Learn More About the Process
What is this document:
This is the first iteration of a rolling political programme for Fine Gael. It describes our ambition for Ireland in 2025 and the major initiatives we believe that need to be taken to achieve that ambition. It will be presented at the Fine Gael National Conference in November 2017. The document will be updated at subsequent Fine Gael conferences. This first iteration was commenced at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Think In in September 2017. Following engagement from the Parliamentary Party, a steering group of Fine Gael parliamentarians, chaired by the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton and including Ministers Brendan Griffin and Damien English, Deputies Hildegarde Naughton, Josepha Madigan, Colm Brophy, Peter Burke and Maria Bailey, and Senators Neale Richmond and Jerry Buttimer developed this document.
Each Fine Gael constituency is now asked to take at least one theme of Building the Republic of Opportunity, consider it in depth and bring forward ideas, identify gaps and propose changes. Furthermore, other interested external organisations (think tanks, representative bodies, advocacy groups, etc) are encouraged to do the same. Fine Gael will organise specific consultative events nationally and regionally to facilitate input. These changes will be considered at the future Fine Gael conferences where members shall amend and endorse the document.
This document focuses on a selection of long-term issues. It does not cover all policy areas and will be expanded in further iterations. Given that Fine Gael is part of the Partnership Government with the Independent Alliance and independents, actions in the lifetime of that government are governed by the Programme for Government and by the Confidence and Supply agreement with Fianna Fáil.
Foreword from the Party Leader and Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD
When I was elected leader of Fine Gael, there was an understandable focus around the world on what that said about the Ireland of today. How the son of a father from India and a mother from Co. Waterford – without any family or political connections - became the leader of the largest party in the State. What it said about our respect for diversity, our disregard for prejudice, our willingness to see people as individuals, and our fundamental fairness as a people.
I also took something more from it. It told me what my mission must be as leader and as Taoiseach. Fine Gael is a party of aspiration, a party of enterprise, a party of opportunity, and a party of hope. These are our values and these values guide my ambition for this country.
I want to give hope to individuals and families. I want to reward work and enterprise, encourage aspiration, and remove barriers to progress. And I want the Republic that we founded to provide opportunities for all our people. I learned these values from my teachers and friends growing up. From my mother who worked so hard, running the family business as well as our household. And from my father, the local GP, who kept the community healthy and well. From my sisters who always encouraged me to be the best I could be. I learned the value of hard-work, the importance of community, and also about responsibility.
So, as Taoiseach, I am conscious of the enormous responsibility that I now hold. And that’s why - every day - I think about giving everybody the same opportunities and chances in life that I had. It is what inspires and drives me forward in my work. I want to ensure that everybody in this country has an equal chance to be the best person they can be. That every child can grow-up to be the best adult they can be. I want our growing prosperity to be shared in all parts of the country. And I want there to be second chances for everyone who needs one. That is what building a Republic of Opportunity is all about. I know that those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Much is expected of this Government. And I promise that we will deliver.
In October we paid our respects to a man whose entire life was devoted to the service of this State, one of our greatest Taoisigh, Liam Cosgrave. We honour his memory by being true to the principles he lived his life by – cuibhiúlacht, dínit, agus tírghrá. Decency, dignity and patriotism. Earlier in the summer, another great Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, stepped down after leading this country out of the worst crisis in a generation. As a country, he gave us back our future. We thank him for it. And so the torch has passed to a new generation of leaders, born European, steeled by a hard and long recession, and ambitious now for our future.
Not so long ago some people claimed that this country would never get back on its feet again – that we would never get people back working again. Well, they were wrong, completely wrong. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the Irish people, and the right policy decisions we made, we achieved what seemed impossible at the time. So when the same critics and cynics now claim that the housing crisis can’t and won’t be solved, I don’t believe them. Yes, there are major challenges with housing and homelessness, and no, they won’t be solved overnight. But we have a plan, the plan is working, and we won’t stop until we succeed. Because we believe that everyone should have a home. And we believe that every working person should be able to aspire to own one. These are Fine Gael Values, and we won’t stop until they become a reality once more.
A major strength of Fine Gael is that we are working so well with our partners, the Independent Alliance and Independent Ministers. Without them, we could not achieve what we have achieved in the past year. I thank them for it and assure them of our commitment to making this government work and making it last.
