IDAHOTB Address At St Anne’s Union Shandon for Cork LGBTI+ Awareness Week

On Sunday I had the pleasure of giving the address at the Annual IDAHOT Service in St Anne’s Union for Cork LGBTI+ Awareness Week. Choral Con Fusion provided the wonderful Music for the service which was also attended by Bishop Paul Colton.

Below is the text of my address.

International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
Solidarity for Alliances
St Anne’s Shandon, 13th May 2018
Stephen Spillane

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” – John 17: 15

Four years ago, was the last time I spoke in this place for International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and a lot of things have changed since then. We have a new Priest in Charge here in Shandon, the choir is bigger, and we voted to change our constitution to allow for Marriage Equality. But is everything perfect? Far from it.

In the last week, someone was attacked in Northern Ireland for being part of the LGBTI+ Community. We still have Homophobic, Transphobic and Biphobic bullying in our schools, churches, workplaces and in the homes of LGBTI+ people. This is why we are here. To stand together. We stand together to protect each other in solidarity.

In the words of this morning’s Psalm


They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper – Psalm 1:3

Being in solidarity with LGBTI+ people does not take a huge commitment, it is recognising them for being who they are part of our community, at school, at work, in our church and part of our families. Being an ally means help to create a space that is welcoming to everyone, so that they can be themselves, truly and honestly.

This is something we take seriously in St Anne’s and this is set out in our Vision statement which is at the back of the church

We are welcoming of both human experience and
human diversity.

 It goes on to say

We are committed to taking all people seriously –
married and single people, gay and straight, those who have a natural faith and those who struggle with belief.

Welcoming is so important to us all; to feel welcome in a place, no matter where it changes our experience of that place. A welcome means that we can truly invest all ourselves, our true selves in a place and not hide any of it. A welcoming place can make all the difference to someone, whether it is to share good news and good times or receive help and support in times of difficulty. It allows people to share their interests and talents fully, while in return experiencing love and support.

At the beginning of the service we heard a simple line of scripture that reminds us that we have a great ally

God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them – 1 John 4:16

Love is the greatest way of showing Solidarity. If we love others we can help them in the difficult times and celebrate with them in good times. Love reminds us that others are standing with us. Love allows us to stand with others. Love allows us to work together to bring strength, healing and peace to one another.

Love isn’t anything extravagant, it’s recognising people for being who they are. Love recognises the situations people find themselves in and where we find ourselves as a community. Two recent events here reminded me of how the simple things can mean a lot.

At our General Easter Vestry, basically the Parish AGM, we had to make a decision whether or not couples could both serve on our Select Vestry, we decided they could. We then elected a same-sex couple onto our Vestry. It was completely normal. It was only afterwards when someone said it to me that I realised it!

The second is a bit more personal. On Easter Sunday, I brought along my boyfriend to church for the first time, he will kill me later for this, it was wonderful to see people both before and after the service coming up to him to say ‘hi’ and welcome him here. It made my day, and I know it made an impact on him too to feel the welcome and the love in this place.

This is a welcome and a love that we are called to practice and replicate throughout our lives, in our communities, our schools, our churches, our workplaces and in our homes. It is one that I am thankful to have experienced in this church and others, this choir, this city and at work.

But in recognising this welcome and love I also recognise that others do not receive it. But standing together in Solidarity and through building Alliances we can spread that welcome and that Love and ensure that everyone experiences that welcome and love. It isn’t an easy challenge. We will come up against many challenges, roadblocks and doubts but we must remain “like trees planted by streams of water” and try and create a world free from Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia as well as all other forms of hatred and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religious belief or lack of religious belief.

We are put on this earth to live and to love. Let us do that together and continue to be in solidarity with those seen as ‘others’. I will finish with this prayer from the IONA Community

God of justice, keep us silent
when the only words we have to utter
are ones of judgement, exclusion or prejudice.
Teach us to face the wounds in our own hearts


God of power, keep us silent
so that we may listen respectfully
to another person’s pain
without trying to fade or fix it,
for you are present within each one of us


God of love, in the silence of our hearts
give us words of welcome, acceptance and renewal
so that when we speak
our words come from you


 Prayer for Three Voices, Yvonne Morland, 50 Great Prayers from the Iona Community

Enda’s Speech, YFG Conference 2010

Enda Kenny
Image via Wikipedia

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.

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Enda’s Speech

Enda Kenny speaking at the YFG national conferenceImage via WikipediaYes, Yet again I am impressed by a speech by Enda Kenny. It was overshadowed by someone elses speech though. The speech was given to commenerate the 90th Anniversary of the 1st Dáil.

Four score and ten years ago, on the 21st of January, the men and women of the 1st Dáil met here in this room. Their meeting sent out a message of independence, of courage and of hope to the peoples of the world. That message has been repeated by many leaders in many lands in the intervening decades. It will be repeated again today in another place by another young man carrying in his genetic make-up part of what makes our Irishness unique.

The first Dail’s meeting here marked a revolution: a revolution in Ireland’s relationship with Britain; a revolution in the history of Irish democracy, but, most of all, a revolution in how we saw ourselves as a nation. The first revolution in an era of revolutions throughout Europe.

Its membership read like a ‘who’s who’ of the people who framed the twentieth century in Ireland – de Valera, Cosgrave, Mulcahy, O’Kelly and Collins, among many others. It also included the first woman elected in Ireland, Countess Markievicz.

I am moved by the spirit of those who preceded us in this place, particularly by those elected to that 1st Dáil who later became the leaders of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party and later Fine Gael over which I now preside as Leader.

The most striking characteristics of the First Dáil were its simplicity and its austerity. There was no fanfare, no pomp or ceremony, just a short prayer in Irish read by Fr Michael O’Flanagan and then the roll call of members. The majority of the 103 members returned in the 1918 election were not present – some by choice, others through force of circumstance, their absences recorded in the recurring phrase of that day ‘faoi ghlas ag Gallaibh’.

Those who scoffed at this new Body – and there were many – totally underestimated the seriousness of purpose, the utter determination of this new emerging generation of Irish politicians. It was easy to be sceptical. The new assembly had no legal standing or international recognition, no building of its own, no government apparatus to direct or carry out its wishes. Its very calling said the Irish Times was ‘a solemn act of defiance of the British Empire by a body of young men who have not the slightest notion of that Empire’s power and resources, and not a particle of experience on the conduct of public affairs’.

And yet, in spite of its shadowy existence, in spite of the constant raids and harassment, and in spite of not having any real power or resources, this Dáil did establish the authentic credentials of modern Irish democracy. It was a clear signal that once the military campaign was over the people’s parliament would be supreme.

But it was more than just symbolic. The new Dáil laid down the principles and guidelines on which an independent Irish parliament would evolve. And at the heart of these principles was the central role of a sovereign Dáil. It also gave us many of our rules and procedures which have persisted to this day. And crucially it insisted on full total accountability by Government to the Dáil – accountability as to how the people’s money was spent and answerability for all the actions of government.

It would be good to recount that this principle of Dáil supremacy found its way into the life of the new State. Sadly it did not. It may have been the Civil War which created an atmosphere of mistrust among former colleagues; it may have been a too rigid system of party discipline; it may have been the diffidence of the Dáil itself, but for whatever reason subsequent years saw an inexorable strengthening of the position of the government over that of the Dáil, and saw the Dáil itself – except maybe in times of crisis – give up so many of the powers and functions – and indeed responsibilities – that should have rightly been its own.

We celebrate this anniversary at a time in the life of our country which is as unhappy and dangerous as any we have known. But if one thing is clear at this time it is that we need a Dáil as envisaged by the men and women of 1919 – a Dáil which is at the centre of our politics, not one at the periphery of events, a Dáil to which the government and all its agencies are openly accountable and most of all a Dáil which leads events rather than reacting to them.

