Distinguished Guests, Colleagues in the Parliamentary Party, Councilors and Friends. *****
As President of Fine Gael, I want to warmly welcome you all this evening. As our party grows, so too does this Presidential Dinner, and I am delighted that over 1,300 of you are here tonight. *****
I would particularly like to welcome three very special people. The three newest members of our parliamentary party – Senator Ciaran Cannon, Sean Kelly, M.E.P. and last but certainly not least Deputy George Lee!
The last twelve months have been dramatic on many fronts. *****
The local and European election results made Fine Gael the biggest party in Ireland for the first time since 1927.********** Let us not forget your achievement in bringing that about.***** Nor indeed your critical part in having the Lisbon Referendum approved by the Irish people.
But our joy at the party’s success has to be tempered by the knowledge that our country is now in deep crisis. *****
Last week, the Green Party voted to deny the Irish people an election.
They voted for a plan for the survival of the Government and not the survival of the country.***** It was a weekend of supreme cynicism.********** *****
Be that as it may, everyone knows that a General Election is on its way. And when it happens, Fine Gael will be ready. We were ready last week. We are ready this week. We will not rest until this incompetent and arrogant Government is finally dealt with by verdict of the people.********** *****
Whenever a General Election happens, the Irish people will want more than a change of faces around the Cabinet table. They will want a Government with a clear vision for Ireland and a plan to make that vision a reality. They will want a Government that is truly committed to radical change.***** Fine Gael will be that Government.
Under my leadership, Fine Gael will not simply talk about change. I don’t want Fine Gael to simply talk about change. We mean what we say and are absolutely committed to making it happen.
People rightly ask: what does that change mean? *****
* The central key to recovery is to create jobs. We will create 100,000 jobs on the back of an €11bn investment plan that prepares Ireland for the next leap forward by investing in key infrastructures such as energy, broadband and water. We have to get people back to work.
* It means changing our failed two tier health system by introducing Fine Gael’s FairCare model for a one tier universal health system.
* And it means changing how our money is managed so that our public finances are under control and our services are delivered more efficiently and more effectively.
The Irish people are deeply angry. They are angry at a Government which has been run for the benefit of the few rather than the many, a Government bereft of ideas and exhausted by being too long in power.***** *****
Under Fianna Fail our Government system has been broken and its many failures are at the heart of Ireland’s economic collapse. Why were the bankers and the developers not dealt with before it was too late? Why have the closed shops and cosy cartels within the private sector never been tackled? Why have the huge inefficiencies of the HSE, and the disgraceful excesses of FAS, been tolerated for so long? *****
Is it not because we have a government that over the last ten years always took the soft option, the easy way out? They created a system that bows down before the vested interests of both the private and the public sector, where compromise was the order of every day and where billions of taxpayers’ money was wasted.********** There is now no Pot of Gold as the Minister for Finance has pointed out and the reason there is no Pot of Gold is that Fianna Fáil have spent and wasted it in the last decade.********** *****
Well that has to change. With Fine Gael in Government it will change. The Irish people need to see that real change, change that will help restore the credibility of the political system, is delivered.
To persuade the electorate that we are serious about change, we ourselves have to embody that change. *****
In these tough times, government needs to lead by example. To gain the authority to drive the scale of change needed throughout the system, I will start with the political system itself.***** *****
The pay of Irish politicians, particularly that of An Taoiseach and ministers, is totally out of line with their counterparts in other countries. These pay levels must be dramatically cut. In addition, the expenses system must be fundamentally reformed. I instructed the Fine Gael members of the Oireachtas Commission earlier this summer to pursue our proposal for the establishment of properly transparent, accountable and vouched expenses system so that people can see clearly that any expenses paid to politicians relate directly to their work as public representatives.*************** This has the full support of our Party.
This is a first step. For the last three months Phil Hogan, our Spokesman on the Environment, has been developing an agenda for a New Politics in Ireland. His mandate from me was simple. See that real change is brought about. We will shortly publish a report on the New Politics. But tonight I would like to focus on a few key areas where a Fine Gael Government would introduce radical change.
