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Speech of the Leader of Fine Gael, Simon Harris T.D.,

82nd Fine Gael Ard Fheis University of Galway Saturday 6th April 2024

6th April 2024 - Simon Harris TD

A dhaoine uaisle, a chairde, oíche mhaith agaibh go léir agus fáilte go Gaillimh.

I am deeply honoured to address you this evening in Ollscoil na Gaillimh as I prepare to take on the greatest challenge of my life

I want to start by paying tribute to our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

Thank you, Leo, for guiding us through major challenges of our generation: Brexit and the COVID pandemic.

To paraphrase your own words in that unforgettable St. Patrick’s Day broadcast:

‘In years to come they will say of you, when things were at their worst, you were at your best.’

Tonight, I say thank you.

Fine Gael is a family, and as a family we mourn together when we lose loved ones.

I am especially thinking of our former leader and Taoiseach, John Bruton.

John was a true patriot who advanced the cause of peace and reconciliation, and who helped rescue our economy.

He epitomised all that is good about Fine Gael.

Tonight, we miss and remember him.

I want to tell you a little bit about myself and my vision for this great party.

I am a proud Wicklow man. I am the eldest of three.

My mother worked hard as a Special Needs Assistant and my father as a taxi driver.

I am a husband and a father. Caoimhe and I are the proud parents of two young children.

Everything I do will be the grounded in the values my parents raised me with – hard work, compassion, and a desire to help those who need it the most.

And everything I do will be with the ambition to create a better Ireland not just for Saoirse and Cillian – for all of our children.

My story began when my younger brother Adam was diagnosed with autism, and I began to campaign for better information and services.

I quickly learned that very many families were feeling like ours: Alone.

This was the formative experience of my life.

And it led me to Fine Gael for two reasons.

Firstly, because Enda Kenny inspired me to believe politics was the way to change things.

And secondly because of Fine Gael’s fundamental values.

Hope. Enterprise. Equality of opportunity. Integrity. Security.

That is the Fine Gael I intend to lead, with a new energy.

A Fine Gael that protects the economy because you cannot deliver the services that matter to people without a strong economic foundation.

It is now time to convert that economic success into real and tangible improvements for all of our people.

Every street, every small shop, every farm, every café, every small business, every home, every community.

Ladies and gentlemen, next week I will be nominated for election as Taoiseach.

If given this great honour, I will take office when time is short but there is much to do.

Tonight, I promise you, I’m gonna hit the ground running.

I will stand by our values as a party and our vision as a nation.

A tolerant, inclusive, and outward-looking society, which is fair, caring and secure.

I am going to match that vision with action.



Nowhere will this be more evident than in the delivery of housing.

I am of a generation where home ownership can feel out of the reach of many.

To young people, I want you to know your future is here in Ireland.

And I want your parents – to know we will move mountains to get the children out of the box room and into a home of their own.

We have to fix housing for once and for all.

Under Fine Gael, the number of homes being built has increased six-fold.

The number of social homes has increased more than ten-fold.

But we need more homes and more home ownership.

We will build 250,000 homes over the next five years.

We will build more starter homes for young people to buy.

The waiver on development levies is working.

It is making it cheaper to build and cheaper to buy.

I want to work with my colleagues to see if it can be extended.

We need more student housing so students are not competing with young families for a place to rent.

Under my leadership, we will build more student accommodation, including in Galway.

We will kickstart that with an additional 1,200 beds in Dublin.

Fine Gael introduced the Help to Buy scheme. It has helped 45,000 families, including 2,000 here in Galway.

Under my leadership, this party will extend Help to Buy for a further five years.

For those renting, the renters tax credit should be increased to over €1,000.

This will put money back in your pocket and make it easier for young people to set aside some money to save for a mortgage.

We will grow our construction labour force because talk doesn’t build houses.

Every action we take will be to increase supply and stop families falling into homelessness.



Tonight, I also want to speak to our small business owners.

You are the heart of our communities. You fuel our local economies, and provide good quality, stable jobs.

Fine Gael will back you and your business.

I know you are hurting. I understand how hard it is to absorb increased costs especially when it seems like everything is coming at you at once.

We are rolling out a quarter of a billion euro to help 143,000 small businesses with increased costs.

We have reduced the paperwork so businesses can get the grant into their bank accounts as quickly as possible.

This is an essential cash injection, but I know more is needed.

I have heard loud and clear the concerns of businesses about the pace of change, and I’ve heard the motions passed by delegates here today.

Under my leadership, Fine Gael will introduce a package to support businesses to make sure you thrive and prosper.