But there are other things to reflect on today. There is for example the debt our democracy owes to those who were not present 90 years ago today – the old Irish party, the party of Parnell, Redmond and Dillon. It is easy to forget the enormous part they played in the shaping of Irish parliamentary democracy. For 40 years it was the voice of nationalist Ireland and for 40 years its goal was an independent Irish parliament. For all of this it got little thanks. The great Sean MacEoin, the ‘Blacksmith of Ballinalee’, expressed it well in 1938: “the old Sinn Fein members should apologise to the members of the old Irish Party…we blackguarded them up and down the country because we were not aware of the facts.”

Sean MacEoin’s words were not universally welcome in 1938, but today, and especially those of us in the two bigger parties who stem from old Sinn Fein should echo the words of Sean MacEoin and acknowledge on this very special day the contribution of the Irish Party to the establishment of our strong and durable parliamentary democracy.

We should remember too that just a few short years after the meeting of the First Dáil our country was split by Civil War – an experience that disfigured our politics for years to come. Those years of bitterness and sterility should remind us that while our politics should be tough and searching, and maybe rough at times, we should never forget the role of parliament as a unifying force in times of national difficulty and a source of leadership and solidarity rather than divisiveness.

But the most important memory today should be a positive one. The memory of the men and women who made the first Dáil possible. They were, it has been said ‘politicians by accident’, but by any standards they were an exceptional generation, rising to the challenges of independent statehood, establishing and sustaining democratic institutions and values. They were men and women of probity, of ability and most of all of simple and honest values. They led by example, living up to the values they preached. And this was true of all sides…Cosgrave and de Valera, Lemass and Mulcahy, McGilligan, Macentee and Tom Johnson. Let us remember them today with pride and take courage in their values as our country faces into days as difficult and uncertain as any we have encountered.

A good speech I think. Your thoughts?

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Enda’s Speech

Last night Enda Kenny the leader of fine gael spoke at the party’s Annunal Conference in Wexford. Yet again, Enda gave a wonderful speech which I read this morning and have reproduced below.It is a hard hitting speech but lays out the direction the country should be going. Have a read and off it if you didn’t see it either and let me know what you think in the comment section.

onight I want to talk to you about why Ireland now needs new leadership to take the country in a new direction. We meet at the best of times and at the worst of times.

Best of times for Fine Gael because we know what we stand for and we know where we’re going. But worst of times because out there, joining us in their sitting rooms and their kitchens, are people who can’t share the buzz and the excitement that are making the rafters of this place vibrate.

People watching us against a background of misery and fear. Yes. Misery. And fear.

Because that’s what happens, when you’ve got a good degree, when you’ve had a good job, when you’ve given your all – and suddenly, through no fault of your own, you’re let go. When you become one of the first highly educated generation in Irish history to be “Let go.”

– Let go before Christmas.
– Let go when the mortgage you’re paying is bigger than the value of the house it covers.
– Let go when the jobs market is awash with good, talented, experienced people all fighting for fewer and fewer posts.

Spun loose and lost, they are, the first young casualties of the downturn. Spun loose and lost. And fearful. That’s the worst of it. That’s the most damning indictment of the current Government. They have done what no Government should ever do. They have created a fear of the future in the people of this country.

Older people, who see promises made to them tossed in the air like ash blowing in a wind. Who see a Government that treats them like statistics and ignores human reality. Not just older people, though. This fear is all-pervasive.

Younger people are seeing their bosses cutting jobs. Pulling back. Circling the wagons. Sending the message: Postpone your ambitions. Put your life on hold. And you know something? You can’t do that. You can’t put lives on hold. Ambition and promise, unexpressed, wither into frustration and bitter disappointment.

While the Government blame international factors, the reality is that we are suffering a far more severe downturn than other countries. This is a direct result of the Government’s failure to plan for the future – a direct result of weak and indecisive leadership and a direct result of a government in office too long and too out of touch.

Fianna Fáil has governed deliberately in the interests of their friends, particularly property speculators, rather than in the best interests of the Irish people. The result was an unsustainable property bubble, the victims of which are the many thousands of young couples who are now paying huge mortgages on over-priced homes, living with the anxiety of failing jobs and negative equity.

If we don’t act now to arrest the slide in good governance and economic management, the situation will just get worse. And worse. And worse.

Unemployment will continue upwards. Our borrowings will continue upwards. The quality of our front line public services will continue downwards. It’s time for someone to stand out front and tell the painful truth.

The country cannot afford the national pay deal. It is as simple as that. This deal must be suspended for 12 months and reviewed after that. It was negotiated in a different context with different expectations.

I am calling on Government and public service unions to implement a complete pay freeze for 12 months.

I am calling on private sector employers and their staff to review the terms of the wage agreement and ensure that no pay increases are at the expense of jobs. Wage restraint in the short term is preferable to job losses in the long term.

If we want to be masters of our own destiny, we have to control our spending and ensure that we regain our competitiveness. Let’s be clear on this: if we manage our finances prudently there should be no need for damaging tax increases that undermine our future growth.

The money saved by this initiative should be invested directly in key infrastructures like school buildings and public transport, and in retraining and upskilling our workforce. The time to start fixing the economic mess created by Fianna Fail and Brian Cowen, is now. We simply must get the country back on track.

Nowhere is this more urgent than in the horror that is our health system. Was there ever a greater betrayal than a Cabinet sitting down and deliberately targeting our elderly people to pay for their own mistakes by removing their medical cards?

Year after year, they refused to address the horrors of our healthcare system. Remember that Yeats ballad, where the old priest Peter Gilligan “is weary, night and day, for half his flock were in their beds or under greensod lay.” “I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,” he cries out. “For people die and die.” This Government deserves no rest, nor joy, nor peace. For people die needlessly on their watch.

And – when it comes to misdiagnosis – so many of those people are women. Women in the prime of their lives, leaving children and families to grieve in baffled disbelief. Is it too much to ask – as we asked long before the economic downturn – is it too much to ask that Ireland treat its women with respect? Is it? No it’s not.

Is it too much to ask that when we take our parents to a hospital, that they are not endangered by hospital bugs or misdiagnosis? Is it?

Is it too much to ask that vaccinations are not withheld from our twelve year old daughters so that their very lives are threatened? Is it?

Is it too much to ask that a stale, arrogant, contemptuous Government be swept out of office and urgently replaced by a Fine Gael government of passion, professionalism, experience and enthusiasm? Is it?

When this Government is replaced by Fine Gael, we will deliver the universal healthcare plan being finalised by the Policy Commission chaired by Alan Dukes. We will create the change, the old, the young and the sick need so badly; a change to a health system where the patient is at the centre and the money follows that patient. A health system where service is delivered because you need it, not because you can pay for it. Fine Gael will drive that change in approach and ensure that fairness is at the core of Irish society.

We will banish the notion that Education is a cost. It is not. It is a need. It is an investment in our nation’s future and an investment in our children’s future. As Churchill said “the empires of the future will be the empires of the mind”. Fine Gael will invest now to build those empires.

We will stop waste, and return to the basics that made this economy a success; low-costs, high exports, targeted spending, and a constant focus on competitiveness.

A focus on competitiveness that will make Ireland the best. That will make Ireland a global leader, and that inside a decade, will make this country a net exporter of energy. Within ten years, we will sell more energy than we buy in.

Tax relief on bicycles and banning light bulbs won’t build the Green Economy. Our approach must be based on innovation and creativity. It will draw investment from around the world. Give farming a new lease of life.
Renew and refresh our tourism offering. It will radically change and strengthen our industrial base.

That requires investment in wave, wind, biofuels, pumped storage and gas. An investment that will pay dividends and create jobs. An investment that requires radical change. That radical change that will see government acting to prevent problems. A government with the courage to act. And act Fast. And act fast we would have done to prevent the meltdown of the banking system.

Fine Gael would not be paralysed by this current banking crisis. We would re-capitalise banks. Now.

