WE LIVEBLOGGED EVENTS from the National Convention Centre in Dublin, where Enda Kenny gave the keynote address at this year’s Fine Gael Árd Fheis.
This year’s conference is the first FG conference in 15 years that has coincided with the party being in government.
20.28 – Good evening – and thanks for joining us. Enda’s speech is minutes away – and he’s been preceded by the latest Household Charge numbers. 776,153 homes have registered now, 48.5 per cent of the number the government believes should be signing up.
20.31 – James Reilly is on stage giving the intros – but as it’s passed 8:30pm, we’re no longer under embargo. So, if you’re antsy and curious, here’s the full speech as prepared in advance.
20.32 – Enda’s coming out to the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight Tonight.
20.34 – Kenny opens by thanking the public for giving his party trust “in historic numbers” at last year’s election, giving the party the right “to clear away the air of fear and uncertainty”. This isn’t a celebratory affair, he says – celebrations will come only when there is reason to do so.
20.34 – “Our purpose now must be to redouble our efforts, to work even harder, to deliver our plan to get Ireland working and to retrieve our economic independence and take back our country.”
20.36 – Enda says the government will adopt “straight talk” (it’s the new ‘Paddy wants to know’, I suppose) to brief the public on the challenges ahead. It’s been a strong start, the Taoiseach says, but there’s a long way to go. He lists achievements so far, like reversing cuts to the minimum wage, and amending the Universal Social Charge system.
20.37 – Spotted by RTÉ’s David McCullagh: The crowd applauded when they were told tonight was not a night to celebrate. Fair enough… Meanwhile, Kenny says he and Eamon Gilmore have worked hard to convince business leaders that Ireland has a “serious government with a serious plan”.
20.38 – There’s mention, too, of the cuts to the interest rates charged as part of the bailout, and commentary that Ireland has made “a start” in getting jobs – discussing how the JobBridge programme has gotten people back into workplaces, and the jobs budget from last summer which has also assisted.
20.39 – Now to talk of political reform: cutting ministerial pay, abolishing the Seanad, introducing gender quotas (seventh applause interruption so far)… and onto the public sector, reducing the size and cost of the public service and rationalising quangos.
20.41 – The final point – about better services for lower cost – gets interruption number 8.
Now to Mahon and Moriarty – where an insistence that the corruption exposed there cannot exist again. (There’s number 9.) He makes the point of splitting politics and business, saying he’ll require all corporate donations over €200 to be declared. “These long-overdue reforms (interruption 10), along with other measures being considered… will help to put integrity… back at the heart of Irish public life.” (11.)
20.42 – Ooh! An acknowledgement that not every pledge will be met. The upward-only rent reviews promise can’t be kept for constitutional reasons, Kenny admits.
Onto mortgage arrears: discussions about reducing the cost of the previous government’s banking bailout, through private investment, burden-sharing and chopping subordinated bondholders. (There’s interruption number 12.)
20.44 – Despite the moves so far, Enda says, the burden is still heavy: but nonetheless, “Ireland will not default.” (And that’s interruption 13.)
20.45 – Applause number 14 comes for the comment that the promissory note repayment is being made by a government bond.
Onward to European matters: overseas leaders say Ireland’s role is a fundamental part of the Eurozone. (15.) This referendum is an opportunity to say Ireland believes in the euro and wants to be part of it, etc etc. (16.) This commitment is an investment in the national future, he says – people won’t be acting recklessly with public money. (17.)
20.46 – Multinationals are committing to investment here – but this will only continue if Ireland has the same access as other countries to the ESM, the bailout fund. We can achieve this by voting Yes – “Yes to Europe, and to jobs; Yes to Ireland, and Yes on May 31.”
“Yes to Europe” brings interruption number 18. “Ireland is open for business” is number 19.
20.48 – Enda says international confidence in Ireland muat be translated into more jobs, but there are obstacles and red tape in the way. The measures so far are good, “but not nearly enough” – they’re a first step. Jobs are about dignity, incentive, pride, the Taoiseach says, referencing the Action Plan for jobs looking to create 100,000 jobs by 2016 (election year). Banks must be party of that solution by meeting their agreed lending targets. (Applause break number 20.)
20.50 – This guarantee scheme will give better access to banking credit, and this is linked to the investment from the sale of state assets (is this a return to investment, on the part of NewERA?). Sectors like food, our traditional strengths, will be prioritised – and so will tech industries like cloud computing and online storage. It’ll need every minister to be committed, he says, in a call to action. (21.)
20.51 – “The vast majority of people out of work want a hand up, not a hand-out,” he says, prompting applause 22, returning to the concept of work as a measure of dignity. The day someone loses their job will now be the day the State helps them get another, through the new Solas agency and a one-stop-shop for training and benefits.
20.53 – This duty means employers will be given additional incentives to hire the unemployed, like extending PRSI exemptions from 12 to 18 months. (More applause! 23 now.)
20.54 – The government also needs to show those in debt distress that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The only escape for debt for many, right now, is emigration or bankruptcy. Kenny says he’s frustrated at the slow progress in this area, and announces a sub-committee which will consider four specified ways of trying to get people out of their debts, like letting people sell and rent back their homes. All of this will help children to be in the most precious place of their lives: in their own homes. (24.)
20.56 – Here we go… from Boston to Beijing, Kenny says (holding back a tear?), Ireland is making progress. If we harness our qualities together, nothing can hold us back (25). We’ve overcome plenty in the past. “I don’t know all the answers, but I do know this: a government team that works hard… will not fail.” (26.)
20.57 – It would appear Enda is genuinely having to hold back tears. He says by 2016 Ireland will be the best small country in the world in which to do business, raise a family, and grow old with dignity. Yes, there are tears: that will be a better future, dreamt, planned and achieved together. 27.
20.59 – Fighting the tears fully at the end, Enda finishes with a flourish: “Thanks to your sacrifice, we will reclaim our economic sovereignty – and thanks to your heart, we will renew our Republic of Ireland.” He is greeted with the customary standing ovation, bringing to 29 the total number of breaks for applause – that’s more than once per minute, fact fans.
21.00 – Enda’s final flourish, we should add, appears to be off the cuff. It wasn’t in the prepared version of the speech we received earlier…
21.02 – And so there you have it – some new news about plans to tackle the mortgage crisis, and pledges to press ahead with new plans to reduce the cost of the banking bailout and to create jobs.
No mention of the household charge, which was to be expected – and the revival of the ‘Yes to Europe, Yes to Jobs’ slogan from the Lisbon era. There are 61 days to go until the referendum: will it stick this time?
21.03 – Anyway – that’s our lot from Dublin. The full text, again, of the speech is over here – thanks again for sticking with us.
In full: Coverage of the Fine Gael Árd-Fheis>