I have been engaging with the farming community as I do regularly across Wicklow.

Fine Gael is the party of farmers, fishermen and rural Ireland.

It has been a brutal year for farmers, the weather has been awful.

You need help, and we will respond.

Under my leadership, I will look at practical supports to help farming community.

Agriculture is a vital part of our economy.

Your work must be rewarded and valued.

Fine Gael has held 15 meetings across the country with farmers.

We have listened.

I have now asked our agriculture group to bring forward a plan within the next six weeks to act on what we have heard.

On succession, on retirement and other worries and stresses facing the farming community.

We are living through a climate emergency.

I want to say to farmers and to rural Ireland, Fine Gael will never talk down to you on climate action.

We will sit down and work with you and for you.

I want to engage in a new partnership on agriculture where farmers are central to the changes we are making.

For example, I want to implement the agri-environment strategies – such as the biomethane strategy – so farmers can earn a good income while protecting our environment.

I will work with you and support you so that, together, we retain Ireland’s nitrates derogation which is necessary for our agri-food sector.

And don’t worry, I may be leaving my current Department, but I will be making sure we establish new vet schools in rural Ireland.

And to the people of rural Ireland – I want to say Fine Gael has got your back.

We established the Department of Rural and Community Development.

We have invested more money than ever before under the leadership of two of our finest – Michael Ring and Heather Humphreys.

I know we can do better, and I know we must do better to demonstrate our continued commitment to farmers and families in rural Ireland.

I am determined to do so.


The world is changing, and we need to work together on climate action.

Young people will rightly never forgive us if we shirk the challenge.

This is not a moment for division.

We must be united in realising our unique potential for energy independence,

food security,

and biodiversity.

Fine Gael wants to support you to make the change in your home, in your farm, in your business.

We know you are up for the challenge. We need to help you along the way.

That is what Fine Gael in Government is about.

Not lecturing. Not imposing.

Pragmatic and meaningful climate action.

Helping families

There are many families watching tonight struggling with the cost of living.

We have helped through a range of measures on tax, college fees, schoolbooks, public transport costs, energy credits, and free GP care.

We have been able to do this because of the prudent management of our public finances… by Paschal Donohoe.

Anyone who needs a job has one. Incomes are rising. Record levels of investment.

We have established a fund to protect future generations.

But we want to do more to help families here and now.

I believe it is unfair that people on an average wage have to pay the higher rate of income tax.

So tonight, I am restating my ambition that nobody earning below €50,000 should pay the higher rate of income tax.

Under my leadership we will reduce the burden of the USC on low- and middle-income earners.

Later this year, my party will outline a five-year tax strategy – to protect the tax base but also help put more money in people’s pockets.

But tax is not the only way to reduce the cost-of-living.

That is why we have reduced the cost of childcare with a further 25% reduction in September.

Legislation will be fast-tracked to extend childcare supports to childminding in the home.

Under my leadership, hot school meals will be extended to 150,000 more children and 900 more primary schools.

We will increase the carer’s allowance disregard so that thousands more carers will qualify.

This party always stands up for older people too. We have increased the old age pension over the past three Budgets.

Every single year Fine Gael is in Government, we will do more.

Equality of Opportunity

One of Fine Gael’s core values is equality of opportunity.

An Ireland where every child has the same start in life.

Where it doesn’t matter who your parents are or what they do.

Whether you live in urban or rural Ireland.

An Ireland where every child can reach their full potential.

To do this, I believe we can and we must break down the barriers to education.

Imposing costs on accessing education locks people out of full participation in society.

I have worked tirelessly over three years to cut college fees because nothing should stop a person from reaching their full potential.

Fine Gael has also sought to change and reform the Leaving Cert.

And end the narrow points race that is placing misery and stress on our young people.

Under my leadership, Fine Gael will work to break down the barriers to education.

We will reduce the cost of education.

But that will not impact the delivery of services.

We will improve access to childcare facilities.

We will build more schools.

We will build more apprenticeship facilities.

And we will not stop until we finish the job.

To the people with disabilities watching here tonight, I want to talk directly to you.

Under my leadership, your voice will be heard.

I will establish and chair a Cabinet committee to break down silos and make change happen more quickly.

The backlog in assessments of need has to be unblocked.

We have made progress on special education by providing the the biggest ever budget.

We have introduced college courses for students with intellectual disabilities.

But we have so much more to do.

This year, we will ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Colleagues, over the past eight years there has been unprecedented investment in our health service.  The budget has doubled.

We have the best people working in our health service.

This year, the focus must be on improving access and opening more beds, more theatres and ensuring we train and recruit more GPs, more consultants, more nurses, more therapists than ever before.