It’s too late to give a transfusion when the patient is already dead. Too many jobs in small businesses all over this country are threatened by the lack of access to credit. My fear is that bad banks and delinquent developers are having too much say in guiding Government policy in this area. The recipe drawn up by Government appears to rely on international venture capitalists. What interest do they have in the long term viability of our economy? None.

So why are we inviting venture capitalists to do a job that we can handle ourselves? The Government should take preference shares in Irish banks so the taxpayer gets a dividend from the investment, not foreign investors. Once that’s done, they must be told that neither they, nor their regulators, will walk away unscathed from this. Our nation has been damaged by their reckless behaviour. They must be held accountable. Under Fine Gael, they will be held accountable.

We are the only party who will hold people to account for failure. Who will hold people to account for irresponsibility. Who will hold people to account for criminality.

Not so long ago, we were told gangland killings were the last sting of a dying wasp. That dying wasp is very much alive and part of a threatening swarm infesting our cities and communities. The last time our communities and the State were so threatened, was when an innocent woman Veronica Guerin was murdered for telling the truth about the gangs. Back then a Fine Gael government acted. My cabinet colleagues and I set up the Criminal Assets Bureau. We moved fast with new powers for the Gardaí and the Revenue Commissioners. We captured and convicted criminals. We changed the realities. We did the business.

When we went out of office, things were let slide. A stop will be put to that slide when Fine Gael returns to Government. The new breed of ruthless criminals require a new and tougher response. They need to know that there will be real consequences for their actions. No longer can they expect short sentences during which they can continue to organise crimes from their prison cells. Our response will see 25 year mandatory sentences for murder and new powers to control the movements and activities of gang members. We did it before and we will do it again.

We have always been the party of law and order…we still are. Because, on all fronts, Fine Gael knows that circumstances are not excuses. They are opportunities. Opportunities for what is fundamental to the Irish spirit – a wilful determination to break through barriers to greatness.

Look at Northern Ireland; centuries of conflict calmed by a mutual belief in the possible. This week, power sharing resumed in Northern Ireland. What was once thought to be impossible has been made real. Made real by hope. Made real by optimism. Made real by refusing to let the future be constrained by circumstance. Down all the days, this nation refused to be constrained by circumstance. We became – against all the odds – a beacon of light. In great poverty, the world looked to us as leaders in the arts, in music, in literature. Whatever the challenge, the Irish spirit has been one of courage and optimism and a desire to be the best.

That great spirit of courage and optimism must be reawakened by a new kind of leadership, a new kind of politics. A politics of vision and openness and direction and optimism. Because if there is fear out there, there is something more important out there too: the yearning for greatness, the need to express the best of ourselves, the desire for change.

We stand amid catastrophe. But we stand on the verge of massive change. Ten years from now, we will, once again, be a beacon of light and of pride. To get there, Ireland must be restored as a central and influential member of the European Union. I am committed to playing my part in ensuring that the current uncertainties about Ireland’s relationship with Europe is ended.

The Fine Gael team here today are practical professionals and driven idealists who are expert, eager and committed. The Fine Gael team are the brightest and the best.

And simply put…The Fine Gael team are going to be the next Government.

In government, we will draw a line in the sand. On this side of the line is chronic waste; On the other is strict controls and targeted spending where every penny of taxpayers’ money is accounted for. On this side of the line is caving in, compromise and throwing money at every vested interest; On the other is decisive leadership, straight talking and principled politics. On this side of the line in the sand is bloated, lazy and directionless economic management; On the other is lean, focused and smart economic plans and policies.

We promise an end to all that. I want an Ireland where people count. Where families matter. Where the economy serves the nation, not the other way around. An Ireland where we set out to succeed, not just survive.

Easy? No. Who said anything worth achieving was easy? Good government is not about calculator cuts. It’s about direction. Determination. Ireland will be the best. The number one. The world leader. And I know what it will take to get us there.

I know what it’s like to rebuild a political party. I know what people wanted, I know what they said. I’ve been there and I know the hard work, energy and commitment that’s needed. Now I want to do the same for our country.

Soon – maybe sooner than people think – the people of Ireland will give us the opportunity to change this country for the better. The Ireland Fine Gael is determined to build is an Ireland defined by merit, not money. An Ireland of pride, passion and potential. A nation where the best in the Irish character finds full expression in positive action, not in crippling cynicism.

My message to a whole generation of young people who have never lived in recessionary times is very clear.
I want you to know that we are in your corner. I want you to know that we will fight for your future. I want you to know that I understand your right to live your dreams and to achieve your ambitions in this country, if that is your wish.

I invite you to work with me, as together we change politics and build your future. Politics does matter and I give you just one guarantee – our work will not be easy, our choices will not be simple, but together we will succeed in our task.

Let me promise you this. The men and women of Fine Gael will bring new life, new excitement, new drive to Irish politics.

My team are Expert. Eager. Enthusiastic. They represent all that is good in Ireland – and they will respond to all that is best in Ireland. We – each and every one of us – carry from this conference the capacity to guide our country through recession and point it to a brighter future.

We will take radical and brave action to get this country moving again. We will make this State secure, prosperous and confident. We will lead this nation to a place of hope and achievement. We will lift this country off its knees and turn its face to the sun. It will therefore be my honour to make this country proud again.

Enda’s Speech

Below is Enda’s Speech that he has given in response to Budget 2009. I must say I agree with it whole heartedly!

Yesterday’s budget was disgraceful in what it contained. It was deplorable in what it did not contain. And it was fascinating in the response it created. Never in my political life have I seen such a universal rejection of a budget. One by one the statements came out.

IBEC condemned the budget. ISME condemned the budget. The ICTU condemned the budget. Siptu, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, ASH, Hospital Consultants, The Irish Hotels Federation, Focus Ireland, Barnardos — every last one of them criticised your budget. Companies, unions and interest-groups who have never before agreed, found themselves unified in universal and total rejection of a budget.

I couldn’t believe that not one single agency, organisation, company or union had anything positive to say. Then one positive appeared. Just one enthusiastic response. One single, solitary organisation that welcomed the budget. It was the Construction Industry Federation.
It is good to see that you are at least consistent. In good times and bad you keep one thing constant; you may disappoint the nation, but you never disappoint the construction industry.

This government has been in power for more than ten long years. This government has claimed credit for every day that the sun shone. The sun stopped shining a long time ago, but the government was too lazy to get out of its deckchair. Too lazy. Too stale. Too arrogant. Too out of touch with the pressured lives of the mortgaged poor.

And yesterday — yesterday, the Minister for Finance, having already likened himself to the American President who dragged his nation out of a Depression, went even further in his hubris, in his presumption, in his out-of-touch impertinence. He called for patriotism.
Patriotism. Minister, Taoiseach, Tánaiste. Instead of spending the next few days spinning this disaster to media, you should try meeting some of the people you’ve impoverished and punished and try telling these exhausted, frazzled men and women about the ‘patriotic’ action they’re taking today in paying for your outrageous, reckless mistakes.

I can promise you you’ll get a two-word answer from them. It’s very easy for a Government that stopped listening to reality a long time ago to talk about patriotism in here. But march your high-flown words out there to the real world and you’ll quickly find your discounted brand of patriotism rejected. With heavy losses.

Because the people of this nation know how badly they have been served. They know the Taoiseach and the government he struggles to lead have achieved the unbelievable – they have produced disaster out of success. They have – for the first time in the history of the state – reversed progress and condemned hardworking committed people to a lower living standard than their parents and grandparents enjoyed. That’s some achievement, Taoiseach. That’s some achievement, Minister.

Taoiseach, you schmoozed your way through the last four budgets – dispensing gifts of government expenditure to all and sundry, without regard to cost or consequence.

Way back in May, when you were still claiming that the fundamentals of the economy were sound – what planet were you on? – way back then, I asked you what your economic rescue plan was. You said we weren’t facing Armageddon, when that clearly was what we were facing. You went on holidays. I kept asking. You came back and I kept asking. You eventually said that the plan would be revealed in the budget.

