Enda Kenny

An Taoiseach’s speech to the Fine Gael Presidential Dinner

Posted November 28th, 2011

I am delighted to be here at the first Fine Gael Presidential Dinner since our great party was elected to Government. It is also the first since we became the largest Party in the State. Those historic achievements are a fitting reward for the many years of dedicated work of many people in this room and our thousands of loyal members throughout the country.

The strong mandate we have received from the Irish people is one that I and my colleagues in Government exercise with great seriousness. It’s a mandate to face up to and tackle the problems of the country – not to shy away from them.

While it is right that we acknowledge the progress we have made, we must also reflect on what has happened since our last Presidential Dinner, a little over a year ago. Then the country was rudderless and leaderless. As we now know, discussions had been going on for months on the terms of a bailout package for Ireland – despite the denials by the then Government.

The people had lost faith in the previous Government and were demanding change. A year ago, I promised you that Fine Gael had the team and the plan to get Ireland working again. When the election came in February, the Irish people decided to make us the largest Party in the Dáil.

The democratic vote of the people ensured the election of a strong and stable partnership between Fine Gael and the Labour Party – a new Government with the largest mandate in the history of the State.

Tonight I want to confirm publicly that this Government is working very well and very hard, with a shared determination to lead our country to recovery.

In the eight months since taking office, the Government has made a good start, but there is long way to go. Despite the huge constraints imposed by the EU/IMF programme, we have made some progress. We have worked hard to restore Ireland’s international reputation which was so tarnished by the previous Government.

Economic growth – although slow – has returned.  The banks have been restructured. We have established two pillar banks and imposed losses on junior bond holders. Despite the scepticism of our opponents, we have secured significant improvements in the terms of the EU/IMF programme, improvements that will yield savings to the taxpayer of over €10 billion.

As a first signal of the priority we attached to getting people back to work, we introduced a jobs initiative which has already had a positive impact on sectors like tourism. We have also started the process of radically reforming the political system and public sector so that people can see clearly that change starts at the top and at the centre.

We make these changes against the backdrop of continuing uncertainty about the direction of the European Union and the stability of the single currency.

It is essential that European leaders make and implement clear decisions quickly to prove our shared determination to protect our currency, to support Member States that are working towards economic recovery, and to introduce strong rules to ensure fiscal discipline.

Let me be clear – Ireland supports the creation of stronger economic governance throughout Europe, and particularly throughout the Eurozone.

The Irish people are paying the price now for the absence of such rules in the past. I am determined that we will never go back to the practices that drove our economy off a cliff – reckless spending, poor oversight of banks and over-reliance on property-related tax revenues.

I look forward to the proposals for stronger governance in the Eurozone to be presented by the President of the European Council next month which may include limited changes to the EU treaties. We will engage positively in the debate on these proposals.

However, to tackle the immediate crisis, the first priority must be to use the existing instruments and decisions to their full potential so that the markets can be convinced that European leaders are fully committed to defending and protecting their currency.

Irrespective of the search for a solution at European level, it is essential that we in Ireland continue to implement our plan to fix our budget deficit, while still investing in job creation.

Our guiding principles for this budget will be the creation of jobs, meeting our targets and protecting the most vulnerable. This budget will be tough on everyone. That’s why we started with the political system itself through cutting Ministerial pay and transport, and reducing the number of Oireachtas Committees.

Over recent weeks, we have published segments of the budget package. Our new €17 billion capital investment programme honestly sets out what projects the country can afford in current economic circumstances. It’s focused on jobs, education and health.

Our radical reform of the public sector will tackle waste and duplication and sees the merger or abolition of at least 48 quangos, and a definite end to the ill-judged decentralization programme.

We have also introduced pay ceilings and retirement arrangements for senior public servants and semi-State executives. I am very disappointed that Coillte has yet to accede to the Government’s request for a voluntary cut of 15% in the salary of its chief executive.

Earlier this week, Minister Richard Bruton published details of the first elements of a major government focus on jobs –a new partial loan guarantee scheme and a micro finance scheme for small start-up enterprises. These and other plans to be announced in January are aimed at creating 100,000 new jobs for our people.

While the remaining elements of the budget will entail very difficult spending cuts and revenue raising measures, we are determined to achieve the very large budgetary correction in a way that best protects jobs and the most vulnerable in our society.  That’s why Minister Michael Noonan has already made it clear that he intends to raise the necessary additional tax revenue in the budget through indirect taxes, rather than by increases on taxes on work. We believe that increases in income taxes would be damaging to jobs and this view is supported by international experts, including the OECD.

In conclusion, I want to assure you that, no matter how difficult the challenges, Fine Gael in government will keep our promise to the Irish people to tackle the country’s problems head-on. That’s why we are in politics – to serve the Irish people.

The current economic challenge presents us with a great opportunity to change things in this country for the better. To make the reforms this country needs to achieve economic recovery and, most of all, to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business.

In doing so, we can deliver on our top priority in government– the creation of jobs for our people.