We have a plan to deliver 1,500 more beds and recruit more staff.

Now I want to work with colleagues to introduce the Mental Health Bill and reform mental health services, because mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing our young people.

I also want to change how we care for older people in the country.

A Commission on Care has now been established and I will support that work wholeheartedly.

Law & Order

Fine Gael’s other core value is security.

Under my leadership, Fine Gael will always stand for law and order.

We stand for more Gardaí, with more powers and more resources to make our streets safe.

We stand for tougher sentences for those who commit horrific crimes.

I will fast-track legislation to give judges new powers to make sure heinous criminals serve long sentences before they are even considered for release.

Under my leadership we will increase the number of prison spaces.

Fine Gael is the party that established the Criminal Assets Bureau.

This year, we will give them more powers to strip criminals of their assets more quickly.

This summer, we will bring in body cameras and up-to-date technology to help Gardaí.

This year, we will bring forward new measures to increase penalties for knife crime and new measures on antisocial behaviour which has become too dominant in our communities.

Children are being groomed into a life of crime through the scourge of drugs affecting our communities.

Crime breeds violence, coercion and devastation.

Last November we witnessed thugs and criminals set fire to our capital city.

They destroyed businesses. Garda cars. Without a care in the world.

As Taoiseach, I will immediately convene a Dublin City Centre taskforce bringing together the Council, retailers, business, community groups and Gardaí to chart a path towards a safer and vibrant Dublin.

It is time to have pride again in our capital city.

We will also do more to support and resource our Defence Forces – the only Óglaigh na hÉireann.


I want to talk about immigration.

This is still a relatively new reality for Ireland and Irish people.

We were a country of emigration.

Our country has been shaped by that.

People are now coming to this country in search of that better life.

But we have to better manage migration.

We need a fair and firm system.

We cannot work in isolation; we need to work with our EU partners to plan better.

The Irish Government has signed up to the biggest overhaul of Migration rules in decades.

This will be a firmer system.

It will ensure those who need our help will get it.

But it will also ensure those who are not entitled to come to this country get a decision quickly and leave quickly as well.

We need to move away from the emergency use of hotels for housing asylum seekers.

I believe we now have that plan.

But the implementation will be key and engagement with communities is essential.

We need to listen to people.

The Irish people want to play their part. Irish people want to help.

They already are.

Ireland stands shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine because we know war is a darkness that threatens all our democracies and our European values.

It has posed real challenges for this country. Taking in families fleeing the war has brought significant pressures.

But it is the right thing to do.

Ireland, as a proud and committed member of the European Union, will always stand with the people of Ukraine.

Middle East

In Gaza we see a humanitarian catastrophe worsen before our eyes.

We condemn the massacre carried out by Hamas in October and again call for the release of all hostages.

But we cannot stay silent on the actions of Israel either.

Reason has been replaced by revenge and by the bombing, maiming and death of children.

Famine. A spectre no Irish person can bear.

Anyone who can countenance deliberate starvation has lost their humanity.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Irish people could not be clearer. We are repulsed by your actions.

Ceasefire now and let the aid flow safely.

We need a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side, in peace and security.

I reiterate Ireland stands ready to recognise the state of Palestine.


Northern Ireland

And we know what we are talking about.

This island has one of the most successful peace processes on Earth.

When it came under threat from Brexit, Fine Gael stood firm for Ireland.

We need to protect and build on that shared project.

Peaceful cooperation on our island is precious.

I will be attending the North/South Ministerial Council with the Northern Ireland Executive in Armagh on Monday.

It is the first time we’ve been able to do this in person in four years.

I am determined to work together on a North South, East West basis to improve the lives of everyone across these islands.

Local and European Elections

Colleagues, in just over 60 days, the people of Ireland will go to the polls in local and European elections.

To you at home, I want to ask you for your trust.

I want to ask for your support.

I want to ask you for your vote.

The choice facing the country is the starkest it has faced in generations.

A choice between opportunity – and opportunism.

Sinn Féin promises change.

What they mean is, they will change their mind at every chance.

A party which promises utopia – but specialises in U-Turns.

A party which exploits every challenge for their own gain.

A party which pretends to support homeownership, but proposes abolishing every housing support we offer.

A party which promises to fix the health service with less money than the Government has provided.

And a party which claims to be on the side of the Gardaí but honours their killers and collects them from the prison gates.


I promise if you give your vote to Fine Gael, we will work, day and night, to help make your lives better.

We will have your back. We will repay your trust.

Together, I promise we will deliver. With a new energy.

Now let’s get to work.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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