Ministers, colleagues, delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and welcome to the 77th Fine Gael Ard Fheis.
I am very pleased to welcome you to this important discussion on our plan for jobs and growth. Nothing is more important for our country at this time.
I have the honour of chairing the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. As far as I am concerned our sole focus is on that simple word in our title: Jobs.
My colleagues and I on Committee have had some real insights into what has been happening in our economy on the ground.
We have also travelled around the country to hear first hand about the issues that are of concern to people working in the frontline of our economy.
We have listened to small shopkeepers, manufacturing companies, service companies and many others. I have to tell you, many of the stories were not good.
At the time Fine Gael took office in 2011 the jobs outlook was so bad that the Live Register was on a trajectory towards 500,000.
Two days ago, when our Taoiseach launched the 2014 Action Plan for Jobs, the CSO announced that just over 250,000 people are unemployed. That’s still far, far too high. But we have come a long way in those three years.
The unemployment rate has fallen now for 19 consecutive months: from 15.1% in February 2012 to 12.3% in January 2014.
Since Minister Bruton initiated the Action Plan for Jobs process in 2012 we have implemented over 1,100 job-supporting measures. We are happy to report that 95% of the actions required under the Plan during the past two years have been delivered.
It is the brick-by-brick rebuilding of a competitive, successful, and sustainable economy to replace the ruins we inherited three years ago.
We were losing 1,600 jobs each week back then.
Our economy is now creating 1,200 new jobs a week – that’s faster than any other economy in the European Union or the OECD member countries. It is 61,000 net new jobs here in the past year alone.
We cannot pause for a second until we are back to full employment. That is what a return to prosperity will look like for the people of Ireland.
We are going in the right direction.
Our competitiveness rankings are improving and our exports are growing.
But in the meantime, my colleagues and I are acutely aware that for those people without jobs, all these numbers look academic and unreal.
Many people have not yet enjoyed any upswing from the economic recovery.
Far too many individuals and families remain battered by unemployment. They have yet to see recovery in their own lives.
So it all comes back to that primary challenge we face: jobs, jobs, jobs.
And we will not be found wanting in rising to this challenge.
Exiting the bailout was not an end in itself. It was only the end of the beginning.
Just as we had a plan to exit the bailout, we now have a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our strategy is based on 3 pillars.
· Responsible Management of the Public Finances
· Banking Reform
· Creating Jobs in the Domestic Economy for:
Ø Irish entrepreneurs
But just talking about the plan will do little or nothing. We have to show through the numbers and our own hard work that the plan is delivering: guiding the economy, and the individuals and families within it, to better times.
This year will see a renewed focus on our domestic economy.
We have to make sure that economic recovery reaches every part of the country, not just urban areas.
Spreading growth is very important. I am pleased that the new Action Plan for Jobs includes an IDA programme of building new advanced manufacturing facilities and office space in regional locations in order to attract companies to locations to different parts of the country.
Construction will still have a very important role to play. An industry that became bloated in the boom has now contracted far too much.
I am glad to see that this week’s Action Plan for Jobs has committed that the Government will publish a Construction Sector Strategy by the end of March.
Our population is growing and will need schools, houses and infrastructure to live well. The construction industry must expand sensibly to meet this demand.
(ON AIR SECTION TWO)
Delegates: we have a busy and interesting two hour session ahead of us. It is all about jobs and growth.
Over the course of the session we will hear 14 motions from delegates—including two testimonials—reflecting the concerns that people have in their everyday lives. These motions range from lowering the heavy income tax burden to helping the long-term unemployed improve their skills and get back to work.
Our Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, will discuss how we make the recovery local through food exports, developing the rural economy and creating sustainable jobs.
The agri-food and fishing industry is enjoying a period of strong success and is vital to our recovery. I will give you just one important statistic: more than 75% of expenditure in this sector is on Irish goods and services, compared to 42% for all manufacturing. So the knock-on benefits to local communities is substantial.
After Simon we will hear from Richard Bruton, our Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Richard will speak about how we are putting a range of supports in place to help business and are setting up a new network of 31 local enterprise offices. The Government wants to create an enhanced national micro-enterprise support model and these offices will be central to that.
Then, the newest member of our parliamentary party, Senator Hildegarde Naughton from Galway, will talk to us about the determination of this Government to make work pay. Even at the height of our economic boom, fifteen per cent of households in Ireland were jobless. Fine Gael is determined that this recovery will not leave those families behind.
Finally, our Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan will outline the path we are going to take towards 2020, and the milestones along the way of our Medium Term Economic Strategy.
No Minister has ever taken on the job in such tumultuous circumstances. A true Limerick and Munster man: he is the Paul O’Connell of this Government. A model of calm and balance: but with a ferocious determination and focus when required.
When Michael Noonan last addressed delegates in Limerick last October, we were debating whether or not we needed a precautionary line of credit in order to exit the bailout safely. Look where we are today.
Next weekend it will be three years since Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach and Michael Noonan took up the reins at Finance.
Ireland is on the up again. You have made great sacrifices and endured a lot to make this happen. Many are not yet experiencing improvement in their lives. But I believe under Fine Gael it will come.
Our challenge for the next two years is to create the conditions for job creation that will bring prosperity to all.