Yesterday’s budget revealed no plan. Yesterday’s budget fixed no fundamental problems
Yesterday’s budget ensured no future. Yesterday’s pick-and-mix punishment to a hardworking nation is best summed up by this morning’s headline, Taoiseach. This one.


This is a desperate budget, introduced by a desperate government. This is panic, not policy. This is denial, not direction. The government has tried to hide its miserable performance behind the international banking crisis. It won’t work, because it’s not true and the people know it’s not true. The international banking crisis has accelerated the decline in the Irish economy. But the decline was well underway long before the banks got into trouble.

Here are the facts, Taoiseach. Although I know you don’t like dealing in facts.

– 50,000 people joined the dole queues this year – the first year of your leadership. 100,000 more will join those dismal queues next year.
– Businesses the length and breadth of this country are fighting for survival – and, as the foreclosure figures this week proved – many of them are not succeeding.
– Couples whose dream was to own their own home are now paying more for a home worth hundreds of thousands less than they paid for it.

And what did you do for those couples? You slapped a 1% levy on every bit of their shrinking incomes. You raised VAT. You increased the price of petrol so that, last night, lines of cars were drawn up outside every garage as hard-pressed workers tried to fill the tanks of their cars before that extra cost came in. You raised their motor tax. You cut what they could reclaim on their medical expenses. You added a tenner to every airplane ticket they buy. You hiked hospital charges to make it more difficult for them to bring their sick child to A&E. You reduced their mortgage relief. You reduced the relief on money they’re trying to put into their pensions.

This is nothing less, A Cathaoirleach, than a declaration of war on the middle classes. That’s what it is. War on the middle classes.

But it’s more than war on the middle classes. It’s war on the future. Take education. As a former teacher, my view of education is that it’s about teaching our children not just to learn, but to think. Many parents are doing a lot of thinking today. Thinking about how they’re going to pay the new third-level registration fees for their children. Yes, the rich will be fine.

But the hardpressed middle classes, the even harder-pressed less well off, will find it harder and harder now to send their children to university. So much for the claims that Ireland’s future was as a knowledge economy. Like all Fianna Fail claims, it’s not worth the paper it was written on. It’s an election-winner, and then the people who entrusted their hopes and dreams and the future of their children to Fianna Fail find that they have to find more money, out of a diminished income, and that they’re being told to think of it as patriotism.

Patriotism has been described as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Never has that statement been more true. Yesterday, my colleague, Richard Bruton, described the Budget as hitting “any family and every family, any business and every business.”

Richard Bruton is right. Just as he was right, down through recent months and years, when he highlighted:

– the failure to manage soaring government expenditure;
– the failure to reform the public sector even see the need for reform,
– the danger of building spending programmes on the back of temporary tax windfalls from an overheating property market,
– the failure to take hard decisions.

Richard Bruton was not the only economic expert warning of disaster. Similar warnings came from the IMF; the OECD, the ESRI, the Central Bank. They all highlighted the fundamental structural instability of an economy built on the property market and little else. They all pointed to our over-dependence on the jobs and the one off taxes coming from construction.

The Taoiseach and his party (and his Coalition colleagues) wouldn’t listen. They were doing laps of honour for the departure of Bertie Ahern and the arrival of Brian Cowen, when their primary duty was to manage the finances and security of this country for the benefit of all.

They did the laps of honour really well. (Fianna Fail will cherish the recordings of Brian Cowen singing for years to come.) They did everything else really badly. Or not at all. The end result is that taxpayers are punch drunk from project failure, from appalling, preventable waste, and from public service underperformance.

And it is not as if – even now – this has been stopped. The recent C&AG Report highlighted ludicrous waste in the HSE and in the Department of Justice (where hundred of Garda cars purchased in 2006 were left idle through 2007). Time and time again, Fine Gael has pointed to the obscene waste of public money in projects such as PPARS, e-voting, the Terracotta Army of mini managers in the HSE.

The HSE of course has been the Holy of Holies for this government. The HSE was the organisation that would break the mould of the inefficient health board system. (Just as tax cuts would break the mould of the previous recession. Minister Harney has the unique distinction of having built her political career on a narrow set of ruthlessly-pursued objectives. And the unique distinction of sitting idly by while every one of those was disassembled by a Government in which she sits.)

The HSE was set up at an unspeakable cost in reports from management consultants. And that goes on to this very day. It was set up with a structure no management consultant would ever have recommended – a highly paid kitchen cabinet to insulate the CEO from painful realities.

From the outset, it failed and failed miserably. It failed on the front line, where patients – particularly women – died as a result of incompetence. Women given false hope and false all-clears. Women at the heart of loving families who will never get over the tragedy visited on them by a system supposed to serve them. Women who believed in Mary Harney’s promises and in Professor Drum’s claims. God love those women. God love those families.

They didn’t know the chaos, the over-populated chaos which had replaced the old health board system. They didn’t know the HSE had more PR people to the square inch than stitches in a wound. They didn’t know that the preservation of managers was the hidden mission of the health service under this government.

They’re not around, those women whose death was hastened by HSE failure; they’re not around to see this Government suddenly decide that they have a terra cotta army of irrelevant managers who must now be paid to go away. No real radical action to make the HSE perform. Just pay off some of the people who shouldn’t have been there for the last several years.

No parent ever carried their desperately sick child into the saying…. “quick… for God sake …someone.. get me a manager.” No son or daughter, watching their desperately ill eighty year old mother on a trolley for days, ever wanted one of the terra cotta army of managers this government left in place within the HSE.

They wanted care. Concern. Comfort. They didn’t get it. And now, they’re being told that some of the money that’s being taken out of their back pocket is going to pay off people who should never have been in the HSE in the first place.

At the same time, because of this Budget’s doubling of the hospital charge, more and more parents are, this winter, going to look at their feverish child wondering… is it just a rash… or is it strep…… or could it be the start of meningitis? Should we go to A&E? Can we afford to go to A&E?

But then, Professor Drumm says too many people go to A&E in the first place. This man, who has presided over serial disaster, has a lot in common with this government. He never listens.
He never takes the blame. He always protects the system against those it’s supposed to serve.

Perhaps because they share so much, this government has taken his figures and his views and disincentivised parents from getting the help their children need. A sorry day for a government.
A sorry day for families.

Because it says that this government is too busy mis-managing an economy to take account of the people that economy is supposed to support. The simple measure of the government’s abject performance is that we are provably in a far worse place than many of our European neighbours. No country has been immune to the Banking crisis – but when the international financial tsunami broke – we were already up to our necks in a flood of the government’s making. No other country has been so apathetic, so stale, so lazy in its response to the crisis.

In August, when it happened, the Spanish prime minister abandoned his holidays, instructed his ministers to do likewise, and went to work. (This was when Brian Cowen was failing to sink putts in the west of Ireland.) As a result, Spain is not in a recession. It’s weathering tough times. It’s weathering them with action, with innovation, with realism. But it’s not in a recession.

Ireland is in a dire recession, and yesterday’s Budget offered nothing in the way of light at the end of the tunnel. After the Budget, the people of this country know the promises that persuaded them to return Fianna Fail to power were an overdraft the people would have to pay back. With interest.

They know that they are poorer, right now. And will be poorer in every week of every month ahead. Not theoretically poorer. Really poorer. Poorer in a way that will hurt.

Because of this government’s war on the middle classes, an ordinary PAYE worker taking home 50,000 a year loses one thousand of their income. Directly. And then faces a rake of extra costs and hidden taxes draining away at their income.
If they’re lucky enough to keep their income and their job.

The people of this nation have boundless courage and an unequalled capacity to work. But this morning, they will read the details of a Budget that promises them a lowered standard of living. A seriously lowered standard of living. Some of them will be tipped into poverty. Nothing corrodes a family as does poverty brought about by circumstances they can’t control.

The new income levies are precisely that. They are crude in their design and impact. Once upon a time, before they caused us major problems, we levied the banks. Now that the banks have caused us enormous problems, this government doesn’t levy them at all: instead, this government slaps a levy on the mortgaged poor. This government rewards initiative, commitment and hard word by a crude and open theft of the worker’s hard-earned cash.