Fine Gael is a party that listens to people. We also listen to other parties. What marks us out as different is that we are willing to work with others in the Dáil. The Agreement with Fianna Fáil is working and the recent budget is testament to that. We also took onboard the Green Party’s proposal to extend maternity leave to mothers who give birth to premature babies. And we are working with the Labour Party to reduce the gender pay gap. In 2018 as we mark the centenary of women getting the vote, and the election of Constance Markievicz to parliament, it is high time that we had equal pay for equal work, and equality of opportunity in all things.
We work with others because a good idea is a good idea. And a good policy is a good policy. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the left or the right. We believe in putting people first. And we always will. But there are some things that we won’t compromise on. In Fine Gael we will never compromise on ensuring that we manage the public finances responsibly. That we keep our economy competitive, and foster an environment in which jobs are created, and new businesses born. It’s on these strong economic foundations that we enable progress in all other areas.
The experience of the last thirty years shows that we are the only party that can be trusted on the economy, trusted to put the long-term national interest over short-term political gain. And we are never going back.
So this is my message: tá an Rialtas ar bhur dtaobh. Fine Gael is on your side. In everything that we have done so far we have been guided by a single principle: our desire to create opportunities, and build a better and a fairer Ireland. To build that new Republic of which we speak.
It is why we passed a budget which balances the books for the first time in ten years, and reduced income tax – with better tax credits, new benefits. It is why we have worked to restore pay for public servants – nurses, teachers and Gardai - and implemented a new deal for the self-employed, including farmers. It is why we have supported our businesses and entrepreneurs to create jobs across the country. It’s why we’ve increased the State pension three times in three years and the minimum wage on four occasions. It’s why we introduced free pre-school and subsidised childcare to help parents pay the bills. And it’s why we increased educational resources for children with learning difficulties. This year, because of this government, every child with a serious disability now has a medical card as a right, regardless of their parents’ income.
Our philosophy is clear. It is that every child deserves a childhood. Every woman and man deserves a future. And every older person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. So let’s talk about the future and some of the things we want to achieve next. Over the past few years, we have had enormous success in creating new jobs. We can now aspire to full employment, a job for everyone who wants one. But that’s not enough. We want better jobs, secure jobs that pay the bills, and allow people to raise a family and aspire to home ownership. So that means improving the quality of employment. It means continuing to increase the minimum wage and enhancing employment rights. It means ensuring that every worker is enrolled in an occupational pension so that they will have more than the State pension when they retire. It means up-skilling people already in employment so everyone can aspire to a promotion or a better job.
On tax, we’ve already taken 3 in 10 earners, the low paid, out of the tax net altogether. We will now focus on reducing taxes for middle income earners. It’s not fair that people on middle incomes pay income tax at the highest rate. That means the State takes almost 50% of everything you earn above that threshold, including any overtime you get, any pay increase you earn, or any extra hours you work. That’s not fair. Fine Gael believes in rewarding work. So in the budget we raised the standard cut-off point, and we will do so again in the next one - and the one after that - and the one after that.
For Ireland to succeed, we need to plan long-term. We must imagine what an Ireland in 2040 - home to 8 million people, north and south - should look like. Our new National Development Plan will set-out how we will invest €100 billion over the next ten years and prepare us for the future. The plan will build an Ireland that is future-proofed: balanced regional development, climate action, quality of life, and continued capacity to grow.
In planning for the future, we must prepare for major changes that are coming. Robotics, artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles, renewable energy and smart grids will change our world in the next twenty years in the way the internet and mobile phones did in the last. Ireland should be an early adopter of new technologies.
Making life easier for families is a priority for me and for this party. I believe greater work-life balance and work-place flexibility must be better supported, particularly in the early years. That is why we introduced Paternity Leave and now we want to go further. Our aspiration is to have paid family leave that can be shared between parents in the first year of their child’s life, and we are determined to make it a reality. Because the family is the basic unit of society, we want to improve how we care for seriously ill or dependent relatives. A reformed social insurance system will allow a minimum number of days per year, of sick pay for employees who are also carers.
The recent Budget provided a record allocation for health - €15 billion. This will help reduce waiting times, and improve our hospitals, primary care, mental health, and services for older people. But the next decade must also be about reform as well as resources. Based on the all-party Slaintecare report, we will implement a ten year plan to modernise and streamline our health service. Because a country that spends the fifth highest in the world on healthcare deserves to have a top-tier health service.
