THE LEADER OF the Labour Party Eamon Gilmore is addressing the delegation gathered for the party’s annual conference tonight.
Here is his speech, in full:
Ireland is a great country and it is going to recover.
There will again be good jobs and opportunities.
This country will be the best place to raise a family, to work, to live and to age with dignity.
Our Republic will be fair, and just, and renewed.
We will pull out of these tough times.
We will succeed.
And tonight, I want to talk about how we are going to do it.
A little over a year ago, the people of this country asked the Labour Party and Fine Gael to form a new National Government. To suspend our party rivalries and to work together in partnership to fix the crisis, repair our country, and restore hope and confidence.
Every day since then, we have worked the long hours to honour that trust. Two parties, two traditions. But with one single minded goal. Recovery. An Ireland that is prosperous and fair. An Ireland which will provide w ork, a decent living and a secure future for our children.
On the day that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and I led our two teams into Government Buildings, we were handed the biggest heap of debt ever to land on the lap of a new Government .
But worse than that, the bad debts of the banks had been saddled onto the State and the taxpayer. The country was being run at a massive loss – spending €10 for every €7 being taken in. The difference was being borrowed, but because Fianna Fáil could no longer get anyone to lend to us, they had handed over our economic independence to the IMF and the ECB.
This good country, which had been built up by the hard work of the Irish people, was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and ruin. There were times in those first few weeks, when I feared that we would topple over the cliff, and that it might take generations to recover. That we might go the way of some banana republic.
But we have now succeeded in pulling it b ack from the edge, stabilising our economy and our finances, restoring our international reputation and laying the foundations for recovery. And tonight, 13 months into the five year life of this National Government, I am confident that our strategy is working. We will succeed and our country will recover.
I will not exaggerate our achievements, nor will I underestimate what is yet to be done. Neither will I ignore what has been left undone, or done badly, but in difficult times we can report progress.
The economy is growing again. Small growth, but the first growth we have seen for almost 4 years.
We are increasing our exports and trade; attracting in new investment and jobs; opening up new markets, such as China.
We have renegotiated the EU/IMF deal; got the interest rate reduced and replaced the crippling Anglo Promissory note this year with a long term bond.
We had to bring in a difficult budget but, unlike previous times, there was no increa se in income tax for working people, no cut in basic social welfare rates, and we were able to provide €2 billion for new schools and money to start the shift to universal health care. And we restored the national minimum wage.
But that is only a start. We have so much more to do. Because there are so many households in mortgage distress; workers who can not get a job to match their qualifications or skills; families whose children are emigrating; businesses that still can not get credit from the banks. Resolving these problems is what recovery is all about.
We are working hard at it, and we are working to a plan.
Firstly, we are restoring our international reputation. Ireland depends on the outside world, probably more than most other countries.
We export 80% of everything we produce.
We rely heavily on foreign investment to create jobs.
And we are now dependant on loans from international institutions to pay wages and pensions and to k eep our public services running.
Our living standards depend on our reputation.
A year ago, that was in tatters. Today, after a concerted diplomatic drive, we are on the way back. Jobs are coming into the country again as more investors are heeding President Clinton’s advice that now is the time to invest in Ireland’s recovery.
Second, we have set out to increase our exports and grow new markets. That is happening. Exports are up €3.7 billion last year, and we are making progress developing new markets.
Foreign direct investment and trade are critical. But they are not enough. We have to boost confidence at home to increase spending and create jobs. Our plan to do that is detailed in the Action Plan for Jobs, which includes funds to help start-ups and small businesses. And Pathways to Work , providing the crucial link between those jobs, and the education and training needed to help unemployed people get back into work.
But more is needed. L abour has always argued, and it is the policy of this Government, that it will take more than budget discipline to get the economy moving again. Building on the stability we have achieved, we need to do more to create jobs, and stimulate investment. We need to see more stability in the property market. We need the banks to lend for mortgages and to small companies. We need public enterprise to play a stronger role. In the year ahead, we will build on the Strategic Investment Fund established last year, to promote investment in companies and infrastructure. The Government is already talking to the Pensions Industry about how they can do more to invest in Ireland, and we will use proceeds from State Asset Disposals as well.
That then is the third plank in our recovery strategy…stimulating the domestic economy.
Fourthly, we have to tackle the problem of distressed mortgages. The biggest fear any of us has is not losing our job, it is losing our home. No recession lasts forever. Those who are today behind with their mortgage will eventually be back at work or back in business, and able to pay their way again. That’s why we have brought forward a road map in the Keane Report aimed at keeping people in their own home. And it is why we are including in a new Personal Insolvency law, radical new measures to strengthen the hand of householders when dealing with their banks.
