Speech by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD

-   An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD

A dhaoine uaisle,

Is mór an onóir dom a bheith anseo libh inniú mar thaoiseach i nDáil Éireann.
Táim fíor-chorraithe agus thar a bheith buíoch as ucht an tacaíocht atá faighte agam ón Dáil.

Is lá speisialta é seo, ní amháin domsa ach do mo chlann, mo chairde agus mo lucht tacaíochta ar fad.

Ba bhreá liom buíochas a ghabháil leo as ucht an méid oibre atá déanta acu ar mo shon.

Tá a fhios agam go mbeidh go leor dúshlán náisiúnta agus idir-náisiúnta romhainn, sna laethannta atá le teacht.

Táim réidh dóibh.

I want to thank Deputy Kenny and Deputy Madigan for nominating me here today. In particular, I want to thank Deputy Kenny in a very personal way. Yesterday we heard wonderful tributes to his leadership, and I have no doubt that only for him this country as we know it would not be here today.

On a personal note I would like to add that were it not for Enda Kenny, then I have no doubt that I would not be here in this seat today. Because of his stewardship of Fine Gael, I was able to regain a seat for our Party first on the Council and then in the Dáil.

In fact, I took my seat for the first time in the Dáil on this exact date ten years ago. He also gave me the opportunity to serve on the Front Bench and then as a Minister, an opportunity to demonstrate my ability and potential. Without opportunity, there is no hope and there can be no progress and this is a theme I will return to later.

His leadership also enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country only two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office, an aspiration which I once thought was beyond my reach, at least, if I chose to be myself.

So I would like the outgoing Taoiseach to know that those of us who take on the torch of leadership here today will protect all that he has achieved and make him proud of us by building on all that he has done for the country.

Later today I will be speaking to Prime Minister Theresa May and I will be passing on the sympathies of the Dáil and the Irish people following the terrible fire in London last night. The United Kingdom has been through some dreadful terrible tragedies in the past few weeks. To them on behalf of this House, we offer our sympathies and support.

Ceann Comhairle, I have been elected to lead. But, I promise to serve.

I thank Deputy Martin, the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, for his words and his advice. And I would also like to thank all the speakers who have set out the challenges facing this country and this administration. Leadership should never just be about one person, and leadership is not just about setting a course for the future. It is also about listening, and in the months and years ahead I will seek to do exactly that.

I’d also like to thank Deputy Adams for revealing our little secret, that we did in fact attend the same pilates class on a number of occasions. I do think that he was much better at it than I was. Perhaps he has greater experience of being in a tight squeeze.

But while we will clash in this Dáil I do want to offer a genuine willingness to work together on matters relating to Northern Ireland and matters outside the State and that applies to all parties.
We all have responsibilities. Our responsibilities as a government are as co guarantors of the agreement and of course the responsibility of all the parties in the Northern Ireland is now, after two elections, to form an administration in Northern Ireland.

I am delighted those talks are now underway. I will have some meetings on Friday with some of the northern parties.
I don’t wish to respond to other deputies, suffice it to just say this. I received 57 votes here today. Only 2 of those 57 were allowed to speak. Opposite 40 members chose to abstain, but only one of them was allowed to explain why.

So it’s important in our democracy that we have diversity, but democracy is also about proportionality and equal right to speak my also apply.

So the equal right to speak must also apply to ministers and back benchers of this party and also the main opposition party.
As I said earlier, I first took my seat in the Dáil exactly ten years ago today. So much has changed in that decade, and I have grown, evolved and changed in that time as well.

But, I am still motivated by the same ideals which drove me to enter politics in the first place and I know drive many of the people in this House as well.

For some, politics is a bad word. But we have also seen in other countries, and sometimes in this one, that politics can also be a way of inspiring people to believe in something bigger. It can be a way to convince people that change is possible.

I believe in the power of politics. Politics is not perfect but at its best is a way of solving problems and helping to build a better future.

Michael Collins believed that with the right political, economic and social system in place, Ireland could ‘become a shining light unto the world’. A century later, that dream lives on in all of us in this chamber, in all parties and none.

The election of a new Taoiseach is always an important day in our country’s democratic life. It is a day when special attention is given to the workings of this Oireachtas, not just at home but also around the world. Today was a demonstration of our democracy in action something which we sometimes take for granted and other countries struggle for.