Facing the challenge of Brexit, we need to ensure that the free movement of people, goods and services on this island is protected. There can be no return to the border on our island. We will not accept it. In my conversations with European presidents and prime ministers I have received considerable support for the challenges we face. I want to reassure all border communities that we are listening to you, we hear your concerns, and we promise you that we will safeguard your rights, and all that we have achieved. I know this won’t be easy, and that all these matters are not entirely under our control. But remember this: four times in our history we decided as a country to take a different road to the United Kingdom. We did it in 1921, when we became independent and we were the first country to leave the Empire. We did it in 1948, when we became a Republic. We did it again in 1979 when we broke the link with sterling and floated our own currency. And then we did it again in 2001 when we joined the Euro without Britain. While there were challenges on every occasion, we overcame them and emerged stronger and more prosperous as a result. And we approach the challenge of Brexit with the same spirit. There may be tough calls and hard decisions ahead. But one thing is certain. Ireland will always remain at the heart of the common European home we helped to build.
We will also continue to work with the parties in the North and the British Government as they seek to ensure that devolution is restored and Northern Ireland’s voice is heard again at this crucial time. We are committed to this work no matter how many set-backs may arise, no matter how long it takes.
Is cuid suntasach, tábhachtach í.... dár stair... dár gcultúr agus dár saol... anois agus sa todhchaí. Ceiliúrfaimid Bliain na Gaeilge i dhá mhíle is a hocht déag. Tabharfar deis dúinn go léir chun saibhreas ár dteanga náisiúnta a cheiliúradh... agus níos mó daoine a mhealladh chun í a labhairt ar bhun laethúil. So 2018 will be the year of the Irish language.
Almost one hundred years ago, one of our nation’s forefather’s said that ‘the freedom, strength, and greatness’ of our new nation was dependent on our economic well-being. Michael Collins was right then. And he was also right when he predicted that with peace, security and unity, no one could limit the greatness to which our country could aspire. Today a new page of Irish history is being written. If we make the right decisions, if we pursue the right policies we can drive our country forward in a way that is lasting and genuine. Michael Collins believed that with courage Ireland could be a ‘shining light unto the world’. Fine Gael has the courage to take us forward. We have the courage to succeed. So join with me, and let’s build the Republic of Opportunity together.
Introduction by Minister Richard Bruton
Ireland is at a watershed. Only now after many years of difficult struggle we are, as a country, in a position to set out plans to shape a future which meets our people’s hopes and ambitions.
Too often in the past such an opportunity has been destroyed by bad politics. Fine Gael is determined that in setting out our vision for a Republic of Opportunity we shall plan for the long-term in a sustainable way and ensure that the sacrifices are not squandered.
This time our ambition must be authentic and sustainable. This time it must be built on genuine enterprise and service not on speculation or debt. Our vision will sustain a confident, ambitious, progressive, open and fair Ireland – a Republic of Opportunity.
“A Republic of Opportunity” underpins our vision and our plans for the future. It is being built on solid economic foundations, but aware that those foundations must be constantly consolidated. It is ambitious but is being developed in full recognition of the gathering pace of global challenges which will not relent and which must be met with responsibility and resilience.
Our vision is of an Ireland:
- in which every person is empowered to fulfil their potential and is treated with fairness and dignity throughout their lives;
- in which every institution serves our citizens without fear or favour and is proud to stand over the quality of its work; and
- in which every community knits together its diverse elements with respect for the different paths people have followed providing protection and solidarity for all.
Our economic success cannot be taken for granted. Many politicians who opposed every policy measure which made the creation of 230,000 new jobs possible since the crash, are now scrambling to spend the fruits of that success with little understanding of how it can be sustained.
Policy must recognise that the economic model of today must be able to adapt quickly. The financial reserves and the infrastructure to make that possible will be factored into all our plans. Our successful economic model will have to adapt to shifts in international tax and trading regimes, to the challenge of carbon neutrality, to the challenges of migration flows, to the accelerating pace of technological change (robotics, artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles) and countless other shocks we do not yet know of. We are putting plans in place to be ahead of those changes.
If we are to secure opportunity for every person, every community and every region, we must build it on the foundation of a strong economy. That means:
- building a balanced sustainable and ambitious economy;
- making work pay and rewarding, enterprise, innovation and success in international trade; and
- only spending on public services what can be supported by the capacity of the economy.
We must work constantly to future proof the competitiveness of the economy. This requires continuous reform and improvement in both how private markets and public services perform.
