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Micheál Martin giving his speech tonight Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

As it happened: Micheál Martin's keynote speech at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis

The Fianna Fáil leader will be delivering his address to his party from 8.30pm. Join us to see what happens.

FIANNA FÁIL IS running at tight ship at it’s annual Ard Fheis in Dublin this weekend.

The party is currently riding high in most opinion polls –  tomorrow’s Sunday Business Post puts FF at 25 per cent, making it the second most popular party in the country behind Fine Gael – and trying to capitalise on this and build momentum as next year’s local and European elections loom large.

Leader Micheál Martin is going to be addressing party members from 8.30pm tonight, and is expected to touch on rebuilding the party, the economy, and the party’s awkward stance on issue. We’ll be liveblogging the speech as it happens. Any comments, get in touch: tweet @christinebohan or @thejournal_ie, email or throw us a comment below the line.

Micheál Martin is shortly going to be taking to the stage. You can watch the 30 minute speech live on RTE One here.

“The man that we are all so proud of…” – Senator Darragh O’Brien is introducing Martin, who walks into the room to a standing ovation and loud cheers from the assembled members. Looks like a much bigger crowd than last year’s Ard Fheis.

No small talk. Martin jumps straight into it and says he wants to talk about “the issues which matter most to people in these difficult times, and to set out a vision for a fairer society”.

Martin says that every week for the last year he has visited people in their homes in communities around the country and listened to their problems with mortgage arrears, unemployment, and families worrying about how to pay the next bill.

“They don’t care about party labels – they want to hear what ideas we have to tackle the urgent problems of today,” he tells the crowd.

BINGO! First round of applause of the evening comes when Martin says that Fianna Fáil’s approach to being in opposition is different to that of other parties (he doesn’t say it but it’s clear he’s talking about Sinn Féin):

Let me repeat what I’ve been saying since the first day of this Dáil – if you want destructive politics-as-usual, if you want blinkered all-out opposition, then the Fianna Fáil party I lead is not for you.

Martin is hammering the government on austerity and says Fianna Fáil would focus on a fairer approach to recovery. He says the party’s alternative policies have all been fully costed and the domestic economy is “crying out for some relief”.

Martin is still pushing hard on jobs. “No issue matters more,” he tells the audience. He says that businesses have been “starved of funding” and that banks are “hoarding money”.

It’s time to say to them… ‘Release the money to job creators or you will lose it to others who will.’

Applause count: 11 so far in the first 15 minutes, by my count.

Another round of applause when Martin says that Fianna Fáil would protect the state assets ‘as much as possible’ – although he’s careful not to say that he would stop the sale entirely. “There is no excuse for going ahead with their fire sale,” he says.

“The human impact [of mortgage and household debts] is an urgent national crisis demanding radical action,” says Martin.

“It is wrong for this Government to make it easy for the banks to repossess family homes and that is why we will oppose its Home Repossession Bill next week in the Dáil,” – he says to – you’ve guessed it – applause. Crowd really getting into this now.

He’s attacking the government again, saying Fine Gael and Labour are giving power to the banks but that there’s nobody to ensure a “fair and independent outcome” when it comes to dealing with unsustainable debt.

Martin is going for the greatest hits now as he focuses on criticisng the government. Next up: property tax.

They have produced a tax which is about, as unfair as it could be. It makes no provision whatsoever for the ability of people to pay. It actively discriminates against many urban areas.

And still, no one in Government has explained why families who cannot even pay their mortgage are now being asked to pay this property tax?

It is wrong to expect families to do so.

This is the wrong tax at the wrong time.

Time for the obligatory section as Gaeilge. My Irish is a tad (ha!) rusty but he’s talking about how FF would focus on promoting the Irish language and how many small countries around the world effectively manage with their own language.

Earlier today, FF spokesperson on Justice Niall Collins hit out at Alan Shatter for not protecting Gardaí or rural communities by closing 100 Garda stations around the country. Martin is returning to this theme. “The decision to break the physical link between communities and their Gardaí is wrong,” he says.

“Research shows that nearly half of people now say that they are not confident that the Gardaí have the resources to protect their area,” he says.

Applause, cheers AND the first outbreak of laughter of the speech so far. “Alan Shatter thinks that telling someone to find their Garda on Facebook is smart policing,” Martin says. A good 10 seconds of applause for this.

Martin criticises Labour for its policy on education and says it has targeted cuts against the most important schemes. “Today, for the first time and when there is enormous need, Ireland has no dedicated provision for guidance and counselling in schools – this is a disgraceful situation”.

Strong words on the Croke Park pay deal. Martin says the government tried to “undermine, then bribe, then threaten public servants, [ending] in abject failure”.

“They need to get back to the negotiating table, commit to a fairer approach,” he says.

Two years ago the people delivered a loud and clear message – they wanted change.

Our party was held to account for its failings in government – but equally everyone was put on notice that more of the same wasn’t good enough. The time had arrived for a deep reform of Irish politics.

Today Ministers give speeches praising themselves for their reforming zeal but there’s no substance behind it. They have changed the status of who drives their cars – but they haven’t implemented a single significant change in how Ireland is governed.

They said they wanted change but actually all they wanted was their turn.

There’s a nod to Northern Ireland as Martin says the British and Irish governments have disengaged from the North and ‘act as if peace can be taken for granted’. “The flag riots and dissident violence simply cannot be ignored,” he says. “What we need now is for the government to step up – not walk away”.

He’s building up towards an animated conclusion. “Every day the government says that there are no alternatives to the decisions it is taking. It says nothing else can be done. They are quite simply wrong,” he almost shouts to the audience.

He quotes the Taoiseach saying that the ‘silent majority’ support the governments actions. “I can tell him, if he takes the time to go to the doors, he’ll find there’s nothing silent about the majority of the Irish people,” he says.

“Our country needs a credible voice for a fairer society… for helping families tackle their debts… for equal access to a quality health service… for supporting safe communities,” he says.

“These are our values and this is our work. If you share them, join us and help us work for a fairer way to recovery”.

And with that, it’s over. Standing ovation and loud applause.

I lost track of the applause count somewhere around the 22 mark. Anyone get a figure?

So that’s it. Last year’s speech focused more on rebuilding the party but this year’s one was much more on the attack – he criticised the government on a number of key issues (although any mention of abortion was noticeably absent). He had harsh words about the government’s failure to negotiate a Croke Park deal (“The rejection of a deal for the first time in over 25 years is what happens when a government is more interested in talking to the media than talking to its own workers”) and a lot about personal debt, mortgage arrears and problems for small businesses.

We’re going to leave our coverage of the speech there. Cheers for reading, and let us know what you made of the speech in the comments…

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