Now, in fairness, I have to acknowledge that this government has its strengths. Well, maybe I shouldn’t use the plural. This government has one strength. It’s good at spin.

It was spinning faster than a child’s top last night. Particularly about Social Welfare. Mary Hanafin’s department was the only one experiencing no cuts. Because it’s the department into whose care will fall the people who lose their jobs as a result of this Budget or who are tipped into poverty by it.

Now, set aside the spin and taste the reality. The reality is that for those on social welfare, the increases are likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2009. The pensioners who get an extra Euro a day – wow – will see the value of that single Euro go down the tubes as the benefit of the medical card for over seventies gets means tested. They have cut 250,000 hours of home help. The unemployed will get reduced benefits – Job Seekers Benefits have been hacked back.

All this has been done under the spin of “No cutbacks in the funding doing to Mary Hanafin,” in the hope that no-one would notice the reality, which is that the weak and vulnerable are continuing to suffer.

Well, I have noticed. I will lead the Opposition in a relentless battle on their behalf. This Budget is all about taking back. Taking back from the decent diligent people who carry no responsibility for the disaster this Government has failed to avert. We have cutbacks in medical care provision and increased A&E charges. Families in Dublin will pay an additional €20,000 per year for long-term nursing home care of their elderly relatives.

(Does anybody remember the Fair Deal scheme that was going to make long-term care of the elderly accessible and anxiety free? If you do, just remind yourself of this Government’s mantra: Give a thing, take it back…)

This nation faces a cut in direct front line services in education, an actual increase in class sizes. While the government works out how to bail out the banks, parents are continually asked to bail out national schools – whether they can afford it or not. It’s a tax on parents – who are already hard pressed by rising food and fuel prices and economic uncertainty. (Does anybody remember the promises, in Education, of Micheál Martin and Noel Dempsey? Give a thing, take it back…)

For families, this Budget is a double-edged sword. The pain starts here and now. The real suffering will be felt six months down the road.

For businesses, it’s the same double-edged sword. Rises in car tax, petrol tax, travel tax, rises in capital gains tax and the prospect of more to come next year affect every citizen in this nation and every business, likewise.

Business is at the heart of Irish society. It drives and shapes and innovates. We have produced some of the most innovative companies in new business areas and ones that have transformed traditional industries. For business, the government’s key role is to manage the economic context. It didn’t.

It distanced itself from its own responsibilities. Let me give you just one example. The government established the National Competitiveness Council – and then ignored its reports. The mired businesses in regulation and red tape. They failed to drive competition into public transport or energy provision. They failed to deliver broadband. There are retail businesses in every town in Ireland that will simply close before the next budget. Every one of those closures will be a little tragedy for an individual, a family, a community.

They’ll close because they are crippled by increased government charges and because their cash flow will be hit by changing the payment dates for corporate tax in 2009 – spending tax for 2010 in 2009.

The sector which has already brought businesses to their knees is now in a bizarre partnership with this government. And so the Budget made no mention of the strong active regulation of the banking sector needed to protect the public interest.

This budget was borne out of a failure to take responsibility and an avoidance of blame. It emerges from a continued commitment to vested interests like the construction industry and the banks.

It may well push the economy from recession into depression. Fundamentally the budget is about raising taxes, anywhere and everywhere the Department of Finance could think of. It breaks basic economic rules:

– It continues to take money out of the economy rather than get better value for money already being spent.
– It commits us to massive borrowing – for day to day expenditure. A crucial economic error.
– It is horrifyingly over-optimistic for the years ahead.
– It makes no effort to reform a broken system.

Instead, it does U-turns. Panic instead of policy. U-turns on capital gains tax, u-turns on the medical card for the over 70s. And the signal of more U-turns next year: they will tax child benefit – a policy successive governments have opposed for decades.

This Budget is a portent of disaster. Despite the advance claims that the Government would take tough decisions, they haven’t. Instead, we’re promised more consultative committees. Without change at the heart of the economy change we simply won’t get back on a road to prosperity. We will not achieve anything if we simply take an axe to government spending without thought for the consequence. If we just play a numbers game.

21st Century Ireland needs 21st Century government – not the tarnished and jaded approaches of the last century. That’s why Fine Gael has proposed to:

– Freeze spending for 2009 to 2008 levels, with the exception of social welfare.
– Find nominal savings of 3% in each department. We have to freeze public sector pay for 2009 – we all have to feel the pain.
– Levy a fair charge on the banks for the Guarantee that’s kept them in business.
– Put in place a redundancy programme for 5,000 civil servants.

We also need to spend to protect those at most risk from the downside of the recession. In our plans, we didn’t set out to kid ourselves or anybody else, as the Minister for Finance did yesterday. He spoke of “Retrofitting homes” when in fact he was retrofitting reality. Yesterday was a brazen exercise in economic and political revisionism.

The reality is that for an easy political ride, this Government mortgaged the country to the builders and the developers and the speculators, creating a new elite, and now they demand that the hardworking Irish taxpayer bail them out.

And the Minister has a name for it. He calls it patriotism. Sir, this pointless punishment of the undeserving mortgaged poor is not patriotism. It is a war on the middle classes, a war on business and a failure to protect the vulnerable.

The Budget is no solution to the dire consequences of your Government’s bored, stale and frankly irresponsible failure to manage this economy over the past decade. It is a profoundly shameful shoring up of failure at the expense of the people of the nation.

I’ll post more on the budget later..

UUP – Ignored by main stream media?

Sir Reg Empey leader of the Ulster Unionist Party recently gace a speech to the UUP AGM back at the end of last month. Now I did not see this being reported in the mainstream media, which is shocking as it is an excellent speech on the future for the UUP and unionism in general in Northern Ireland. I found it via the UUP page on facebook.

The speech was excellent and will make me listen very carefully to the UUP in future. It is a pity that I did not see it in the main stream media and I hope they will remina invigorated until the next council elections and assembly elections in 2011. Some excerpts from the speech below.

We had to unite and reinvigorate the Party. That means attracting younger candidates; more women; and better communicators. We have to have the ability to land punches without looking like brawlers. We have to be seen to be offering choice, change and vision.

The electorate does not vote for a party seen to be in decline. But those days are over. So we must now be seen as a party of ideas, of policies and of “normal” politics. And we must have a view of and agenda for Northern Ireland which appeals to the widest possible base.

We need to turn the page on the old politics of Unionist against Nationalist; and close the book on the even older politics of Protestant versus Roman Catholic.

Here Empey is back to what the UUP should be pushing New Politics! Getting young people and women involved this is something faced by every political party

I am often asked if it annoys me that the DUP, in March 2007—having hounded us every step of the way—immediately repudiated almost every policy and mantra they ever espoused and somersaulted their way into an Executive structure that contains five Sinn Fein ministers, rather than the two we had in 1998?

Ladies and Gentlemen, “Annoy” doesn’t begin to sum it up!

I am sick of the DUP now claiming the credit for everything good that has happened in Northern Ireland since 1998. Particularly when they did everything they could to undermine the efforts we were making.

They told us that the Irish Government would never accept an internal settlement. They told us that Sinn Fein would never buy into partition. They told us that the IRA would never move on the issues of decommissioning or recognition of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland.

Do you remember the days when an IMC Report would never have satisfied the DUP? Or when the word of a couple of clergy on decommissioning would have been regarded by them as laughable? Or when a motion from a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis would have been dismissed as utterly worthless?

And I am sick of the fact that the DUP took a political formula aimed at providing power-sharing and genuine cooperation and turned it into a carve-up based on mutual loathing and balanced by mutual veto.

Ladies and Gentlemen, when I look at Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson today, snuggling under the duvet with Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness, I have only one question to ask them: was it really worth it?

When you look at the DUP’s U-turns and at their backtracking from every pledge they ever made, can you honestly say that it justified your efforts to destroy your old party and undermine your former colleagues?

