CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Last Friday people voted in Local and European elections. In 2012, the people will vote again on the composition of the next government.
The recent election results reflect the rupture that has occurred in Irish society in the past year.
People’s lives have been greatly upset by the recession caused by the global economic downturn and difficulties within our own economy. This Government has taken rapid measures to help people from the effects of the downturn, protect the vulnerable in society, arrest unemployment and lead Ireland back to growth.
This has meant some very difficult measures and a painful adjustment for people. When this Government examined the extent of our economic problems when the global downturn occurred, it became apparent that everybody would have to contribute to our recovery - even those who felt they had contributed nothing to economic crisis. The truth of the matter is everyone would have to feel some pain otherwise we simply won’t generate the revenue to pay our day-to-day bills.
We wish it could have been different and we hated taking these decisions but we had to act in the national interest.
This national effort is beginning to make an impact on Ireland’s international reputation and our ability to borrow the money necessary not just for economic recovery but for day to day expenditure.
However, these measures won’t immediately alleviate the immediate hardships of the recession on the person on the street. This will take a while longer.
These decisions have contributed to the Government’s unpopularity. When we took these measures we understood that people would be angry. But we believe they are the right decisions.
We heard the electorate on Friday. We have to work harder and more effectively to lead Ireland to recovery. We have to better explain the strategy to people everyday.
As a result, these elections were the first where global economic conditions radically impacted on local candidates’ chances of being elected.
The electorate returned a clear and loud protest against the economic situation our nation faces currently. We understand that. Unfortunately there is no painless way to guide us through this economic recession despite what the Opposition might say.
The Opposition obviously have sought to and succeeded in benefiting from Ireland’s economic problems. They have benefited from this protest vote but they have not received a mandate to lead.
My opposition colleagues are around long enough to know that these local elections results would not translate directly in a general election. They are being highly selective about the underlying message that the electorate have sent. Political scientists tell us that local elections and referenda are often used by the electorate as protest votes.
Since the 1985 local elections when Fianna Fail profited from a high level of dissatisfaction with the FG-labour government, its average vote at local elections has been 33 per cent. In contrast it has managed to win and average of 42% at Dail elections over the same period.
Governments lose local elections and the Opposition of the day call for a general election. That’s what happens. This motion is a time old political charade that has been seen to often in the past. We need new thinking!
Despite what the Opposition might say we have a clear mandate from the people to run the country for the next three years. We will continue to do so.
This Government has a 5 year mandate given to it by the people in 2007.
The reason Governments are given a 5 year term is so that they can take politically difficult decisions in the public interest. We intend to use that mandate to the full.
Of course, the attention has focussed on the number of seats lost by Government parties. That’s understandable. We have said that we are prepared to bear the brunt of public anger as we take the right decisions to help Ireland recover.
These are unpopular decisions.
But they are the right decisions.
These decisions, taken at a national level to deal with global economic conditions, had a huge impact on people at a local level.
We recognised when we introduced the tax levy and the public sector pension levy that we would face huge difficulties in these elections. But we still made those difficult decisions.
A number of Fianna Fáil candidates failed to be elected due to the unpopularity of these tough decisions. These candidates were hard working and effective with a lot to offer in their areas. I have no doubt they will again represent their constituents on councils around the country.
People who lose their jobs or see their living standards reduced have a right to make their feelings known to government. They should demand and receive a rapid response from their Government.
This Government is making the right decisions to lead Ireland to a recovery. This has been verified by the EU, the ECB, the ESRI and today I note by Goodbody stockbrokers along with others.
People are still reeling from the effects of the global financial meltdown. But the current crisis has thrown into sharp relief some of the complacencies that have grown up in Irish society during the boom years. Our open exporting economy has been terribly exposed by the drop in global demand for Irish products.
Our response to this crisis must be new because this is a crisis the likes of which we have never seen before.
With the greatest respect to Deputies opposite, I remind them that Sean Lemass used to refer to Fianna Fail as Ireland’s real Labour Party. He built up and transformed our economy and that too is what we must do in our time. Our strategy must now be based on what James Connolly described as Ireland’s best asset - her people.
It is the creativity and ingenuity of people and their ability to invent new products and services that will drive Ireland’s future growth. Entrepreneurial activity in Ireland is well above the European average with as many as 2,800 people setting up businesses every month. As a Government we will do our utmost to create the best possible environment for these entrepreneurs.
The Smart economy is based on our position as one of the worlds most open economies. The future will depend largely on exports. We need thousands of thriving Irish companies creating high-value products and services that will provide well-paid, quality employment.
The Smart Economy is based on our strengths. Strengths like a young and educated workforce.
Strengths like one of the best concentrations of high-tech multinationals in Ireland. Strengths like natural resources such as wind and sea that give us an advantage over our competitors. The billions we are investing in these areas now will reap rewards soon
We have other strengths. Our landscapes, cities and culture that attract millions of tourists every year. Our food which is valued around the world. A consistently improving infrastructure, proximity to markets and a strong exporting sector. These are the areas which this Government intends to focus on.
Another key quality of our country is its size. Being small should allow us to be nimble. We should be able to adapt quickly and steal the march on our competitors if we all act now.
If the will is there, we can work together in the coming months to improve efficiency and increase productivity across all sectors. This is the only way we can achieve the competitiveness we will depend on to bring growth and jobs that are sustainable.
As we all know, the world has changed radically in the past ten years. No country acts alone now. We are all connected.
This is why allies are so important to our Republic, and during the recent turbulence, none has been as important as the EU. Have no doubt about it. Being a member of the EU was crucial to our survival of the international crisis. Without their support, we would be in a much worse place today.
This Government’s core belief is that the future of this country demands that we be full, positive and active members of the European Union.
I hope Ireland can strengthen our relationship with Europe when we vote on a new package of measures as part of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. This work will be crucial to the Government’s agenda in the period ahead and I believe it is incumbent on everyone in this Oireachtas to work to ensure Ireland takes its place at the heart of a vibrant European Union, and help shape its future as a confident and essential partner. That is vital work ahead of us all.
I commend this motion to the House.
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