Balanced regional development and strong communities are at the heart of our planning. This can only happen if the State prevents the developer-led patterns of population growth of the past. Our plan will ensure that the pattern of key infrastructural investment underpins this vision of balanced regional development. The arteries of a thriving region are strong connectivity, deep talent pools, support for enterprise and innovation in key sectors. Important public services with appropriate access must be assured and new policies for rural towns and villages. They will be built around people and enterprises who can create sustainable competitive advantage in adaptable sectors.
Developing a strong economy is not an end in itself. It enables the creation of equality of opportunity which is the central driving ambition that underpins this plan. Fairness and justice are not to be found in making everyone the same. Every person must have the chance to shape different paths to fulfil their potential. The role of government is not to run people’s lives or to provide everything for free. It is to provide opportunity. It is to help when they stumble by providing a second chance. It is to empower people and to respond to diversity of need with choice and opportunity.
In developing a strong economy, we need a sustainable housing sector. We in Fine Gael believe that one of the fundamental responsibilities of the State is to make sure that there are enough safe and secure homes for everyone living in our Republic. If we don’t have homes that people can afford, young or old, renting or buying, then we limit the possibilities of our people. We can’t talk about opportunities when people don’t have secure homes.
Fine Gael in Government is taking real action to meet our target of building 25,000 new homes every year. As these new homes are built, from social to affordable to private, we will build them together, in mixed communities. And while we believe everyone should be able to aspire to home ownership, we also believe in providing choice. We will continue to develop incentives for build to rent and while also protecting renters through a new regulator for the sector
We need to build a new Social Contract where throughout their life cycle a person can be confident that they will get the help needed to manage the risks in their lives which mar their opportunity for fulfilment. Such a Social Contract cannot be just funded by the few. It demands that everyone contributes when they can, just as they are entitled to draw down when they need it. It is only in this way shall we be able to develop sustainable funding models for our ambitions for health, for education and for pensions.
It is this vision of the Enabling State which runs through our plans:
- to enable opportunity for all and ensure the next generation gets a fair chance;
- to make life easier for families at all stages of life; and
- to support ageing in security with opportunity and dignity
Ireland is changing and the expectation of our citizens is changing rapidly. Public institutions must respond. There have been far too many instances in our history, and not just in the past, where our citizens have not fared well in the face of powerful institutions for whom serving their own interests have won out over their duty of care to the citizen. This will change in the Republic of Opportunity. The accountability of those to whom responsibility to lead is given will be a cornerstone. The progress being made through reforms now underway must be thoroughly embedded. Clearly articulated standards and transparent accountability for their achievement will become the norm. Equally there must be a significant change in the small ways in which large institutions often inadvertently create inconvenience and put difficulty in the way of people accessing service. Choice and diversity and responding to citizens needs must characterise our public service, not the convenience of providers. Successful outcomes for the citizen must be the measure of performance of all our public services.
Ireland is fortunate to attract many of most talented people to the public service. They must be guaranteed the opportunity to work in a results-oriented, evidence-informed organisation, which nurtures and deploys their talent to best effect, where they can be proud to work in an innovative and accountable and client centred organisation, which deliver for all our citizens.
Strengthening Justice, Law and Order is a key pillar of our strategy. The most fundamental obligation of the State is to protect its people from criminal acts. Fine Gael is the party of law and order. Our forebears helped create the institutions of the State and oversaw the establishment of the Civic Guard in 1922.
This will be a priority as we press on with the far reaching reforms in the oversight and management of the Gardaí, the creation of a robust enforcement regime against white collar crime, and the recognition of the often overlooked impact on victims and their rights to see justice done.
A sporting nation, proud of its language, culture and heritage is a strong pillar of the plan. The Republic of Opportunity which we plan will take greater care to protect and develop the heritage and traditions which bind together strong communities who are at once confident and proud of their roots, but open and welcoming of the many people from diverse backgrounds building their lives with our communities. Through this we can knit together people of diverse backgrounds in active and engaged community life.
As a small country which has historically struggled to achieve and develop our independence, we recognise the potential to achieve far more working together in an ambitious European Union. As a Republic of Opportunity, Ireland shall be a confident builder of an open and responsible European Union. We shall double our global footprint as we shape new opportunities for Ireland. We will be that island at the centre of the world.
We will play our part in taking responsibility for global challenges including the sustainable use of the planet’s scarce resources. Climate action is at the centre of all that we seek to achieve as a party, as we recognise that this is the greatest challenge facing our country and the world at large.
Fine Gael has always been a party that has eschewed short-term convenience and populism when in government. Fine Gael is a party that thinks and plans in decades. This document is about that longer term thinking.