I would like to thank all those who spoke in this debate – those who spoke in favour of my nomination as well as those who spoke against. I also would like to recognise and thank all those who voted for my nomination, those who voted against, and those who abstained. This chamber is filled with politicians on all sides who care passionately about this country, who want to do what is right for all our citizens.

We may disagree about policies, about implementation, we may even differ about the very goals themselves, but the fact that we meet here and express those opinions openly, based on our principles and our genuinely held beliefs is a tribute to our forebears.
There have been a number of times in the history of this State when the Taoiseach has changed mid-term and often it has had a very significant effect. A change mid-term brought Sean Lemass to office in 1959, and he proved to be a modernising and reforming Taoiseach, and transformed this country.

It was also how John Bruton was elected Taoiseach in 1994, and for three years he led a rainbow coalition with great distinction, making enormous progress in advancing the Irish economy, committing us to Europe and building on what had been done to help put in place the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland.

I remember well the change of Taoiseach back in 2008 when I was only a year in the Dáil. Back then I noted that ‘being elected Taoiseach is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on any Irish politician’, perhaps hoping but not expecting that it was an honour that might be bestowed on me one day.

Passing on my congratulations to Deputy Cowen and his new Cabinet at the time, I said that I wanted a Government that was strong on ethics, strong on the economy, and strong on the principle of equity. Nine years on, I stand by those same principles. I will demand of myself and my own Government what in the past I insisted on of others.

I know that the mandate I am being given today comes from the Dáil, never the less I hope that through our actions as a Government and the progress which we achieve we will be able prove that we have earned the trust and support of the people as well. As Taoiseach I will always respect the Dáil, because this chamber represents the elected will of the Irish people.

Today I am reminded of the words of the late Seamus Heaney in his poem, ‘From the Republic of Conscience’:
He said ‘At their inauguration, public leaders must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep to atone for their presumption to hold office’.

I am aware of the enormous task ahead of me, and my responsibilities to this country and to all its citizens. And I approach it not with a feeling of presumption, but with a sense of profound humility, and respect and appreciation for all that has gone before.

When the new Irish constitution was debated in 1937 some TDs objected to the designation of ‘Taoiseach’ as head of Government.
Is é “Taoiseach” an teideal atá againn ar phríomh-aire na hÉireann. Is téarma Gaeilge é, agus is ceart agus is cóir sin. Léiríonn sé omós dár Stair, dár gCultúr agus dár nOidhreacht.

Fiú nach bhfuil mo chuid Gaeilge féin chomh líofa agus ba mhaith liom í a bheith, tá an-chion agam ar ár dteanga dúchais, agus le blianta anuas tá sár-iarracht déanta agam feabhas a chur ar mo chuid Gaeilge.

Mar Thaoiseach, beidh sé ar intinn agam níos mó gnó agus díospóireacht a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge le mo chomh-Teachtaí Dála.

B’fhéidir nach mbeidh mé i gcónaí chomh tapaidh ná chomh líofa agus ba mhaith liom a bheith, ach ceapaim gur an rud is tábhachtaí ná iarracht a thabhairt air.

Sa chaoi seo tá súil agam go spreagadh mé níos mó daoine an Ghaeilge a úsáid ina ngnáth-shaol.

Ceann Comhairle, Arthur Griffith, whose monument stands on this Leinster Lawn, believed that people could not be moved by ‘a cold thing like economics, rather it was ‘a question of feeling’. What he meant was that if you wanted to inspire someone to believe in your vision, you had to appeal to their heart as well as their head. Economics and economic policies on their own were not enough.

So, the Government I will lead is not going to be one of the left, or right, because the old divisions do not comprehend the political challenges of today.

And while others in the House might be obsessed with the political debates of the 1980’s, I can assure you that I am not, nor will my Government. We will be focused on the solutions of the 21st century and the future.

The Government I lead will be one of the new European centre as we seek to build a Republic of Opportunity in which every citizen gets a fair go and has the opportunity to succeed, in which every part of the country has a chance to share in our prosperity.

It is my honour to accept the nomination of Dáil Éireann for the position of Taoiseach.

I will now go to the President to inform him of my nomination so that under the constitution he may appoint me as Taoiseach.
Accordingly, I suggest that the House be suspended for four hours before we resume to discuss and debate the nomination of members of the Government.

Thank you.

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