Enda Kenny yesterday addressed the YFG conference twice. Once during the Prime Time speech and once during the Gala Banquet last night. Both his speeches were well received by the audience. Below is the text of his speech from the Prime Time session.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the proudest day in the life of a young man when he got elected to the national parliament of the country he loved.
This young man found himself running for election after the sitting member died suddenly. He was a reluctant candidate. He had only recently started working as a school teacher running a small national school. He entered the election, not really knowing what to expect, anxious about not failing and worried about letting down the legacy of his predecessor.
But he also approached it excited, energised, anxious to fulfil the expectations of the people who were encouraging him to enter the battle. But also for a deeper reason – for a cause, for a belief – he actually believed in the importance of serving the public, the importance of being a voice for the people, the importance of publicly standing up and standing for values and principles.
That young man was me.
It was in November 1975, before most of you in this room were born. While it seems like only yesterday to me, I know it probably feels like a pre-historic era to most of you.
The intervening years have flashed by but do you know what? The fear, the anxiety, the desire to fulfil the legacy of my predecessor – who by the way was my Dad – has never left me.
I remain excited, energised and anxious.
I remain committed to the values that encouraged me to enter that electoral battle in 1975; I fought that bruising bye-election with every fibre of my being and succeeded.
Today, it is still the principle of serving the public good that informs my politics and that motivates me.
Now more than ever, I’m determined to use all those, now older, fibres of my being to remove Fianna Fail from Government and restore both pride and value to Irish politics.
When I was elected as Leader of this Party in 2002, I was absolutely clear that serving the public good is actually what mattered to me and what Fine Gael has proudly stood for since its foundation. Ensuring Fine Gael recovered from the electoral battering of the election of that year became my mission.
If there was ever a time when serving the public good mattered, it’s now.
There are those who observe, commentate and report on politics that may not see serving the public good as being enough in a modern politician.
Since I was honoured by the Fine Gael Party to be elected as its Leader I have been criticised and accused of a lot of things.
And some may well be true.
But just in case it gets lost in translation, just in case people rely on the commentary rather than the reality or pluck out the exceptions to prove the rule, let me tell you what I am and who I am and why I believe the people of Ireland need a man like me as leader of the next government of our damaged and abused land.
I am first and foremost a proud Irishman, husband and dad.
I am proud to be a politician. Proud to represent the people that have elected me in County Mayo, the land of Davitt, proud to stand for their interests and as leader of our Party, proud to stand for the interests of every citizen in Ireland.
I am proud to be a public representative and a parliamentarian who stands for nothing other than the public good and the interests of the people of Ireland.
What does that mean?
I’ll tell you what it means to me. It means that my responsibility is to ensure there is an Ireland there for you and the rest of the young people of this country.
I have neither interest nor regard for winning popularity contests or having a seat in government for the glory or the perks.
If we are to have a future as a sovereign nation we have to restore the values of decency, of public interest, of taking responsibility and of re-establishing a culture of fairness and care to Irish politics and to Irish government.
That is why I have remained in politics for all these years. That is why I am determined to lead Fine Gael into government as soon as I humanly can and restore order, provide confidence and re-introduce honesty to Irish politics.
I believe, now more than ever, it is these values that are needed to lead this country forward.
Change is needed.
The politicians, bankers and cronies that contrived to bring our economy and society to the sorry place it is today have to be removed from office and banished from office for a long time.
Their failure has created a vista that has to be redrawn.
I don’t relish the prospect of cleaning up the mess that has been created.
I can only hope that – with a mandate from the people, with their involvement, their permission and by committing to listening to them from government – they will mandate us to correct the problems and rebuild Ireland so that you and your peers, your brothers and sisters and the generation to follow you have the prospect of a future of prosperity and a decent life freed from the debt and financial chaos visited upon us by poor judgement, criminal negligence and government for the insiders at the expense of the people.
I will approach any election in the coming months asking the people for the mandate needed to lead us, as a sovereign nation, out of this mess and to provide us with the necessary parliamentary majority that will ensure that the confidence and security required for our own people first and then for the international markets that we have been forced to depend upon by the spending and borrowing spree of 13 years of Fianna Fail in power.
We are ready for that election.
Fine Gael has a clear plan based on three pillars.
