In a few short weeks, the people of Ireland will go to the polls.
And for the first time in a generation the choice you face is as stark as it is clear.
It is your choice and yours alone.
In the privacy of the ballot box, you choose, you decide.
And what do you want?
Do you want the recovery, the recovery you have worked for, suffered for, and made so much personal sacrifice for, to continue?
Or do you want to put it at risk?
That’s the only question you will be asked.
That’s the only question you will answer.
A clear choice between continuing on the path of stability and recovery; or putting our hard won progress at risk.
We must keep the recovery going
What is needed to secure that recovery?
The answer is simple.
A clear plan.
Fine Gael has a clear, costed, long-term economic plan to keep the recovery going.
It‘s based on a simple proposition.
A strong economy.
Because a strong economy delivers jobs.
A strong economy delivers work that pays.
A strong economy delivers the services we depend on and need in our day-to-day lives.
Services like hospitals, transport, childcare, housing, services for our elderly and those who are homelessness.
A strong economy is the guarantee for our children’s future.
With Fine Gael that strong economy will be built on sound foundations that are well grounded, and will become deep-rooted.
An economy built in a real world of jobs and enterprise and investment and common sense.
Because for us, the recovery is not a political prize, or a global headline.
It’s something to be felt and lived by every citizen of our republic.
Because it’s your recovery.
I don’t need to remind you about the crisis that gripped Ireland in January 2011.
You lived it – every day.
The public finances out of control.
300,000 jobs lost.
Tens of thousands leaving the country in search of work.
The banks on the brink of collapse, and Ireland’s international reputation in tatters.
The Troika had arrived.
Then Irish people gave Fine Gael and the Labour Party a mandate to fix the public finances and to get our country working again.
A mandate to haul us back from the brink.
Many thought that ending the bailout; rescuing the economy; and saving the country was an impossible task.
But the people and the new government faced up to that crisis.
A plan to stabilise the economy and turn the country in the right direction was put in place. It wasn’t easy.
Difficult decisions had to be taken – decisions that were painful for many people.
As a government, we didn’t get everything right nor did we manage to do everything we thought we could.
But working together, government and the people, we have made real progress.
Thanks to your hard word and resilience, we’ve gone from economic wreckage to economic recovery.
Ireland is now moving in the right direction.
The public finances are back under control.
The economy is growing again – faster than any other in Europe.
No more bailout, no more Troika, no more dead banks.
Yes, we still have too many people out of work, but every day jobs are being created.
Yes, we have more challenges to meet.
I know that, for many people watching tonight, economic statistics mean very little.
Too many people do not yet see, and do not yet feel, the benefits of a recovering economy in their own daily lives.
Too many families and older people are still struggling to make ends meet.
Too many families are still missing a son or daughter who has had to leave Ireland to find a job.
That’s why the job is not yet complete.
The recovery must be strengthened and secured.
A strong economy cannot be taken for granted.
Keeping the recovery going will require a clear plan.
That’s what will enable us to improve people’s lives.
Our plan is about the future.
It’s made up of 3 clear and inter-connected steps
more and better jobs
making work pay and
investing in better public services for our people.
The first step is the creation of jobs.
This must remain the top priority.
Unemployment is the greatest cause of inequality and unfairness in our society.
Jobs have been at the core of Fine Gael’s work in Government since 2011, when we VAT rate for the tourism sector that had an immediate impact.
135,000 extra jobs have been created since the Action Plan for Jobs began.
Our new plan aims to see a further 200,000 jobs by 2021.
Jobs that at least 70,000 of our emigrants can return home to.
So they can work and make a life at home.
Achieving these targets means developing new growth strategies across all sectors of the economy.
It will be a great time to work in Ireland; start or grow a small business in Ireland; invest in Ireland.
Crucially, we will protect our 12.5% corporation tax rate which has been a cornerstone of investment and job creation.
We will end the tax discrimination against the self-employed.
Investing in infrastructure will mean more and better jobs in every part of the country.
Second – we must ensure that work pays
I want many of the new jobs that are being created to be taken up by those who are still out of work.
Because work, not welfare, is the route out of poverty.
Five years ago, we reversed Fianna Fáil’s decision to cut the minimum wage, which would have hurt those who earn the least.
This month, we increased it again to €9.15 per hour.
To keep the recovery going our plan will reward hard work and effort. The Universal Social Charge was introduced by Fianna Fáil as a penal tax on virtually everyone at work.
We reduced the USC for low and middle income earners, and increased the numbers who don’t have to pay it at all to 700,000.
If we are re-elected by the people, just as we said goodbye to the Troika, we will say goodbye to the USC.
Over the next five years, the USC will be abolished – with measures to limit the benefits for high earners.
This will cut the maximum tax rate for middle income families to 44%, from the 52% rate introduced by Fianna Fáil, giving a working family earning 45,000 per year a boost in income of over 1,750 per year.
Too many families with children are trapped in welfare because it’s just not worth it for parents to take up a job, even when they want to.
Our plan’s new Working Family Payment will ensure that work pays more than welfare.
In many families, both parents want to work.
In many cases they need to work.
So they need high-quality childcare that is local, accessible and affordable.
From September, parents will be entitled to a second free pre-school year and 2 weeks paid paternity leave.
But we know we need to do more including extending parental leave and providing more support to home carers.
Thirdly – our plan will use the resources generated by a strong economy to invest in our public services.
The recovery has enabled us to make a start in reversing the cuts made to vital services.
The recruitment and training of new Gardaí in Templemore has restarted.
