Friends and viewers, as I open this debate we ask ourselves the following questions:
Where have we come from?
What journey has our country and our party collectively travelled?
Where we are we now?
Where does our party and Ireland stand, as a modern open state in a changing world?
Where can we go, what can we achieve?
Knowing that the premise that our present is better than our past is not sufficient, is not as compelling as the promise of a future where collectively we can achieve more.
Where collectively we can rise to the problems of today and the opportunities of tomorrow by drawing on our strengths as a modern economy and diverse society.
We successfully brought the country out of the economic crisis and the bailout to a better future.
We introduced long overdue social change on marriage equality and the 8th amendment.
And this week our efforts yielded an agreement on Brexit that if ratified will protect our country and citizens as the UK leaves the EU.
Years of hard work, sacrifice and responsible decision making have taken us back to strong economic growth and back in control of our national finances.
Yet we continue to wrestle with the consequences of painful financial mismanagement and strive to ensure this never happens again.
We lost our sense of economic reality during the Celtic Tiger period was lost. We lost track of the fundamentals of what a successful stable economy and society should and could be.
We now need to continue to renew our covenant with the Irish people.
A covenant that prizes responsibility, ambition and care for all our citizens over the short-term show time politics of the past.
The basis of this is Fine Gael keeping under public finances under control.
In place of gimmicks and giveaways, we will balance the books, invest for the future and deliver continuous and sustainable increases in living standards.
This is the foundation upon which we will deliver lasting prosperity for our country.
That is why we will protect ourselves in the long-term by running surpluses when the economy is growing, and use them to pay down debt and build up the Rainy Day Fund.
It is why we will increase the rate of current spending in line with the rate of economic growth, not ahead.
And it is why we will ensure that there is long-term and consistent level of commitment to investment in our homes, schools, hospitals and public transport.
Our responsible management of the public finances is not for its own sake, but because it is the platform upon which we build for the future, improve people’s lives and achieve our full potential.
We face the future with a renewed spirit of optimism and ambition for our great country.
However many risks and challenges remain, of which the most pressing is Brexit.
It is because we acknowledge these risks that Fine Gael alone has produced and is implementing an ambitious plan for the future.
By 2040 we will have a population of 6 million.
Under previous governments population growth led to unbalanced and uneven development that overloaded the Greater Dublin Area and left other regions behind.
Their legacy was ghost estates, dashed hopes and broken dreams.
This is why Fine Gael in Government brought forward Project Ireland 2040, which comprises the €116 billion National Development Plan and the National Planning Framework.
This will bring us in line with mainstream European levels of capital investment.
It also means that for the first time our planning and capital investment plans will work in tandem with each other.
Why are we different to the others? This is how.
Future population and economic growth will be balanced and cities like Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway can expand while enabling Dublin to develop in a sustainable way.
And because of the political choices we made in this year’s Budget to prioritise capital spending, which is increasing by €1.5 billion next year to over €7 billion, we will better meet the current and future needs of our society while protecting the economy against the risks on our horizon, particularly Brexit.
In the coming weeks, we will award funding to the first projects under the €4 billion investment funds that were introduced as part of Project Ireland 2040 – the Rural and Urban Regeneration & Development Funds, the Climate Action Fund and the Disruptive Technologies Fund
This is what economic competence, ambition for our country and good government look like in practice.
And it is precisely because we are planning for the future in a responsible and sustainable way that the opposition, who initially opposed Project Ireland 2040, now don’t want to talk about it at all.
They want to talk about how we communicate the plan. We want to talk about how we will make it happen.
Unlike other parties, only Fine Gael can deliver the modern mixed economy that combines the role of the state as guarantor of social and economic security and opportunity and business as the provider of jobs, investment and growth.
We reject the allure of the simple claim, we reject the fiction that free markets can achieve everything on their own.
And we reject the comforting insistence that government alone can achieve everything with someone else’s money.
The Party of a Modern & Caring Ireland
Fine Gael is also the only party that combines an understanding of a modern economy and a modern society.
Under the leadership of the Taoiseach we have become a broad and diverse coalition of the modern centre, which at its heart pursues the values of a modern and caring Ireland – openness, tolerance, opportunity, responsibility, care and aspiration.
We more truly reflect where the mainstream of modern Ireland lies than any other party.
We are the party of a modern and caring Ireland.
We see no contradiction between delivering a strong economy and public finances and a just and fair society. One is needed to deliver the other. Strong public finances allow investment in public goods. An inclusive society allows the policies for a sustainable economy.
Both are equal measurements of our progress as a nation.
As Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure, I, we, as a party, care as much about a decrease in the number of children in a hotel as we do about a decrease in our national debt. No party in Dáil Éireann as a monopoly on compassion, and no party in Dáil Éireann has the people and policies to change both.
From the social change we have delivered, to the public services we have strengthened and the economic opportunity we have created, Fine Gael has refreshed and renewed our agenda for a modern Ireland.
We have challenged our assumptions about what is best for Ireland.
We stand for the many who seek a better life for themselves, their families and their communities.
Modern Ireland looks to the political system to deliver both personal and societal aspiration – achieving our own full potential and that of our country.
We share these aspirations.
And we are determined to achieve them.