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MICHEÁL MARTIN HAS issued an unequivocal apology on behalf of the Fianna Fáil party for the mistakes it made while in Government.

We live-blogged his keynote address at the first Ard Fheis since the party’s crippling defeat in last year’s General Election.

Martin said that while in government, the party should have acted differently.

We made mistakes. We got things wrong. And we are sorry for that. No equivocation. No half-apology. Just the plain, unvarnished truth.

Welcome to our liveblog – we’re in for an exciting half an hour from 8.30pm as Martin addresses Fianna Fáil delegates at its first Ard Fhéis since the 2011 General Election.

Delegates have been voting on various motions at the Ard Fhéis all day but among the most notable is the passing of a motion calling for equal access to marriage for same-sex couples.

It passed with a significant majority.

Delegates also unanimously voted to adopt a one member, one vote system. Fianna Fáil said this was the “most radical reform” to its organisation structure ever.

Earlier today, we asked our readers would they be tuning in to watch the speech. There was a resounding ‘no’ vote in our poll.

Are you expecting an apology? Would it be a welcome move by Fianna Fáil? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

And we’re live. Here he goes.

Robert Troy, the party’s youngest TD, is introducing the leader. Brings up what Martin considers one of his greatest achievements – the smoking ban. Troy said he led the world on that one.

Standing ovation, lots of back slapping and a few kisses for Martin before he takes to the stage.

He starts on a sobering note, talking about unemployment, emigration and mortgage burdens.

Takes his first hit at the current Government and explains how Fianna Fáil will be a responsible party in Opposition.

The problems facing people are too serious for tired, old political games.

The current Government has made bad decisions and has broken promises, says Martin.

Now, he’s talking about the history of Fianna Fáil and Martin lists what he sees as its achievements. We also get some background into his own history and what led him to join the party.

There’s a standing ovation to the apology issued by Martin on the mistakes made by Fianna Fáil in Government:

We were in government and we should have acted differently. We made mistakes. We got things wrong.  And we are sorry for that. No equivocation. No half-apology. Just the plain, unvarnished truth.

The leader says, to much applause, that as much as the party should defend its achievements, it also needs to admit its mistakes. He says it is not enough to point to the fact that Europe and the world was going through the worst recession in 80 years.

So, there is the apology. Did it go far enough? It was received well at the RDS. What do you think out there?

Martin praises the “courageous” work of Brian Lenihan as he moves on to talk about the economy. His late colleague laid the solid foundations for Ireland’s recovery, he says.

Moving onto mortgage burdens, Martin says Fianna Fáil has published a set of measures to protect family homes and prevent repossessions.

As he discusses education, we learn that Micheál Martin is part of the first generation of his family who finished second level schooling and moved onto college.

The attacks on the current government are coming thick and fast now. Mostly on education:

The choices this government has made on education are amongst its worst and they must be fought.

On small rural schools, he says: “They should be cherished not attacked. The cuts they are facing will impose the maximum damage for the sake of tiny savings.”

And now he’s speaking as Gaeilge and unfortunately this writer is not the in-house Gaeilgeoir at TheJournal.ie.

For those not in front of a TV, Martin isn’t so much on stage but rather a central podium. Some people are finding the set up distracting:

Ryan Murphy, one of TheJournal.ie readers, weighing in on the set up at the RDS says that the party machine “hasn’t missed a trick”.

“The youngest attendees have been seated directly behind Martin, for obvious reasons.”

This has always been a pro-EU party and we are not going to change that now, Martin says after explaining that Ireland needs Europe to return to growth and investment.

He says that the EU fiscal compact treaty is the right thing for Ireland.

In a veiled attack on Sinn Féin Martin says, “In the last 14 years we’ve led the absolute victory of constitutional republicanism on this island.”

He reiterates that Fianna Fáil remains a republican party and republicanism remains its core belief.

“We will always believe in a united Ireland,” he adds.

A round of applause as Martin praises the “wonderful” and “historic” presidency of Mary McAleese.

To conclude, Martin is once more warning delegates that Fianna Fáil will not be playing games while in Opposition. It will not make political footballs out of important issues.

But let me be clear, if you want destructive opposition, if you want a replay of the deeply cynical opposition politics seen before the election, then go elsewhere.

His closing remarks:

Fianna Fáil will not retreat from the fray. Ireland needs a viable and vibrant republican party. To renew our work and to regenerate our society is a huge national task. Join us in that great endeavor and let’s all play our part in getting this country back on track.

And that’s that. Martin’s speech is met with a rousing standing ovation and many of his colleagues join him on stage for more back-patting and hand-shaking.

We’ll have the full speech posted very shortly.

The half-hour long speech is now available, in full, here.

We await the reaction of other politicians and parties to Martin’s speech.

But that’s all from this live-blog for now. Thanks for joining us and we’ll see you all very soon.

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