The following is the full text of Brian Cowen’s speech to the Dáil today, announcing the date of the general election and the details of the cabinet restructure.
A Cheann Comhairle,
I wish to announce, for the information of the House, that the President, acting on my advice, has accepted the resignations of Deputies Harney, Dempsey, Ahern, O’Keeffe and Killeen as members of the Government.
I advised the House yesterday of the resignation of Deputy Martin.
I want to put on the record of the House my gratitude to each of them for their distinguished contribution to the work of the Government and to the country.
As Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney has advanced a strategic approach to tackling the problems in our Health services. She has done a first-class job and shown extraordinary endurance and intelligence in dealing with a most challenging portfolio.
In her previous role as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and as Tánaiste, she made an enduring contribution to developing the economic base of the country.
Noel Dempsey has served this country well in a variety of portfolios. At the cabinet table, he was a straight talking, respected colleague, forceful in his contribution and a loyal supporter of Government decisions. His achievements as a Minister are many. As Minister for Transport, in this Government, he has brought forward significant legislation and initiatives which have reduced the number of road deaths in Ireland thus saving many lives.
Dermot Ahern has been a reforming Justice Minister who has carried out his duties with great ability and commitment to the public good. He too has many achievements including the recent ground-breaking anti-gangland legislation. I also served with Dermot in the Governments of Bertie Ahern and saw at first hand the strong contribution he made to the Irish Peace Process from its inception and his role as Envoy for the UN Secretary General.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs in this Government, Micheál Martin has represented this country with distinction at home and abroad. I especially want to place on the record of the House my gratitude to him for the work he has done to bring further significant progress in the political landscape in Northern Ireland. The Hillsborough Agreement last February opened a new and positive chapter for the people of Northern Ireland and Micheál’s political skills were crucial to this outcome. Deputy Martin is a politician of substance who has served the people extremely well in the Departments of Education and Science; Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Health and Children and in Foreign Affairs.
Batt O’Keeffe is one of my best friends in politics and in life. He is a politician of great wisdom, intelligence and loyalty. He has been a hard-working public representative for over a quarter of a century and he has come to a decision not to contest the next election.
From our discussions, I know that Batt shares my assessment that there is a need to have more young people in government as a necessary source of renewal and vitality in our politics. In his time, Batt O’Keeffe has made a major contribution to this Government.
As Minister for Education and Science, he placed at centre-stage the debate on how we are to resource our universities and institutes of technology to make them the best in the world. He embarked on radical programmes of school curriculum reform including Project Maths.
As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, he ensured significant and tailored investment in the enterprise and innovation agencies which are now helping to drive export-led recovery. He turned the policy focus on commercialised research and set in motion the implementation of the Report of the Innovation Taskforce.
It was my great pleasure to appoint Tony Killeen Minister for Defence in March last year. Although his time in the Department of Defence was brief, he was responsible for a number of significant developments. He oversaw the successful completion of the Defence Forces UN mission from Chad last summer and announced a new peacekeeping deployment to the Lebanon just before Christmas. Overall, his was a wise and sensible voice at cabinet during some of the most challenging times ever faced by an Irish Government.
I want to again express my gratitude to each of the aforementioned Deputies and wish them well for the future.
We are all aware in this House of the immense challenges that every member of this administration has faced in charting a way through some of the most difficult economic times since the foundation of the State.
I believe that history will show that this Government has worked hard in the national interest to implement difficult but necessary decisions to help lead our country through an international economic and financial crisis, the likes of which has not been seen in over 80 years.
This Government, under my leadership, has followed a consistent path to help stabilise our economy in the aftermath of the biggest downturn in modern Irish economic history.
Our budgetary strategy has helped to stabilise our economy, and return it to economic growth.
I understand that people are suffering and experiencing immense hardship because of this recession.
I deeply regret that.
It is incumbent on all of us in public life to put the interests of this country above everything else.
Politics as usual should not be allowed to distract from the overriding priority of getting Ireland back on track.
As I have said previously, there will be a General Election this Spring but before that the Government has important work to complete.
This Government has obtained approval for its National Recovery Plan and provided for the proper funding of the State through the negotiation of an EU/IMF financial package. This will give us the time and space to continue on a path of adjustment that will restore economic growth and thereby create jobs. It will also allow us to continue bringing our public finances back to order while providing necessary public services for our people.
That achievement, in the most difficult of circumstances, has been the result of the strong, cohesive, coherent and effective actions of this Government, despite relentless opposition from other political parties, who have benefited from the fact that they don’t hold the responsibility of government.
I believe it is important that in the weeks ahead that the Government gives legislative effect to the Budget through the enactment of the Finance Bill, and other related bills which benefit the people.
There is nothing more important than doing precisely that.
In the interests of proper governance, I have now decided to reassign the portfolios of those Ministers who have resigned.
Pursuant to Section 4(1) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946, I am assigning their Departments as follows:
The Department of Health and Children to the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Mary Coughlan;
The Department of Transport to the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Pat Carey;
The Department of Justice and Law Reform to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith;
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Mary Hanafin;
The Department of Defence to the Minister for Social Protection, Eamon O’Cuiv.
The main task of the Government I have led, from the beginning, has been to secure the best interests of the nation in challenging times. We have made hard choices and taken unpopular decisions in the interests of the security and well-being of our people.
I believe that the best interests of Ireland demand that Government gets on with implementing our National Recovery plan by passing the Finance Bill and the other necessary legislation and that a new Government then receives a new mandate from the people at a General Election.
Until then, as Taoiseach, my priorities along with my government colleagues will continue to be returning Ireland to recovery, creating jobs and restoring the public finances.
It is my intention, in due course, to seek a dissolution of Dáil Eireann with a view to a General Election taking place on Friday 11th March next. Prior to the General Election, we are committed to enacting key pieces of legislation to secure Ireland’s economic future.
I know that this Government’s policies are returning Ireland to recovery and growth. I want to get us through the hard times and to see the people of our country prosper.
To do that, we need now, at this crucial time, to get on with the important work in hand. As Taoiseach, my focus today and every day until the election day is on completing the work I have undertaken on behalf of the people to continue the process of implementing the Recovery Plan.