Yes, the Ulster Unionist Party may have had made mistakes on the journey to what we truly believed was an honourable settlement in Northern Ireland; but at least no-one can accuse us of hypocrisy and sheer naked opportunism.

So he doesn’t like the DUP it seams. I have to agree with him though. He makes extremely valid points!

The DUP still boasts of their successes at St Andrews and the better, fairer deal they returned with. Oh really!

Try telling the electorate of Dromore about that better deal—where a majority of the unionist electorate voted against the DUP candidate.

Try boasting of the better deal to those once core followers who have defected to the TUV—claiming that they have been sold-out

Try convincing the Paisleys—Snr and Jnr—who have been toppled in a brutal coup: And toppled because their MLA group panicked when they became aware of the groundswell of discontent that accompanied the “better” deal.

And try selling the better deal to the tens of thousands of parents who have still no idea what is happening to those children who will be transferring from primary to secondary school in the next few years.

The next elections will be critical for the DUP, not so much Sinn Fein. SDLP have not reinvigorated has much as the UUP have.

Peter [Robinson] will try and cosy up to us with soft words about cooperation and the need to maximise the overall unionist vote. But let no-one forget that his fingerprints are on every aspect of the DUP’s tactics and strategies over the past decades. He, personally, ran the propaganda machine that spat out most of the venom at this party.

So let me put it bluntly: the Ulster Unionist Party didn’t endure the orchestrated abuse against us since 1997; or the tidal wave of attacks upon our integrity; or the vilification of our leading figures; simply to strike up a marriage of convenience with a DUP which is worried about the impact of Jim Allister.

And we haven’t overhauled our structures, transforming ourselves into a more effective political and electoral machine, just to help Peter Robinson out of a possible electoral hole.

Yes, there are areas in which the DUP and UUP can cooperate. I have no objection to that. But cooperation is a two-way process. It may have taken some people almost forty years to uncover the true nature of the DUP—which can be summed up as a sustained campaign to destroy the UUP—but too many of us in this room know too much about the DUP to be easily swayed by romantic overtures at this stage of the game.

Theres a warning to the DUP. I think he means business! Go on Sir Reg!

People sometimes wonder what we mean when we talk of “normal politics” and dealing with the so-called bread and butter issues. I’ll tell you what I mean.

In recent weeks, families of all income groups have been reeling from a sustained series of price hikes on those goods and services which are essential to modern living. Fuel, Gas, electricity, transport, mortgages and food are going up literally every day. On the 5th May I bought diesel at 117.9p. Yesterday I saw it at 131.9p!

That is only one example. Every vital item is affected; bread, milk, butter etc. This will feed through into inflation and people will naturally be seeking more wages to pay for it.

It will present the Assembly with an enormous challenge. People will want answers. They won’t be bought off with rhetoric about a United Ireland or a United Kingdom. They won’t be bought off with laying the blame at the door of the Chancellor in 11 Downing Street. And they certainly won’t be impressed by the various political parties in that Assembly indulging in a tit-for-tat propaganda battle.

Child poverty and fuel poverty are already everyday facts of life for too many families in Northern Ireland. Recent price rises are making the achievement of child poverty reduction targets almost impossible. Even supposedly well-to-do families are surviving on loans and credit cards.

Is this really the right time to burden our most vulnerable people with new water charges? We have already seen what the 10p tax revolt has done to Gordon Brown.

In our manifesto for the last Assembly election we spoke of the need for “normal politics”—the need to produce and deliver policies which address the socio/economic concerns of everyone in Northern Ireland. A recession makes no distinction between a UUP voter and a SF voter. A mortgage hike can be as devastating to someone in Cultra as it is to someone in Taughmonagh.

We have argued for years that devolution would make a difference to Northern Ireland. It has to make a difference—and it has to be a difference for the better. A recent poll in the Belfast Telegraph had 72% saying that it had made no difference to their lives so far. The Assembly cannot be seen to be impotent in the face of the huge challenges we face. The electorate would be unforgiving.

If ever there was a time for the people and parties of Northern Ireland to stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of oncoming difficulties, then this is that moment. How the Assembly and the Executive Committee deal with the array of problems we face will, ultimately, determine the fate of devolution here.

Excellent! Sir Reg heads the nail on the head to what the UUP need to do! Actually what all Northern Parties need to do!

Full Speech

Also the new website is very good and Unionist TV is a great resource fr those interested in the UUP.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, Speech in the Seanad

Here is the text of Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament’s Address to Seanàd Éireann. He is the second President of the Parliament to Address the upper house, Pat Cox being the first back in October 2002.

A Chathaoirligh agus a Sheanadóirí, is mór an onóir dom a bheith anseo inniu libh san áras ársa seo. For your benefit and mine, I will continue in English. It is even more for my benefit that I do so.

On behalf of the European Parliament, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind invitation. Let me at the outset thank Members of Seanad Éireann here today for inviting me to address your Chamber. This is a great honour for me and the European Parliament. As the leader of one democratic institution to Members of another I say, “Thank you.” As President of the European Parliament, I hope to visit every one of the 27 member states of the EU during my two and a half year term of office.

I am delighted to be here in Ireland at a very important time in the context of the future development of the European Union. The last President of the European Parliament to address the Irish Seanad was Mr. Pat Cox, as mentioned by the Cathaoirleach. He was a great ambassador for the European Union during his tenure of office. We worked in an excellent way together on the basis of common ideals and goals. Pat Cox was an extraordinary President of the European Parliament.

I am, if Members will allow me to say, one of only six members of the European Parliament who have been there without interruption since the first direct elections were held in 1979.

Over the past 29 years I have made many Irish friends in Europe, many of whom have held very high office at European level. I started my work in 1979 in the regional committee which was and is so important for Ireland. The co-ordinator for my group was Mr. Tom O’Donnell who has been always a good friend. I am happy to see here Mary Banotti, with whom I also worked closely in the European Parliament.

Mr. Peter Sutherland was an inspiring member of the European Commission. He revolutionised the European airline industry by opening up the European airline sector to competition in the 1980s. We have all seen the clear success of this policy with cheaper air fares. As an island nation, the Irish people are aware of the benefits of this policy more than most.

Mr. Ray MacSharry as EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development reformed the operation of the Common Agricultural Policy in 1992. The Common Agricultural Policy was the first truly European Community policy and it remains an important EU-wide initiative in terms of the EU budget and in terms of what it says about a community built on solidarity and human concerns. For Ireland, it is worth €2.2 billion in payments from Europe to Irish farmers and to Irish rural communities during the current financing perspective from 2007 to 2013.

The then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, and the then Tánaiste, Deputy Dick Spring, ran an impressive Irish Presidency of the European Union in 1996. John, who is a good friend of mine with whom I liaised closely during a crucial time as presidency member of the European Convention, the body which drafted the constitutional treaty, is now a very highly respected and influential EU ambassador to the United States of America.

The internal market Commissioner, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, currently heads up economic policy making at European level and in recent times has been dealing with the EU response to current difficulties on the international financial markets.

In the current legislature, Mr. Brian Crowley, MEP, is chairman of the fourth largest political group. He always has been a good and reliable colleague and friend. Ms Mairead McGuinness, MEP, chaired our committee of inquiry into equitable life insurance. Ms Avril Doyle, MEP, has been just nominated rapporteur on the emission trading scheme and will steer through parliament this key piece of EU climate change legislation.

I have a good working relationship with the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, and with the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy Enda Kenny, who is from the same pan-European political family as myself. I must be more objective, but I am sure Members will allow me to mention that. Deputy Enda Kenny is now the vice president of the European People’s Party.

Not only is Ireland a long-standing member of the European Union since 1973, it is a leading member of the Union and is playing a key role in policy making at a European level. I recall – if I as a German am allowed to say this in this important Chamber – when we were in the process of German unification following the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the crucial decisions were taken in Dublin during the 1990 Irish Presidency under the Government of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Charles Haughey, and the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gerry Collins. I was told he is here but I have not seen him.

