Good evening Ministers, Members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and delegates.
Welcome to the opening of the 78th Fine Gael Ard Fheis.
I particularly welcome the 88 candidates who will put their names before the Irish people on behalf of Fine Gael in the forthcoming general election.
That election will be crucially important for the future of this country.
Everybody now recognises that a recovery is underway. This weekend, we will outline Fine Gael’s plan to keep the recovery going so that a strong economy can be used to improve the lives of all of the people of Ireland.
Therefore the central and key question in this election is who can be relied on to keep the recovery going.
Throughout the election campaign, we will engage with the Irish people in every community in the country to explain our plan and to ask the people for their mandate to implement it.
It is based on three key steps:
First – job creation must remain the top priority.
Jobs have been at the core of Fine Gael’s work in Government since 2011 when we reversed the cut in the minimum wage and reduced the VAT rate for the tourism sector.
135,000 extra jobs have been created since the Action Plan for Jobs began.
Our new plan aims to build on this by supporting the creation of a further 200,000 jobs over the next five years.
This includes 70,000 of our emigrants returning to live and work in their own country. Fianna Fáil drove them away. I want to bring them home.
Second – we must ensure that work pays.
We want many of the new jobs that will be created to be taken up by those who are currently out of work.
Too many families are trapped on welfare. Fine Gael will reform the system to make sure that work pays more than welfare.
That means completing the abolition of the USC over the next 5 budgets; introducing a new Working Family Payment to ensure that all working parents earn at least €11.75 per hour; and more help with childcare, including a second free pre-school year, already announced.
Thirdly – the resources generated by a strong economy, with more and more people at work, must be invested in sensible and sustainable improvements in our key public services – more teachers in the classroom, more nurses on the wards and more Gardaí on the streets.
Our plan is aimed at improving the daily lives of all our people. For people who have a job, it will mean more take-home pay – better quality of life.
It will mean that everyone who wants a job, can get a job.
For our children, it will mean better access to education and health services.
For our older and vulnerable citizens, it will mean more frontline staff delivering the services that they depend on and deserve, at home, in the community and where necessary in hospital.
This plan will build on the work done by Fine Gael and the Labour Party over the past 5 years, and I thank them for their work in Government.
Who can forget the depth of the crisis we inherited in 2011. Ten of thousands forced out of the country in search of work, the public finances out of control, the banks on the brink of collapse. The country in a bailout.
That’s what Fianna Fail left behind when the people voted them out.
I heard some incredulous comments last weekend when I heard them shamelessly claiming that what we really inherited from them was a plan.
If that wreckage of a plan had been implemented, then the country would never have recovered.
Because their so-called plan would have been a total disaster.
It proposed paying over €3 billion every year for the notorious Anglo Irish Bank Promissory Note. Fine Gael in Government got rid of the promissory note, and that toxic bank.
That was a turning point for the Irish economy.
Their plan imposed a further €630 million in income tax increases – on top of the USC which they already introduced – which would have killed any incentive to work and any chance of creating new jobs. We refused to increase income taxes and cut them as soon as the economic conditions allowed.
And, listen to this they actually planned to target the most vulnerable workers in the country by cutting the minimum wage. So much for equality. We reversed that mean-spirited decision.
So, far from following Fianna Fáil’s disastrous plan, we replaced it with own plan. A clear plan with the creation of jobs at its core.
Thanks to the hard work, resilience and support of the Irish people, that plan is working.
The Troika are gone.
The economy is growing again. You see this with increased traffic, increased spending and so on.
Jobs are being created, in substantial numbers. Our plan will ensure that it benefits everyone.
Our young people are starting to come home, returning from America and Australia. We are glad to welcome their return.
The process of rebuilding our public services has started.
Despite this economic progress, I acknowledge that many people have yet to feel the benefits of the recovery in their daily lives.
That’s why keeping the recovery going is so important because it will enable us to ensure real improvements in people’s lives. It can only be delivered through a strong economy.
So the fundamental and central question facing the Irish people in this election is – who can keep the recovery going?
Who has a clear plan to keep the recovery going?
In the forthcoming election, people will have a very clear choice.
A choice between a clear plan to keep the recovery going; or putting the peoples’ hard won progress at risk by going back to those who wrecked the country in the past or to those whose populist promises would wreck our future by blowing a huge hole in the national finances.
Earlier today I travelled back from the World Economic Forum in Davos.
That was a valuable opportunity for me, as Taoiseach, to deliver a strong message about Ireland’s recovery and to meet with many businesses who are considering creating jobs in our country. I have rarely heard such public credit given to the Irish workforce. The time ahead is full of potential for further investment in jobs.
The backdrop to this event was uncertainty about the international economy.
While Ireland is moving in the right direction, the recovery still remains fragile and incomplete.
Too many times in the past job security and economic progress were taken for granted. Not this time and not with Fine Gael in charge.
Now is not the time for complacency in the face of a dangerous combination of international risks:
· A Chinese economy in a turbulent and uncertain transition
· Growing instability in the Middle East and other energy-rich regions
· The unprecedented challenge of extraordinary migration into Europe
· Uncertainty over Britain’s future inside the European Union
· The economic populism in some eurozone countries that threatens to undo the progress made in recent years
· The challenge of climate change
Now is not the time to take risks with Ireland’s recovery.
In an uncertain world, our Long Term Economic Plan will reinforce Ireland’s position as a pro-jobs and pro-family haven of stability, opportunity and growth.
It provides a strong foundation on which our people can build their lives – no more boom and bust, no more reckless waste of taxpayers’ money, no more sense of a crisis.
It offers our people the stability and certainty needed to keep the recovery going. It compliments the power that lies in every community in the country to deal with our challenges.
My message to the Irish people is that Fine Gael is committed to keeping this recovery going, so that we can use the benefits of a strong economy to improve the lives of the Irish people, all of the people.
My message to Fine Gael is that our Party has a clear plan to keep the recovery going. Your challenge in the coming weeks will be to take that message to every community in every part of Ireland.
We will explain our plan to the Irish people and ask them for support to keep the recovery going. In return, we commit to delivering our plan in the interests of all the Irish people.
I look forward to meeting you all and trust that you will have a really enjoyable weekend.
Go raibh maith agat