financial pressures.
The gates to dreams and potential will remain open. We will not support the reintroduction of 3rd level fees and will abolish the current registration fee system.
Instead, when they start to work and earn, graduates will make a fair contribution to the cost of their course over a 5 to 10 year period.
This will provide a new €500 million annual fund for which 3rd level Colleges will compete - based on the quality of the courses that they offer and the scale of their reform.
A country that does not provide excellence in education is a country that fails its future: Fine Gael will not allow this country to fail its future.
That future for many is stressful and uncertain. Last week I met a couple whose child has special needs. They have mortgaged their home twice. Nobody knows a child better than its mother. This is what the child's mother said to me:
'We've always paid our taxes, and yet we've had to fight the State every day of our child's life to get any kind of services. We've a personal overdraft for which we're being charged 20% interest by a bank being bailed out by our taxes. Do you understand how angry I am when I read of people receiving millions of Euro despite disgraceful behaviour within banks?'
Well I understand that anger. I meet people like that mother every week.
Victims of appalling and scandalous State neglect and banking greed.
That's why Fine Gael demands a radical shake-up of Irish banking that will see new people leading the banks and those responsible for outrageous abuses severely punished.
The message has to go out, both at home and abroad, that these practices will not be tolerated by the Irish people.
Fine Gael will extract and deal with the tainted remnants of irresponsible lending so that reformed, clean banks can start lending again to the small and medium Irish businesses that are so essential to the creation of jobs.
Last week, I met a small retailer in Kildare who, because she was refused a loan of just €3,000 for cashflow, is now forced to lay off staff. Countless other businesses are similarly starved of credit.
The banks must play their part in supporting employment because, if they don't, the economy will continue to decline.
That decline can only be reversed by job creation. This is why Fine Gael published our jobs plan - Rebuilding Ireland.
This plan, which will create 100,000 jobs within 4 years, will be an investment in the future and will be paid back in time.
Across the Country, these new initiatives driven by me as Taoiseach, will provide jobs for young people, engineers, scientists, farmers, business people - men and women - in a unique venture to put Ireland up there with the very best internationally.
The Fine Gael plan is not about jobs for the boys, but jobs for the people.
These plans are just the start. There are many other areas where jobs can be created.
I intend to establish a policy foundation to harness the flow of exciting ideas streaming into this party from people all over the world. We will capitalise on the infinite possibilities that stem from new technologies and clean bank investment for businesses across Europe.
To help stimulate new jobs, Fine Gael will abolish Employer's PRSI for every new job created.
Along with creating these new jobs, we must also work to retain existing jobs.
That's why last week we proposed reducing the lower rate of VAT to 10% - a move that will support labour intensive sectors like Tourism and Construction.
That's why we will slash the red tape and bureaucracy that is strangling Irish Business.
That's why we will force down Government controlled prices like energy and rates.
Then we can face the future, not with eyes of fear but with a focus on confidently achieving our goals.
Because we know we can do it.
These incentives however come at a price. Achieving national recovery requires difficult decisions on tax and spending.
That is why politicians must lead by example. Fine Gael has taken the lead in demanding political reform that will see an end to ministerial Pensions for serving TDs; a reduction in the number of Dail committees and the abolition of additional payments for Committee work.
One of my first acts as Taoiseach will be to reduce the number of Junior Ministers from 20 down to 12.
We don't need 20 Junior Ministers - and the Country can't afford them.
Equally the Country cannot afford the billions wasted in a Health System that was never reformed in any fundamental way. My message tonight is simple.
Despite the best efforts of nurses and doctors and all those working on the front-line, our health system is broken.
And this Government has no idea how to fix it.
The health service needs radical change. Fine Gael will deliver that change. We will deliver a health system that is concerned solely with people's medical needs, and not with the money in their pocket.
We will end the two-tier system.
We have devised a plan based on best practice in the Netherlands and Canada. It will eliminate trolleys in A&E, slash waiting lists and end the current health divide that denies fair treatment to the less well-off in our society.
Our goal is clear: To give Ireland a world-class health service where everyone is treated fairly, regardless of income, and where the patient is central to that service.