I mention him although I did not know he was present. They seized the historical momentum and carefully sought the agreement of the European partners.

The current secretary general of the European Commission is an Irish woman, Ms Catherine Day. The country has important ladies in office. I have just come from the castle – I do not know if that is the appropriate word to describe it – but it is a beautiful house where I met Madam President, Mary McAleese, a short while ago. The previous secretary general of the European Commission was also one of your countrymen, Mr. David O’Sullivan.

In 2004, when we had an Irish President of the Parliament, an Irish President of the Council and an Irish secretary general of the Commission, I recall thinking the Irish have taken over the place, but they have done so with charm, good humour and remarkable efficiency. I thank the Members for this. They should take over the leadership of the European Union more often; the so-called bigger countries would learn a great deal from the Irish.

Ireland has been a highly respected member of the European Union from day one. Many countries, particularly the former Communist countries of Central and Easter Europe who acceded to the Union in 2004 during the Irish Presidency of the European Union, look on this country as a role model in Europe. When I travel to countries such as Poland, Lithuania or Slovakia, I hear people talk about the Irish model of making the most out of the opportunities presented by EU membership and turning their countries into economic success stories. Ireland has left its mark on the Union in many ways.

One policy where Irish influence is very strong in Europe is in the area of development aid. Ireland is the sixth largest contributor of development aid per capita in the world. It will contribute €922 million in development aid this year. As a country that was once poor, but which has grown wealthy within Europe, Ireland has not forgotten what it was to be without. Ireland has been a shining example in a Union which itself shows the way to the rest of the world, and it can be proud of this.

The role of Irish NGOs in overseeing and participating in many EU development aid programmes at all times deserves the highest of praise. Many of these volunteers from civil and religious society work in extremely difficult environments. The European Union seeks to promote democracy, good governance, human rights and the rule of law around the world. The European Union project is a force for peace. The EU has brought peace to the continent of Europe after two very destructive world wars in the 20th century. As a German, born in September 1945 and growing up in the aftermath of the evil destruction of the Second World War and the Holocaust, my personal commitment to the European project was shaped by the determination of visionaries such as Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Aldice de Gasperi and others, that never again should there be war between the peoples of Europe. Schuman’s dream that war should not only be morally repugnant but also made materially impossible, has been made a reality. This is unique, not only in European history, but in world history also, and is the basis of our European engagement.

I support the European Union participating in peacekeeping operations around the world, with the backing of the United Nations. EU peacekeeping missions have successfully served in ATSI, Indonesia, Palestine, Bosnia and Kosovo. Having brought peace to our continent, I am proud that we are helping to build a global peace. The 4,500-strong EU peacekeeping mission is now being deployed in Chad. This mission will help to address many of the humanitarian problems at present being faced by the 300,000 refugees in the camps in eastern Chad. The men, women and children in these camps have fled from the barbarity of the genocide that is taking place in Sudan. The international community must continue to do more to stop militia attacks against the people of Darfur. This EU peacekeeping operation, with United Nations support, is under the strong leadership of an Irishman, Lt. General Patrick Nash, and will help to bring stability and peace to Chad and the volatile central African region.

The European Union aims to help build a world where peace and understanding triumph over hostility and despair. On the 50th anniversary of Ireland first taking part in United Nations peacekeeping, I should like to pay tribute to all the Irish Army personnel who have served – and continue to serve – on some 75 UN missions to date. The Irish flag has flown together with the United Nations banner in many parts of the world, and I am sure it will continue to do so for many years to come.

By good fortune, my first visit to Ireland as President of the European Parliament is within a few days of the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This is a useful occasion to reflect on the role that the European Union has played in bringing peace and reconciliation to the island of Ireland. Irish and British membership of the European Union undoubtedly provided the common space that helped to build the close relations between political leaders. These close relations, in turn, helped create the conditions in which peace could flourish.

Since 1995, the European Union has also contributed more than €1.65 billion in financial support to promote economic and social regeneration within the Border counties and in Northern Ireland. This support has been given through a variety of funds, including the INTERREG cross-border programme, the EU PEACE fund, mainstream Structural Funds and the International Fund for Ireland. The European Parliament has always overwhelmingly supported strong EU financial aid programmes for Northern Ireland and the Border counties. The peace process in Ireland can and must be used as a model to help resolve other conflicts in Europe and around the world. Ireland has shown that it can achieve peace but that it takes real courage, determination, leadership, understanding and forgiveness.

As a Catholic, I am impressed that the Seanad starts its meetings with a prayer. I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber for it. Personalities who do this can forgive and this is part of our beliefs and values. I congratulate the Members on having the courage to pray in their Chamber. This is a very personal remark and I thank the Members for giving this example.

John Hume, who together with David Trimble won the Nobel Peace Prize, was a great Member of the European Parliament. We worked together from 1979 in the regional committee. He described the European Union itself as the greatest peace process in history. MEPs from Ireland and Northern Ireland have worked and have continued to work together within the European Parliament on issues of common concern, including on EU regional, social and agricultural policy, consumer protection initiatives and cross-border co-operation.

The Single Market has been a great success for the European Union, including Ireland. It has been vital for Ireland as an exporting country with a very open economy. With the elimination of transaction costs, the single European currency, the euro, has brought clear benefits to consumers and businesses alike. We should ask ourselves where Europe would be at this time of economic difficulty, and with trouble on the international financial markets, if the euro did not exist. People are not thinking of the great advantage afforded by the European currency. If our common currency were not an operating currency in 15 different member states, we would be in the same situation we were in 1992 when international currency speculators played one EU currency off against the other.

Let me make some remarks on the reform treaty. When the treaty was signed in Lisbon on 13 December, I spoke about the remarkable growth in democracy in the European Union in the short period since the first European election in 1979. Democracy is a big winner in this treaty. The treaty helps to promote the democratic legitimacy of the European Union. From its starting point as an appointed and consultative Assembly in 1958, the now directly-elected European Parliament has become the true voice of almost 500 million European citizens. It is now an equal player with a Council of Ministers on a range of policy issues. The Lisbon reform treaty will boost our so-called co-decision powers to almost 100% of European policy areas. The treaty also extends the role of national parliaments and gives them, including this House, the guardianship of subsidiarity. Members of the Seanad and their fellow parliamentarians will protect the balance between the Union and the member states.

I would like to dispel the myth that the European Union is all powerful. Under the doctrine of conferral, the European Union has only the powers the different EU treaties drawn up by the member states give it. For example, the EU does not set our tax rates, regardless of what one reads in the newspapers. It does not run our health, education and social services, nor does it decide our citizenship laws. The Union does only those things that the member states have decided to do together since they can achieve better results by acting in common than by acting alone on a national level. The essential secret of the EU’s success is that it is a unique union of member states which respects the interests and rights of all of them, whether they are great or small. I wish that the so-called great countries would appreciate more the work of the smaller countries, from whose behaviour – especially Ireland – they could learn a great deal.

This reform treaty is about ensuring the European Union can become even more democratic, more efficient and more effective in how it will carry out its business into the future. Strong European institutions are the best guarantee for the implementation of solidarity and ensuring the concerns of all member states, large, medium and small alike, are taken into consideration.

The European Union must face up to new challenges such as ensuring climate change targets are met on time, energy supplies are protected, greater co-operation at an EU level to tackle cross-border drug smuggling, confronting organised crime and defeating international terrorism. These challenges are clearly too large for any one country to meet and therefore we must meet them the European way by pooling our resources and working together.

I will make some remarks on climate change. The European Union has promised to lead the world towards a global post-Kyoto agreement with binding targets. The eyes of the world will be on us throughout 2008 and 2009 until Copenhagen. We must fulfil these expectations. I recently visited the United Nations and the Secretary General and all other people I met there asked us – and they support us – to take a real leadership. To take leadership in a question of preserving the environment or, as I would prefer to say, preserving the creation is a wonderful, peaceful leadership we have the responsibility to accept.

