Speech by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Dublin West Selection Convention on Monday April 13th
Chairman, Deputy Regina Doherty, members of Fine Gael, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends.
First of all, I want to thank Senator Eamonn Coghlan for proposing me tonight and Nollaig Crowley for seconding my nomination. Eamonn, it was a pleasure to welcome you to Fine Gael some years ago and it has been a privilege to work with you in the Parliamentary Party since then. You’ve made a mark in the Senate and are making a real difference with the ‘Points for Life’ initiative. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the years to come.
Nollaig, thank you for your kind words tonight and your encouragement, your friendship, and help down the years.
It’s hard to believe it, but I have been a member of Fine Gael in Dublin West for eighteen years now, half of my life! In that time, I have served as an ordinary member, branch officer, constituency officer, candidate, councillor and TD. It has been a good experience and while I may not have shown it as often as I could have, I have always valued the advice, support and constructive criticism from members. It has made me a better politician. I have also made a lot of friends here and for that I am grateful.
Throughout the history of this constituency, Fine Gael has had its ups and downs. This is not an easy constituency for us. At one point, we had no public representatives elected for Fine Gael in this constituency. Today, we have six, including two senators and three councillors. And I want to acknowledge Senator Noone, Cllrs Loftus, Dennison and Leddy and to thank them for their service.
In the coming General Election, I believe we should aim to be the leading party in Dublin West with the largest share of the vote. This is something we have not achieved at any General Election since the early 1980s. It’s ambitious, particularly for a Government party. But I think we can do it.
The last few years have been tough for Ireland and tough for many families and individuals. People have made enormous sacrifices and many of the decisions we have made as a government have been hard on people. But, I believe that we have shown that the people were right to trust Fine Gael to lead the country out of crisis.
Ireland is back on track. The public finances are in order. The Deficit is narrowing fast and our national debt is falling. We are the fastest growing economy in Europe. In our first year we restored the minimum wage, in our first Budget we freed hundreds of thousands from paying the USC and in the most recent Budget we started to reduce income tax, having kept our promise not to increase it.
Employment is rising again. There are 90,000 more people at work since unemployment peaked in 2012 and we are delivering on our promise to create 100,000 jobs. But our work isn’t finished yet.
The theme of our first term was ‘Repair’. We needed to repair the damage that had been done to our economy and international reputation, and rebuild confidence in this country at home and abroad. We have succeeded in the rescue mission, though it hasn’t been easy. You know that better than anyone.
The theme of our second term – if we get one – should be ‘Restore’. We will restore a higher standard of living for all of our citizens, and we will ensure that we build on the stable foundations of the last four years to create something that will revive our ambitions as a people and as a country. We will have a return to prosperity, but a prosperity built on real foundations, not a bubble. And prosperity measured not just in euros but in those things more valuable still.
We need a second term to do three things – based on three principles, you might say. The first principle must be to protect the recovery from those who would destroy it. You know who they are. Fianna Fáil might have some new faces but you can be sure it’s the same old Fianna Fáil ready to bring us back to the politics of strokes, favours, parochialism, boom and bust.
And of course, there is Sinn Fein, a party than cannot be trusted not just because it will not trust us with the truth about the past, but also because of its rank hypocrisy opposing in the South what it defends in coalition in the North. As historians can attest, Sinn Fein as a political party had nothing to do with 1916, and we need to make sure that they have nothing to do with Government in the Republic of Ireland in 2016 either.
And then there is the ‘all you can eat’ buffet of independents and small parties: those from the left, those from the right, and those who want to represent everyone but end up representing no-one. Ex-Fianna Fail, Ex-Fine Gael, Ex-Labour and Ex-PD. They agree on nothing as a bloc. The ULA, the United Left, the Triple A, PBPA – it’s reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch.
Individually though they can influence governments, make them unstable, and even hold them to ransom, they can never lead the country in a particular direction, in the way that we can. Only a Fine Gael-led government can protect and sustain the recovery. Only a Fine Gael-led government can offer stability. Only a Fine Gael-led government can ensure that the sacrifices we have made as a people were not in vain.
The second principle should be to make the recovery real for more people and ensure that the recovery benefits all parts of the country: towns, cities, rural areas and suburbs. That means putting more money back in people’s pockets through prudent – and therefore sustainable – reductions in income tax and the USC. By making sure that the economy keeps growing we can also have modest increases in pay and pensions and other allowances.
It also means boosting investment in infrastructure like roads, railways, ports and airports, water and sewerage, electricity, schools and colleges and broadband to ensure the country can continue to grow and support new jobs. And it means repairing and improving vital public services like health, education and childcare.
Adam Smith, the father of modern market economics explained in ‘The Wealth of Nations’, that wealth must be created before you can distribute it. In Fine Gael we have always understood that. Others, especially on the Far Left, do not understand that and they never will.
But we also understand that recovery cannot just be about jobs and the economy, bond yields and deficit targets, it must also be about a better future and greater opportunity for our children and young people. It must also be about providing peace of mind when we are sick or getting older. And it should focus on a society of equals before the law. I believe Fine Gael is the best party to realise that vision.
The third principle is to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. That means no auction politics in the run up to the election and no broken promises after it. We must banish the broken politics of boom and bust in favour of sustainable and consistent growth. That means keeping the books balanced, continuing to get debt levels down, keeping a tight rein on the banks and financial institutions and ensuring that increases in resources for public services go hand in hand with reforms so that we get the best value for our tax euros.
The Irish people trusted us with repairing the economy, and now trust us with restoring society, and bringing it back to prosperity.
Four years ago, the future for Ireland looked uncertain and bleak. Today, the future is looking bright once more. But it’s only half-time. We have to fight for the kind of future we want. And that fight starts here.
As we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising I am reminded of the words of one of our founding fathers, who fought in the GPO, Michael Collins. Reflecting on the events afterwards he noted that:
‘Connolly was a realist, Pearse the direct opposite…. there was an air of earthy directness about Connolly,’
‘ I would have followed him through hell’.
The genius of Collins as a leader was that he combined the idealism of Pearse with the realism of Connolly. By doing so he brought a unique vision to the winning of Irish freedom.
I think Fine Gael continues to encapsulate that mix of idealism and realism. And we should be proud of the role played by the founders of our party in the events of 1916, and in the founding of this State.
Not just Collins, but people like WT Cosgrave, who fought bravely in the South Dublin Union. That’s now the site of St James’s Hospital. All going well, St James’s will also be home to the new National Children’s Hospital, with work beginning in time for the centenary of the Rising.
Repairing the damage of the last government required a heavy dose of realism. But the next government needs that mix of idealism and realism embodied by Collins a hundred years ago, and today by our Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Now that the recovery is underway, we can afford to take stock and look at the sort of society we want to shape. That’s why I think our focus should be on creating a stable and prosperous economy, but also a more secure, more gentle and kinder society.