But I have to say I am deeply frustrated by how slow progress has been in this area. We all know that it is complicated, legally and financially. But we must do more to help families who feel that, for them, time is running out. Families who are making a genuine effort, but who are still falling behind with their mortgage. That is why the Taoiseach and I have taken personal responsibility to drive this agenda forward.
Fifthly, we have to manage the country’s own debt problem. “Don’t Pay” may sound good as a slogan, and look sharp on a placard. Bu t it is neither smart, nor sensible, nor a solution. Because if you refuse to repay today you can hardly expect to borrow tomorrow. And right now, this State has to borrow to keep our schools, hospitals and public services going. Anyone who pretends otherwise is not being straight with people.
We won’t promise the impossible. But what we can do – and what we are doing – is the hardnosed business of renegotiating the cards on the table, to get a better deal for the taxpayer.
We have already succeeded in getting the interest rate on our debt reduced, which will save us €10 billion, and we have replaced this year’s payment of the Anglo Promissory note with a long term bond. And we will continue to fight Ireland’s corner. Making it clear that this country will pay its way. But we will do so in a way that is sustainable for our taxpayers, and which does not put our prospects of recovery at risk.
Finally, and not a moment too soon, we will reclaim our economic independence and say goodbye to the Troika. Our objective is to be out of the EU/IMF programme within two years, to be able to sell Irish Government Bonds on the financial markets, and to stand on our own two feet again. But to do that, we have to get our budget deficit down.
This is not a matter of choice. It’s simple maths. We simply cannot continue to borrow €44 million every day in order to run the country. We will need two more difficult budgets. But remember most of the hard work has now been done. We are already well on the way to meeting our deficit target. And remember, it’s the result that really matters here: an end to the crisis. Back in full control of our economic affairs. A managed and manageable debt burden. A prosperous growing economy again. Jobs. Good living standards. And a secure future for the next generation.
Our Government has a clear strategy and a road map for recovery. No more muddling through or hoping that something will turn up. But a plan we work to every single day.
Ireland is recovering. And to speed up that recovery, we need Europe to recover and the Euro to be stable.
One of our biggest difficulties in recent times has been the uncertainty plaguing the Euro. The Euro is our currency. The money that we are paid in, the money that we spend when we have it, and the money that we save, when we can. Its value and its future affects all of us.
That is why it matters, personally, to each of us, that we pass the referendum to ratify the Stability Treaty. This Treaty is about bringing stability to the Euro.
We do not claim it is the sole answer to Europe’s economic problems, but it is a crucial part of the solution and it is necessary to restore confidence in the Euro.
Economic recovery is our Government’s primary purpose, but it is not an end in itself. It is the means to an end, to making Ireland a fair and just society.
That is why recovery walks hand in hand wi th reform. We are not returning to the old ways. You never get far, if you walk backwards. We are remaking our economy, not to reward those who caused the collapse, but to make a better and fairer Ireland.
Our team of Ministers are leading that reform, working to create jobs and drive change
Brendan Howlin, our lead negotiator when it comes to re-shaping the EU/IMF Programme, is driving ahead with a programme of reform in our public services.
Ruairí Quinn is already one of the most reforming Ministers for Education in the history of the State. Because, Labour believes that every child in this country has a right to read, one of his first acts in office was to launch the National Literacy Strategy. And because we believe that no boundary should be set to a child’s imagination, Ruairi is working with Pat Rabbitte to deliver high-speed broadband to every secondary school.
Long over-due reform in the social protection system is being driven by Joan Bur ton, and both Joan and Jan O’Sullivan are playing their parts in providing solutions for those who find themselves in arrears on their mortgage.
This year too we will fulfil our commitment to establish a Constitutional Convention, as we set out at our last Labour Party Conference.
These are difficult times. Times that test us, but also times that tell us something about ourselves, about our character as a people.
We have not been found wanting. Even in our most difficult economic crisis since independence, we have not forgotten those who are immeasurably worse off than we are ourselves. We have kept faith with the world’s poorest people, during the worst famine in Africa in decades. We stood up for the people of Syria, as they were being slaughtered by their own rulers. And, as I told the United Nations last September, Ireland will stand by the Palestinian people in their quest for a state of their own, and the simple, equal dignity that comes with it.
Those who are denied the means to live and those who are denied their human rights. Theirs is our struggle too.