With the energy package, the European Union now has a sound and credible policy framework for achieving the goals it has set itself. Putting the European Union on the path to a low-carbon future certainly demands a considerable commitment, but it also brings real opportunities for growth and increased competitiveness. If the European Union manages to take the lead in environmental-friendly technologies such as carbon capture and storage, this would give it a decisive competitive edge on the global market.

To fulfil its role as European co-legislator and to be able to make well-informed choices, in April last year the European Parliament established the Temporary Committee on Climate Change. This committee will play a critical role in achieving a deal on the energy package. We want to achieve a result before the European elections in June 2009 and thus in time for the United Nations conference which will take place in Copenhagen the following December. If we do not succeed in this, the Europeans will not have a position and this conference might fail. Therefore, the work in the European Parliament is important and I ask all of the Senators to support us.

Adopting the energy package as soon as possible is also a matter of credibility, as the European Union’s role as leader in the fight against climate change is not just about setting targets. If we want to be able to convince our partners world wide to participate in a global and binding framework, we will have to deliver.

The European Parliament has overwhelmingly endorsed the Lisbon reform treaty. I wish to state clearly that I fully support this treaty, as indeed I backed the earlier constitutional treaty which was agreed under the skilful negotiations of the 2004 Irish Presidency. However, I also wish to make it clear that the method of ratification in each of the 27 member states is a matter for that country alone. Ratification through national parliaments is as equally valid and legitimate as the referendum due to be held in Ireland by virtue of its Constitution.

I firmly believe that it is in the future economic and political interest of the European Union as a whole that this treaty be ratified. This House will understand that I will be hoping for a “Yes” vote by the Irish electorate on referendum day. However, this is, of course, a decision that only the Irish voters can make and it is not up to me or any other person to tell them how to vote.

I trust in the wisdom of the Irish electorate which is perhaps the best-informed electorate in the EU about European matters. This is in no small way due to its excellent National Forum on Europe under the very fair and able chairmanship of a former Member of this House, Maurice Hayes. I pay tribute to him and the work of his excellent body.

This is yet another area where Ireland has shown leadership. Many European countries have followed by creating such mechanisms to involve citizens and civil society in EU policymaking.

If the House allows it, I urge that a balanced and reasoned debate during this referendum campaign takes place in Ireland over the coming weeks. All interested parties need to be given space to air their views. I hope that scare tactics and falsehoods are avoided. I hear from colleagues from the European Parliament who mislead the Irish people. We should reject this.

I am a believer in the defence of human life. If somebody says that this is affected by European law and this reform treaty, it is not true. The matter of how Ireland protects life is a matter for Irish policy. I say this as a Catholic. I defend Ireland’s position. Ireland should not believe these people and should look into their backgrounds, from where they received their education and what they want to tell today. I am very outspoken because I am annoyed by what I sometimes read and hear, particularly from one colleague from the European Parliament.

As Members of the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, I am sure that Members will all take a particular interest in the provisions of the Lisbon treaty that, for the first time, give a legally guaranteed role to national parliaments in the EU legislative process. The European Parliament greatly welcomes this development as we see the national parliaments as our partners in ensuring strong parliamentarianism, which is key to democratic control over the executive branch of government. It is on this basis that we organise regular joint parliamentary meetings of the European Parliament and national parliaments so that we can co-operate on such issues of concern to our electorates as climate change, the cultural dialogue and the Lisbon strategy.

While economic integration is an ongoing process at an EU level, the European Union has always been conscious of the need to ensure that cultural, linguistic and national diversities are fully protected and promoted within a European context. Unity in diversity is our ambition. On 1 January 2007, the Irish language – Gaelic – became an official language of the European Union following a proposal by the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and supported by all 27 EU governments. This is another example of how the EU respects and promotes diversity.

In conclusion, where injustice rears its ugly head around the world and where there are breaches of human rights, Europe must speak out, regardless of whether these take place in Israel, Palestine, Tibet, Zimbabwe, Guantanamo Bay or Belarus, which is the last Stalinist dictatorship in Europe. Let us never forget that the eastern part of our continent lived in a situation in which Belarus is still living and it is our duty to defend the people in their peaceful fight for democracy and legal order. Let us not forget the people of Belarus.

Speaking with one voice, representing 500 million people and 27 different countries, the EU can and should play a more influential role on the international stage. The European Union can be a strong voice and a force for peace, freedom, justice and democracy. Europe is a force for good, but we must keep communicating to the people of Europe so that they can fully understand what work is being carried out at a political level in the European Union. We can look on the achievements of those who founded the European Union with a great sense of pride. From an initial six member states in 1957 there are now 27 members with many other European countries seeking membership of the Union. This is a serious sign that Europe is heading in the right direction. The people in Ireland can look on their achievements in Europe with a great sense of pride. They have brought common sense, innovation and commitment to the European decision-making table, and in the name of the European Parliament I thank Ireland and its people for the great Irish contribution to European unity.

A former Member of this House, Michael Yeats, was a member of the pre-1979 European Parliament. His father, Ireland’s great national poet, W. B. Yeats, of course also served his country as a Member of Seanad Éireann and I would like to conclude by quoting some lines of one of his most beautiful poems. For me these lines bring to mind the delicate nature of what we have constructed together in Europe, inspired by the dreams and visions of that great post-war generation:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

An excellent speech that was followed by a question and answer session

Parliamentry Reports, Seanad Debates, Vol. 189 No. 1 – Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Did you know? JFK spoke in Cologne

On friday night in conversations with friends I was asked did I know did JFK speak in Cologne?. I said no, as I didn’t. Well he did and he used the words “Kolle Alaaf” which makes perfect sense compared to his “Ich bin ein Berliner”, I am a Jelly Donut. Here is the Remarks of JFK at the Rathaus in Cologne After Signing the Golden Book on June 23rd, 1963.

Chancellor Adenauer, Lord Mayor, citizens of Cologne:

It is a pleasure and an honor to sign the Golden Book of this ancient city. I bring you greetings from the citizens of America, including the citizens of Cologne, Minn.; Cologne, N.J.; and even Cologne, Tex.

It is most appropriate that I come to this city which is so closely identified with the life and the work of your great Chancellor. It was here for many years, that he first practiced the art of statecraft which has served the West so well. I am told that the Adenauer name continues on active duty here in this city. In my own country it is sometimes said that there are too many Kennedys in American public life. But I am certain that no one has made that complaint here about the Adenauers in the City of Cologne.

It is also appropriate that I come to a city which has long been a window to the outside world. As a citizen of Boston, which takes pride in being the oldest city in the United States, I find it sobering to come to Cologne where the Romans marched when the Bostonians were in skins. Many of my educational roots were planted in Boston, but 4 years before Harvard University was rounded, this was the city of Albertus Magnus, who taught St. Thomas Aquinas. For Cologne is not only an ancient German city, it is also an ancient European city, a city which, since Roman times, has played a special role in preserving Western culture, and Western religion, and Western civilization.

The problems of the Western world are, in many ways, different than they were 2000 years ago, but our obligations as citizens remain the same-to defend our common heritage from those who would divide and destroy it; to develop and enrich that heritage so that it is passed on to those who come after us. Your fellow citizen, Chancellor Adenauer, has fulfilled these obligations as a citizen of the West in full measure. And in keeping with the symbolic mosaic inside this building, he has worked for peace and freedom in this country, in all of Europe, and in all of the world. In this respect, he is true to the saying that the young student in Cologne would go to Paris to learn about life, to Holland to learn to count, and to Great Britain to become a tradesman.

It is in this spirit that I come to Cologne to see the best of the past, and the most promising of the future. May I greet you with the old Rhenish saying, “Koelle Alaaf.”


On Saturday Night I passed the place where he made the above speech. Will take a picture next time I’m in Köln.

The Full Speech, FG Ard Fheis 2007

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4