I believe the Seanad should be abolished and the next Fine Gael Government will put this to the people. I have come to the conclusion that a second house of the Oireachtas can no longer be justified. In abolishing Seanad Eireann, I have examined the outcome of similar decisions in countries such as Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand. Our two-house Oireachtas is an odd man out in Europe. Two-thirds of all European Parliaments are unicameral. Those that are not tend to be large or federal. *****
A Fine Gael Government will also seek to reduce the number of Deputies in the Dáil by at least 20. We will also review the electoral system with a view to allowing for the election of a limited number of people with particular expertise gained outside of politics.
These changes will save an estimated 150 million Euro over a Dail term.
In order to facilitate these and other political reforms a Fine Gael Government would hold a constitutional referendum within a year of taking office.
But the New Politics is not just about reforming the Oireachtas. It is also about transforming how the State works. We believe that the huge centralisation of power in Ireland is incompatible with a healthy Republic and actively encourages inefficiency. Under the New Politics, we will redistribute power from the Executive to the Oireachtas; from Central to Local Government; from the State to the Citizen.*************** Empowered citizens always give of their best.
Fine Gael believes that the State has a vital role to play in Ireland’s recovery. But if we are to do more with less, we have to create a smarter, more nimble State that spends our money wisely and prioritises delivery over bureaucracy.
Under the New Politics, Fine Gael will dismantle the command and control model in the public sector, and give responsibility to those who know best. The people on the front-line. *****
Our FairCare health proposals are already based on this approach. Under FairCare, we will create a single-tier universal health system with equal access for all. The HSE will be significantly reduced. Increased control, accountability and responsibility will be given to local hospitals and frontline professionals.
Let me make my position on the public service and public servants very clear. Public servants did not cause Ireland’s economic collapse. I have no time for those want to scapegoat public servants or drive a wedge between the public and private sector. *****
While we must all make a fair contribution towards tackling the economic and budgetary crisis, the blame for the ills of the system can not be placed at the door of our public servants.
Negative equity doesn’t feel any different if you are a public sector or a private sector employee. If you have a parent with dementia who needs 24 hour care, it doesn’t matter whether your employer is a public sector or a private sector organisation. If your child has special needs and the service has been cut, it doesn’t matter whether you are a teacher or a farmer, a guard or an IT worker. The pain and the worry are the same.
The main objective of Fine Gael’s reform of our public service will be to ensure that our dedicated public servants are enabled and encouraged to provide top class services to our people. A Fine Gael government working with the public service will candidly square up to the challenge of delivering high quality services with fewer resources. *****
The fact is we’re all in this together. As Benjamin Franklin once said, we must all hang together, or we will hang separately. Unless we unite as a society, we will never solve our problems.***** *****
I believe political and public sector reform is essential. I believe that it alone will not solve all our problems. We also need to create jobs.********** To do this, we need to completely reinvent our economy.********** We have to get people back working.********** We can not afford a repeat wave of emigration to other shores.
We have already published plans to deliver €11.2 billion in new investments in key technologies and network infrastructures. This investment programme will create 100,000 Green jobs and will help reposition Ireland as the most competitive and sustainable economy in Europe. *****
Over the next six weeks, Fine Gael will launch a series of policy initiatives to show how we would put Ireland back on the road to economic recovery.***** I have decided that between now and the Budget, I, together with my economic team of Richard Bruton, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Kieran O’Donnell and George Lee, will visit regional centres to talk with and engage with business people and others to hear from them how they view Government can assist in the provision of jobs that our country so desperately needs. *****
As leader of Fine Gael, I do not underestimate the scale of the challenges facing Ireland. I know that families, communities and small businesses throughout the country are struggling to survive every day. *****
But I also know that the Irish people have tremendous resilience, and they have shown in the past that they can do great things when given a fair chance. I firmly believe that if we have to have the courage and vision to chart a new, bold course for our Nation, Ireland can once again become a nation of prosperity and fairness worthy of all of our people.
Everybody understands the difficult period that lies ahead.********** However it also presents a brilliant opportunity to refocus our country on achieving and building a new kind of Politics where we can as a people achieve our goal of prosperity, employment and fulfillment. Fine Gael will build a country where we will have the best in Education and Health, where the young are protected, where the old are respected and comforted and where our working population is empowered and encouraged to play their full part in rebuilding our country. So let us all put our shoulders to that wheel and I will be honoured to lead by example.***** We are ready for that Duty.