Restoring our public finances by facing up to the reality of the problems and taking the necessary steps to deal with them based on fairness and responsibility;
A parallel process of economic growth and job creation;
Fundamental reform to create a smaller, less costly and better managed public sector that’s designed to protect front line services and eliminating waste and scandalous duplication.
Fine Gael has a clear and absolute commitment to recover our fiscal health by reducing the State’s deficit to less than 10% for next year and to bring it back to 3% by 2014.
That budgetary process combined with a growth plan that gets as many people back to work in the short, medium and, ultimately, long term is critical.
The only sustainable way of fixing our economic problems is to get our people back to work.
Most of you may be too young to remember the devastation of the recession in the 1980s and the hundreds of thousands of our young people who were forced to emigrate in search of work. I recall that time vividly and the huge damage that forced emigration caused to the families and communities of Ireland. I also understand the economic damage caused by emigration and the fact that so many of our brightest and best people were abroad delayed this country’s economic recovery by many years.
That’s why I have the protection and creation of jobs at the heart of my approach to the economic crisis. I want to help create a situation where young, well educated people have the opportunity to work and live in their own country if that is their wish.
That’s why Fine Gael is insisting that any four year plan for economic recovery is underpinned by a parallel strategy for growth and jobs. In fact, we believe that the radical package of economic reforms currently being finalised by the Party can generate faster growth and more jobs than the markets currently expect. Our plan will have the following key objectives over the next four years:
Average GNP growth of 4%;
Average employment growth of almost 40,000 per year;
Reducing the unemployment rate to 5% by 2015, ending net emigration; and
A return to a significant balance of payments surplus, bringing billions of funding into our economy.
Fine Gael’s plan will not require any new government spending and borrowing as it will be underpinned by our NewERA initiative under which a radical investment in the key infrastructures of broadband, energy and water will both create jobs directly and make our economy more competitive.
This investment programme will be accompanied by a series of specific initiatives which will help to encourage the creation of jobs. We have already made it clear that, in our budgetary plans, we will prioritise cutting wasteful spending and reforming the delivery of public services over tax increases.
Richard Bruton’s Reinventing Government plan published last week sets out over 100 specific initiatives that can cut the cost of Government by €5 billion within four years by eliminating 145 quangos and reforming the way the public sector works, including reducing the numbers employed in it by 30,000.
This is our time to reclaim our country.
Over 60% of people are on the internet and over 80% of our voters are expected to be online.
I want to use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Youtube to create a serious discourse with the people of our country. In particular, the young people of our country. A two way conversation to listen to the people, to help shape the e-democracy in our country.
I am asking you to join me. I am asking you to participate. I am asking you to help me to start a digital revolution in that has never been seen before in this country.
Fine Gael are going to win the next election and the power of Web 2.0 will help us do that.
I ask the simple question: Will you join me? Will you join me in making history? Will you join me in a campaign online that we have never seen before? Will you help me start a digital revolution by joining us?
We want young and competent people who will be part of our Digital Task Force. We want young e-Leaders who will play for our team. I am saying to you here and now that we must reclaim our country and our Digital Taskforce will have a serious part to play.
There will be those who doubt Ireland’s capacity to deal with the crisis facing us.
I am not one of them. I have always been a believer in this country and its ability to withstand adversity and turmoil.
We will do it again.
I also know that I have a team of like-minded politicians and representatives of the people that want to put Ireland first, want to restore the qualities of decency, responsibility and fairness back into politics.
I believe in the potential, ingenuity and ability of you and your generation and in all of us as a people to recover.
What’s missing is a leadership that the people can call their own.
A leadership that they can access.
A leadership that listens and acts.
A leadership that is up for them.
What’s missing is a leadership that is decisive because it has the confidence of the people through the mandate in a general election.
A leadership that is transparent in its exercise of power on behalf of the people.
A leadership that is prepared to be scrutinised and answerable to the forum of the people – a refreshed, empowered and better Dail Eireann.
I am up to this challenge.
I want to do it, not for myself, but because I am a representative of the people, it’s what I am, and always have been.
It’s time to take back our country, time to mould and shape a new direction for a new future for your Ireland. That’s the future we will all live in. It’s your future and I want your help to start building that future and I want it know.
Fine Gael is ready to make that happen.
Let’s do it.