I want to pay tribute tonight to all those who work on our behalf around the globe: our small but talented diplomatic service; the staff of our trade promotion agencies; the members of our Defence Forces and Gardaí serving in Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and elsewhere; the staff and volunteers who deliver our aid programme. They all represent the best of what it is to be Irish.
This is a time to talk about the values that matter. We are a proud people – a risen people. At our best, when we look out to the world, and say these are our values, this is what we stand for.
It is easy to do good things in good times. But it is in moments of crisis that you can really see into the soul of a nation. There are decisions that we can make now, in the midst of a crisis, that will speak to future generations of who we are, and the values that matter to us. Even with all of our problems, we have found the wherewithal
To progress a national literacy strategy.
To begin the first phase of universal GP care.
To forge ahead with building a national children’s hospital.
To end the practice of locking up children in adult prisons.
Not everyone will agree with all the choices we make. We are often criticised, and sometimes the criticism is justified. Politics and governing are human and imperfect endeavours. But there is one thing about the Labour Party and this Government that nobody can deny: whatever decisions we make are made in the public interest and no other.
The recent report of the Mahon Tribunal is yet another sickening chronicle of corruption, bribery and lies at the highest levels of previous Fianna Fáil Governments. A sordid saga of influence bought and sold; a poisonous creep of political corruption which infected our institutions and our psyche, bred cynicism, strangled idealism and corroded our democracy.
I am proud that after twenty years of Tribunals, no wrongdoing has ever attached to the Labour Party.
And whatever we may be criticised for, nobody can doubt the integrity and probity of Labour’s public representatives, on both national and local authorities. Long may that standard continue.
But we have inherited the consequences of corruption. The economic mess we now have to clean up is due in large measure, to the toxic triangle of bad planning, reckless banking and corrupt politics.
It must never happen again.
The administration of justice must always be independent of the political system. That is only right. But we are all frustrated at the slow pace at which the wheels of justice sometimes turn. When we see, every day, how the crisis is affecting innocent people, while those who were responsible seem to suffer no consequences.
If our criminal justice system secures prosecutions, and the criminal assets b ureau seizes the proceeds of corruption, we may have some restitution. New laws to regulate political funding and lobbying and to protect whistleblowers will make it harder for corruption to rear its evil head again.
But the surest way to keep corruption at bay is to lead a new kind of politics in our country. Politics with one single, unwavering principle: to serve the people, all of the people, and only the people. A style of politics which is no stranger to the Labour Party.
We owe that to ourselves and to our children. But we also owe it to those whose sacrifices founded and built this State.
This year, we begin a decade, commemorating the centenaries of the historic events which established our State and which shaped our movement. The 1913 Lockout. The First World War. 1916. Independence and the tragic Civil War which followed.
At this very moment one hundred years ago The Titanic was only a few hours from its doom. 1912 was the year of the Ul ster Volunteers and Covenant, the Home Rule Bill and the year in which James Connolly and Jim Larkin founded this Party, the Irish Labour Party.
Their motivation was both aspirational and practical. A Labour Party to pursue their dream of a Socialist Republic, but also a Labour Party which would represent working people in the new Home Rule Parliament.
That fusion of vision and reality is best captured in Connolly’s flag, the Plough and the Stars. One hundred years on it remains an inspirational image for our times. We constantly strive for the stars, for a better life and a fairer society, but we know that to achieve it requires the persistence and effort with which the ploughman turns the heavy sod on a cold winter’s day.
These days we are ploughing through very rough soil. It is hard work. Especially for those who are burdened with the loss of a job or business, who can’t pay the mortgage or make ends meet. But we must endure and we must persist.
The people who set up this party, and the people who joined it, came from humble origins. They were people who possessed almost nothing, except the courage of their convictions. And what they wanted, was simple. Liberty. Freedom.
The freedom to work. The freedom to have a home. The freedom to learn. Freedom for women. Freedom from poverty, hunger and disease. Freedom.
And that is the cause to which we are called again. An Ireland where freedom and fairness are stitched into the fabric of our economy, and our politics. An Ireland where opportunity is the birthright of every child. An Ireland which makes and keeps a simple promise – that every child born here, can grow here, learn here, have opportunities here, make a life here, and grow old in the company of their friends.
And to achieve that, we have to work at it every day. Inch by inch. Bit by bit.
No overnight remedy. But getting people back to work, nursing the economy back to recovery and buildin g a better, fairer Ireland.
This is a time for effort and endurance. Persistence and patience. For serious application to the job.
A time for courage. The courage to see it through. For us all to draw on our rich Labour history, on our collective resources, on our solidarity and comradeship, and to work with and for our people.
To face into the challenge.
We shall overcome!
We will succeed.