Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Fine Gael annual conference
The following is an edited version of the keynote address by the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, at the annual conference in Dublin of the largest opposition party in the 26 Counties, Fine Gael.


It’s time now for the truth in politics. Time for a politics of values. And of conscience. It’s time. Because Ireland’s democracy is being diminished.

Because the people are being disengaged. Being disenfranchised by the lies and dishonesty of their Government.

So, it’s up to us in Fine Gael to change their minds. To stir their hearts with a politics they can believe in.

The politics on which our party founded this State. The politics of honour, country, truth.

So, it’s time for straight talk. To take stock of where we’re going. Not as a collection of taxpayers but as a society. Fianna Fail and the PDs don’t talk straight. Trying to fool all the people all the time, is their plan to stay in power.

But, in their alternating tactics of the jackboot and the soft soap, they’re not just fooling the people. By turning them off politics, they’re robbing people. Robbing them of their power to be heard.

And that must stop right now. Because, one thing is sure. If people give up on politics, if they abdicate the greatest power they have as democrats - the power to sack their government - they’ll be silenced.

They watch Fianna Fail politicians being paraded through the tribunals, and think - ‘Politics? Why bother?’ Because these politicians have no recollection of where they were or who they met, while they were on the public business. On their country’s service. But we know well what they were at.

It is for these discouraged, law-abiding citizens I want to inject new blood into the veins of the Irish body politic. Truth. And let that be the message that goes out from here tonight. Our truth has no limits.

It will never promise people that hospital waiting lists will end, knowing the end won’t be achieved.

It will never promise 2,000 extra gardai, or 200,000 more medical cards, with no intention of ever delivering them.

Because Fine Gael isn’t alone in its commitment to honest politics, honest government.

We’re already working closely with other parties in the Dail, who believe as we do, that after an election, it’s not just enough for politicians to form a government. They must behave like a government.

But, there’s only one person, one thing that can oust Fianna Fail and the PDs and restore truth and dignity to government in Ireland: You. And your vote.

A single vote can change this nation. So, let that vote be yours. On June 11th cast it for truth. For change.

This Government we’re building will make just one promise. But keep it. To govern by the truth. Even when that truth is tough.

That’s what Fine Gael standards demand. You see the big difference between our ethics and Fianna Fail/PD ethics is . . . we have ethics.

Although, at Christmas, the Taoiseach told the Dail he had them too. He said: ‘Those of us who are in here try to stay here. That is the code of ethics.’ This is the standard set by the Taoiseach of this country. But according to the principles cherished by Fine Gael in every generation we don’t govern to rule. We govern to serve. Which is why we will always respect the equality of our people.

Because Fine Gael believes in the dictum of Michael Collins: ‘On this we will be judged. On whether we have done the right thing in our conscience, or not.’

Where’s the conscience of a Government that cuts the lifeline to the men who built Britain. Their postal orders from lonely bedsits in Cricklewood and Kilburn, propping up our economy in the black days of the 50s and 60s.

They’re condemned now to live the end of their days in squalor without a kind hand or soul to reach out to them. Not even from their own Government.

Where’s the conscience of a Taoiseach who presides over all of this but promises ‘to put the people first?’

Tonight people are paying dearly for his politics of party first.

In Rip-Off Ireland couples find that even on two salaries it’s getting harder to make ends meet.

Tonight, parents pray their children will come home safely from a night out. Young parents face the double whammy of living in the most expensive country in Europe with the worst possible childcare.

Here childcare costs one third of average income. In the rest of Europe, it’s closer to one tenth.

Every day, these people battle with Government policy, totally disconnected from the reality of their lives. Why?

Because FF and the PDs do not plan for the people. They plan for themselves as we see from the disgraceful carry-on of Minister Dempsey this week. Their base instinct sees them govern with no conscience and one objective: to hang on in.

And it’s that same base instinct sees them intent on rushing a referendum on June 11th to divert attention from their own broken promises.

I agree with the objective of closing off an unintended loophole in our citizenship laws. But, I do not agree with the timing. Fine Gael, in the Oireachtas, wants to explore all possible solutions to this problem.

We should only amend our Constitution when we have exhausted every alternative solution.

The Government’s headstrong approach to this referendum risks undermining the credibility of the Good Friday agreement, at a time when all their efforts should be focused on having its implementation completed and a permanent end brought to all paramilitary activity. Not on handing political ammunition to those who would see the agreement destroyed.

An Ireland where the Government plans way beyond the next election, all the way to the next generation.

An Ireland , indeed, where politicians are respected as men and women of conscience who care for society, who make a difference to people’s lives. That’s the Ireland I offer.

