FG promises economic recovery within five years
Ireland can emerge successfully from the recession within five years if the crisis is used as an opportunity fundamentally to reform Irish public life, Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny told thousands of party delegates last night.
Speaking to the party’s 75th ardfheis, he said a Fine Gael plan would create 100,000 new jobs by the end of 2013 and bring the public finances back to health by 2012 – without increasing the standard and current top rates of income tax.
Ireland would once again return to the list of most-competitive countries in the world, while renewable energy could fulfil a quarter of Ireland’s energy needs by 2015, and make Ireland a net energy exporter within a decade.
Declaring optimism and confidence in the future, he said he believed that Ireland’s “courage, fairness and decisiveness” offers great hope that “we can point the way ahead to a new future, a fairer Ireland and a truly just society.
“This current crisis presents us with enormous challenges, but massive opportunities. I believe that Ireland can recover fully from this recession inside five years This mission can only be achieved if we choose the right options, make the tough but correct decisions, and act decisively and act now.
“We must act for the benefit of everybody in this country and not pander to any powerful vested interest. Be assured that under my leadership, Fine Gael will step up to the mark. We have the people, the ideas and the ambition,” he said.
Acknowledging global factors in Ireland’s recessions, he said Fianna Fail could have, and should have, anticipated the economic crisis: “The reality is that mismanagement by our own Government has meant that Ireland is suffering much more than other countries.
“Make no mistake about this – Fianna Fail are responsible for the state of our domestic woes. When our economy was strong, they squandered your money on wasteful projects, like e-voting machines, rather than investing in improving vital public services like schools and healthcare,” he said.
Fine Gael would cut waste and reduce bureaucracy, but it would not raise the existing taxation rates – though it would impose levies on those earning over €100,000: “Let me be straight - no country has ever taxed its way back to recovery.
“The problem with the public finances cannot be fixed by tax increases and crude spending cuts alone. As more and more people lose their jobs, the hole in the public finances gets bigger and bigger,” he told delegates.
The jobs crisis is the key political issue: “Losing a job doesn’t bring just financial hardship. Our sense of identity, dignity, self-worth and independence is bound up in our work. It gives our lives a purpose, without which it is all too easy to slip into feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
The shock of losing all that has now registered on the faces of over 375,000 people in this small country. That's why Fine Gael has continuously pointed the way forward and why we have placed job protection and job creation at the heart of our recovery plans. This country has drifted aimlessly in the past few years from one crisis to another with no vision of where to go or what to do. It was always too little, too late,” he said.
He said Fine Gael had set the policy agenda: “We were right on benchmarking, we were right on the scrapping of the National Pay Deal, we were right on Bank recapitalisation and on the need for a new Budget.”
Calling for major reforms in education, he said nine out of ten children should complete secondary school by 2013 and two thirds of those who do should go onto third level: “Our young people now have to compete against their peers around the world.
“That world will change utterly in the next 20 years as a consequence of further developments in robotics, nanotechnology, genetics, the internet and climate change. We have to be at the vanguard of that change and education is the key.
“Our young people have many advantages. Our education system can be and should be the best in the world. We have proven to be world class in music, literature, the arts and sport. We have a unique capacity in language and research,” he said .
Third level would remain free, he added: “Fine Gael will not deny any family the opportunity to send a son or daughter to college because of financial pressures. The gates to dreams and potential will remain open.
“We will not support the reintroduction of 3rd level fees and will abolish the current registration fee system. Instead, when they start to work and earn, graduates will make a fair contribution to the cost of their course over a five to 10 year period,” he said.