From September, 2,000 more teachers will be recruited in our schools and this will increase further in the years ahead.
Increased investment in improving our health services is essential.
This year we will invest an extra €800 million on health, delivering more doctors, more nurses and more medical professionals.
We are committed to further increases to meet the needs of an ageing population and to reduce waiting lists.
We are determined to ensure that as many people as possible, particularly elderly people, are supported in their own homes and communities.
That is why we will increase home help hours and fund local GPs to work in all urban and rural areas and treat minor injuries and common chronic illnesses.
Together, our Plan will provide the resources to hire an additional 10,000 Gardaí, teachers, doctors, nurses and other front-line staff by 2021.
And everyone watching tonight knows, we cannot live in an economy alone.
Fine Gael’s long-term plan to keep the recovery going, to keep the economy going is aimed at improving the lives of all our people, our hospitals and healthcare, our housing, our schools, our childcare, safer communities, the chance to work at home, live at home.
For everyone who wants a job, they can get a job.
For people who have a job? There will be more take-home pay.
Our children will have better access to education and health.
Our older citizens will see more frontline staff delivering the services they depend on and deserve at home, in the community or, where necessary, in hospital.
But all of this costs money.
And the money will ONLY be there if our economy is strong.
For us the economy can never be the end in itself.
Rather, the economy is where we generate the resources that will make life better for our people.
So I say to you tonight that yes the recovery and the economy are at the centre of our long-term plan.
But ultimately it is the lives and the wellbeing of our people that are, and must be, at its heart.
To implement this plan, we need the support and the confidence of the voters.
Because in all the white noise of the election, there is really only one question.
‘Who will keep the recovery going?’
A straight question.
With a straight answer.
Because it will decide
Whether people have jobs, it will decide whether you see more Gardaí back on the beat, back on the streets.
Whether we you can get what you need, when you need it from our public services.
It will decide whether you will have quality and affordable childcare.
Whether the small business you’ve slaved for will thrive.
Whether you watch your grandchildren grow up at home or on Skype.
Fine Gael has the plan.
It is a fully costed, long-term, 3-step plan to create more jobs, to make sure work pays, to give more and better public services.
Above all, to keep the people’s recovery going.
But as people start to see for themselves that yes, the recovery is real, they see too that the risk to it is real.
And there can be no going back.
But why would we?
Back to the policies that wrecked an economy and ravaged a society?
Would we go back to 300,000 jobs disappearing?
Back to ghost estates that haunt communities, a whole generation?
Would we go back to boom and bust and extravagant promises?
Back to higher taxes?
Ireland can’t afford to go back, to put its hard-won recovery at risk.
With growing international economic uncertainty, now is not the time to take risks with Ireland’s economy.
We can’t afford to risk the recovery to those who wrecked the economy in the past: or to those whole populist promises would wreck our future by blowing a huge hole in the public finances.
The next government’s job is to keep the recovery going.
It is exactly what FG is committed to doing.
Five years ago, many commentators said that Ireland’s situation was hopeless.
That the economy could not be pulled back from the brink.
That we would need a second bailout.
We defied the naysayers to revive the economy, banish the Troika, exit the bail-out, get Ireland back in the international markets and get our people back to work.
And we did all of it because the people were with us.
They made this recovery. It is theirs.
And the next government must respect it, and protect it.
Over the coming weeks as a party we will travel across the country to explain Fine Gael’s plan.
We will be appeal to people personally, to keep the recovery going.
I ask everyone who cares about this country and its future to give us the opportunity to finish what we started.
To give Ireland the chance to reinforce its recovery and to reach its potential.
Tonight I say to all of you who are watching, if our plan sounds like a good plan to you, please support us.
If a plan for more jobs, more Gardaí, more teachers, more nurses, more doctors, more help for our families, our children, our elderly, sounds like a good one to you, please support our plan.
If a plan for higher wages, lower taxes, conditions to help our businesses flourish sounds good to you, you know what to do, please vote for our plan.
If the recovery matters to you, your family, your business, your future, when you take your pen or pencil in your hand, vote Fine Gael.
We’re now at the beginning of 2016, the centenary of the rising.
Ireland is at that exquisite point, when we take time to examine not only who we were, but who we want to become as a nation, a society, a real republic.
Easter 1916 was a ‘cold and passionate dawn, for a new Ireland.
In 100 years we have built on the new day the Rising leaders gave us. We founded a new state, we declared a Republic, we joined the European Union.
At long last, we put our Children First and respected the Magdelene women.
We made marriage equal.
It is that sense of generosity, compassion, strength, and imagination that will be the making of us as a people, a nation.
It is a continuum, the kind of national example we want to be and live, for the next generation.
In this the centenary of the rising, we can say that of Ireland, our best and brightest days, are still uncounted, still to be unwrapped.
We can say that the dream of our nation’s heart has yet to be fulfilled.
And it is you, we, each of us, all of us who will be those necessary dreamers.
I want to thank the people of Ireland for staying the course over the last five years.
Thank you for giving Fine Gael and the Labour Party your trust.
We have worked hard to be worthy of it.
Personally and politically, I have always tried to do my best for you and for Ireland.
I am humbled, touched, and deeply privileged to be your Taoiseach.
In a few weeks, I will ask the people of Ireland for their permission, and their support, to finish the job we have started.
To deliver our plan.
To keep the recovery going, in the interests of all our people.
But leaving the election aside, I wish you, your families, every success, good health and good fortune, in this centenary year.
Thank you from my heart. God bless you all.
Slán go fóill.