An Ireland of leadership not salesmanship. One that recognises that economic prosperity is a means to an end. Never the end in itself. And that was the leadership Fine Gael gave in the first Rainbow government, led by John Bruton. And we know what happened next.

Right now, Ireland is losing out. Not because our economy is failing but because our leaders are failing. The world has moved way beyond Fianna Fail’s furthest horizon - the next election - which means they’ve left us to play a whole new economic game, by the old economic rules.

The fact is, there’s no-one in charge. And because the Government are making it up as they go along, we’re losing jobs.

We must reconfigure our social partnership model around the needs of our consumers, not the providers.

That means devolving real power to our communities. Opening up protected markets to competition, implementing benchmarking that will give us real reform, better public services and value for money.

We must stop choking our small businesses with stealth taxes, over-regulation and red tape.

We must end the chit-chat financial planning that has become the norm under Fianna Fail and the PDs.

Our financial plans must be driven by Ireland’s future needs. Not by party needs. Or by the Punchestown principles.

Having created this strong economy, what does Fine Gael want to do with it? A confident Ireland starts with education. We must make the best education a basic civil right. Not the random privilege of parenting or class.

That way bright children from poor backgrounds will no longer have to be twice as intelligent, twice as talented and dedicated, to do even half as well as their better-off counterparts.

The housing market is a cruel place for first-time buyers.

But by exempting them from stamp duty, by frontloading their mortgage interest tax relief and by introducing a scheme to help them to save for their deposit, would show the government hasn’t abandoned them. That in fact, the government is on their side.

People living in the regions must have guaranteed access to proper medical services.

Which is why we reject the provisions of the Hanly Report that plan to remove vital accident and emergency services from communities and replace them with ambulance traffic. Ireland will be safe again, when we have a government prepared to defend our democracy and uphold the rule of law.

When innocent people are shot in their beds, it’s clear that the Government is losing the war on crime.

In 1996, after the murder of Veronica Guerin, Fine Gael set up the Criminal Assets Bureau and used the courts to put the gangs out of business.

When we are back in Government Fine Gael will set up a dedicated Garda Organised Crime Unit to bring these thugs to heel.

And when the Government has the courage to fulfil its Constitutional duty to the family, we will have fair and caring Ireland .

For that reason, if a father or mother chooses to stay at home to rear the children, Fine Gael will support them in their choice, not penalise them in their pocket.

Our success will have no purpose unless we start to value again the wisdom of long living.

We must never demand that our older people sell their homes to pay for their care.

Fine Gael will help them to live independently for as long as possible, by helping them to buy in the services and supports, they feel they need.

We must ensure they live - really live - until they die, as all of us would want to, in the comfort of our own people, in our own place.

If you tell me ‘this is way too much. It can’t be done’. I tell you it can. When the Government cares enough to make it happen. It must.

On this very day in 1916, Padraig Pearse stood in the rubble of the GPO, to proclaim not just a cause, but a country: the Irish Republic .

He declared his government’s resolve ‘to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts’. 88 years on, we have achieved that prosperous ideal. But a Government, whose priorities are all wrong, keep happiness beyond reach.

Suicide is a tragic epidemic. Last year, alone, 10,000 Irish people tried to take their own lives. Yet, research funding is cut.

We’re number one in the world for alcohol. We spend 4 billion euro every year, drinking ourselves to oblivion and from an earlier age.

A good government would ask why? And how can we fix it?

The people are tired of this Government. But on June 11th, they can make a start and change all that.

Fine Gael has always been passionately European. Convinced that ‘Ireland in Europe’ was an Ireland of endless possibility. We were right.

In just a few days, ten new members will join our Union and ten new languages will be given official EU recognition.

With us tonight are six people best qualified to bring Ireland’s voice to Europe . Gay Mitchell in Dublin, Avril Doyle and Mairead McGuinness in the East. Jim Higgins and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn in the North and West. And Simon Coveney in the South.

My friends, starting tonight, let’s give Ireland a reason to trust, to hope, to believe again in politics and government.

By offering trust, not doubt. Conscience, not expediency.

Good neighbours, strong communities, not social isolation. Vision, clear speech, not shifting and equivocation.

A sense of belonging . . . achieving together . . . no longer existing . . . surviving alone. Because these are the strands that have unravelled. These are the strands we must weave again into the fabric of our nation. Into the heart and soul of government.

Now is the time for honour. Now is the time for courage. Now is the time for truth. Because soon, it will be time for Ireland to choose.

To choose an honest government. And, then, it will be time for Fine Gael. Because we are on your side.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News