Fine Gael will make sure that the people of Ireland get the services that they pay for and deserve.
Whatever decisions have to be made next Tuesday in these difficult times, they must not destroy the spirit of communities and the voluntary care provided for
the voiceless, the defenceless, the aged and the intellectually challenged.
I see examples of this wonderful care every day, all over Ireland - 3 million hours of loving care provided every week by people who receive no thanks and little support from the State.
No bureaucrat sitting with a pen should destroy that generosity of spirit of Irish people.
No calculator can place a value on this. The government that has destroyed our economy cannot be allowed to destroy our humanity.
No Government led by me will allow it to happen and irrespective of
what else has to give, this will not.
Chuir sé isteach orm go mor gur dunmharu triur sa Tuaisceart le deanai. Ar mo mholadh fein, ghlac Dáil Eireann le rún comhbhron agus bhí tacaiocht o chuile pháirti i gcoinne an feall sin. Chuir an Dáil amach teachtaireacht laidir don Teach Bán, do mhuntir na hEorpa agus don domhain ar fad nach glacann munitir na hEireann, Tuaisceart agus Deisceart, leis an eacht ufasach sin. Caithfear deireadh a chur le seo laithreach. D'oibrigh an iomairce daoine ro dian and ro fhada chun go ligfear go dtosnodh an troid sin arís. Leanfaimid ar aghaidh le siochain seasamach as seo amach.
It was out of the need for peace that the European Union was born.
Europe has been vital to Ireland's development as a respected and influential member of the international community.
I want a reformed, effective, and democratic Europe to be a key driver of economic recovery and future prosperity. This Europe must be given the architecture to serve a population of 500m people.
That's why Fine Gael has and will continue to support the reforms in the Lisbon Treaty and we will lead the campaign for its approval by the Irish people later in the year.
In the meantime, the people will vote June 5th to elect Ireland's members of the European Parliament. It is more important than ever that we elect strong and effective MEPs. Fine Gael's membership of the largest political family, the European People's Party, gives our MEPs a unique place of influence when the important decisions are taken.
That's why I urge people to vote for Gay Mitchell in Dublin; for Colm Burke and Sean Kelly in the South; for Mairead McGuinness and John Paul Phelan in the East and for Jim Higgins and Joe O'Reilly in the North West. In doing so, you will be choosing Ireland's strongest voices in Europe.
No other nation has ever been as willing to sacrifice for a better future than the Irish. We moved from being navvies to being nation builders. We benefited from thousands of mothers and fathers who scrimped and saved so that their children could continue to build our country.
I make no pretence and no promise that we can instantly fix the problems we inherit.
But I do promise that we will free the potential that, at the start of the last century, enabled our people to come through oppression and recession to build a great democracy.
"Let the people know the truth and the country is safe" said Lincoln. Well, I will tell them the truth. The Country will be safe.
We will revive the excitement and sense of possibility that allowed our people, in the 1980s, to come through the hardest of times to build an economy which was the envy of the world.
As the proud father of three young children my priority is securing the future of all of our children.
But to achieve this, we need courageous, confident, clear leadership from a Fine Gael Government that truly cares.
Fianna Fail have lost the capacity to lead, and more importantly, they have lost touch with the people and the people have lost trust in them. And they know it.
When I took on the leadership of Fine Gael, the scale of the challenge was huge. Many said that the situation was hopeless, but I've worked hard, built solid foundations, picked a strong team and encouraged their creativity so that we could recover and grow. And we have.
Now I want to do the same for Ireland.
Fine Gael is the party with the team, the energy and the ideas to get the Irish people back to work. And we are the only party that guarantees the political change this country so desperately needs.
Last year, across the Atlantic Ocean, a young man began to live and achieve his dreams for his country.
The simplicity of his slogan 'Yes we can', captured the imagination of the world.
Let nobody doubt my resolve as Leader of this great Party to achieve my ambition for our country. A fair and just society, a strong and healthy economy and a rewarding and peaceful future for all.
My call to the Irish people is different. It's not just 'Yes we can', but 'Yes we will'.