'This is a time for effort and endurance. Persistence and patience. For serious application to the job'
This is an abridged version of the keynote speech given on Saturday by Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore:
IRELAND IS a great country, and we are going to recover. There will again be good jobs and opportunities.
This country will be the best place to raise a family, to work, to live and to age with dignity.
Our Republic will be fair, and just, and renewed. We will pull out of these tough times.
A little over a year ago, the people of this country asked the Labour Party and Fine Gael to form a new national government.
Every day since then, we have worked the long hours to honour that trust. Two parties, two traditions. But with one single-minded goal.
Recovery. An Ireland that is prosperous and fair. An Ireland which will provide work, a decent living and a secure future for our children. On the day that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and I led our two teams into Government Buildings, we were handed the biggest heap of debt ever to land on the lap of a new Government.
But worse than that, the bad debts of the banks had been saddled onto the State and the taxpayer. The country was being run at a massive loss – spending €10 for every €7 being taken in. The difference was being borrowed, but because Fianna Fáil could no longer get anyone to lend to us, they had handed over our economic sovereignty to the IMF and the ECB.
This good country, which had been built up by the hard work of the Irish people, was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and ruin. There were times in those first few weeks, when I feared that we would topple over the cliff, and that it might take generations to recover. That we might go the way of some banana republic.
But we have now succeeded in pulling it back from the edge, stabilising our economy and our finances, restoring our international reputation and laying the foundations for recovery. And tonight, 13 months into the five-year life of this National Government, I am confident our strategy is working.
I will not exaggerate our achievements, nor will I underestimate what is yet to be done. Neither will I ignore what has been left undone, or done badly, but in difficult times we can report progress. The economy is growing again. Small growth, but the first growth we have seen for almost four years.
We are increasing our exports and trade; attracting in new investment and jobs; opening up new markets, such as China.
We have renegotiated the EU-IMF deal; got the interest rate reduced and replaced the crippling Anglo Promissory note this year with a long-term bond.
We had to bring in a difficult budget but, unlike previous times, there was no increase in income tax for working people, no cut in basic social welfare rates, and we were able to provide €2 billion for new schools and money to start the shift to universal health care. And we restored the national minimum wage.
But that is only a start. We have so much more to do. Because there are so many households in mortgage distress; workers who cannot get a job to match their qualifications or skills; families whose children are emigrating; businesses that still cannot get credit from the banks.
Resolving these problems is what recovery is all about. We are working hard at it, and we are working to a plan.
We have to tackle the problem of distressed mortgages. The biggest fear any of us has is not losing our job – it is losing our home. That’s why we have brought forward a road map in the Keane report aimed at keeping people in their own home. And it is why we are including in a new Personal Insolvency Bill, radical new measures to strengthen the hand of householders when dealing with their banks.
But I have to say I am deeply frustrated by how slow progress has been in this area. We all know that it is complicated, legally and financially. But we must do more to help families who feel that, for them, time is running out. Families who are making a genuine effort, but who are still falling behind with their mortgage.
We have to manage the country’s own debt problem. “Don’t Pay” may sound good as a slogan, and look sharp on a placard. But it is neither smart, nor sensible, nor a solution. Because if you refuse to repay today you can hardly expect to borrow tomorrow. And right now, this State has to borrow to keep our schools, hospitals and public services going. Anyone who pretends otherwise is not being straight with people.
We won’t promise the impossible. But what we can do – and what we are doing – is the hardnosed business of renegotiating the cards on the table, to get a better deal for the taxpayer. We have already succeeded in getting the interest rate on our debt reduced, which will save us €10 billion, and we have replaced this year’s payment of the Anglo Promissory note with a long-term bond. And we will continue to fight Ireland’s corner.
Finally, we will reclaim our economic independence and say goodbye to the troika. Our objective is to be out of the EU-IMF programme within two years, to be able to sell Irish Government bonds on the financial markets, and to stand on our own two feet again. But to do that, we have to get our budget deficit down.
This is not a matter of choice. It’s simple maths. We simply cannot continue to borrow €44 million every day in order to run the country. We will need two more difficult budgets.
One of our biggest difficulties in recent times has been the uncertainty plaguing the euro. The euro is our currency. The money that we are paid in, the money that we spend when we have it, and the money that we save, when we can. Its value and its future affects us all.
That is why it matters, personally, to each of us, that we pass the referendum to ratify the Stability Treaty. This treaty is about bringing stability to the euro. We do not claim it is the sole answer to Europe’s economic problems, but it is a crucial part of the solution and it is necessary to restore confidence in the euro.
The recent report of the Mahon tribunal is yet another sickening chronicle of corruption, bribery and lies at the highest levels of previous Fianna Fáil governments. A sordid saga of influence bought and sold; a poisonous creep of political corruption which infected our institutions and our psyche, bred cynicism, strangled idealism and corroded our democracy.
I am proud that after 20 years of tribunals, no wrongdoing has ever attached to the Labour Party.
The administration of justice must always be independent of the political system. That is only right. But we are all frustrated at the slow pace at which the wheels of justice sometimes turn.
If our criminal justice system secures prosecutions, and the Criminal Assets Bureau seizes the proceeds of corruption, we may have some restitution. New laws to regulate political funding and lobbying and to protect whistleblowers will make it harder for corruption to rear its evil head again.
At this very moment 100 years ago, the Titanic was only a few hours from its doom. 1912 was the year of the Ulster Volunteers and Covenant, the Home Rule Bill and the year in which James Connolly and Jim Larkin founded this Party, the Irish Labour Party.
The people who set up this party, and the people who joined it, came from humble origins. They were people who possessed almost nothing, except the courage of their convictions. And what they wanted, was simple. Liberty. Freedom. The freedom to work. The freedom to have a home. The freedom to learn.
Freedom for women. Freedom from poverty, hunger and disease. Freedom.
And that is the cause to which we are called again. An Ireland where freedom and fairness are stitched into the fabric of our economy, and our politics. An Ireland where opportunity is the birthright of every child. And to achieve that, we have to work at it every day. Inch by inch. Bit by bit. No overnight remedy. But getting people back to work, nursing the economy back to recovery and building a better, fairer Ireland.
This is a time for effort and endurance. Persistence and patience. For serious application to the job. A time for courage. The courage to see it through. For us all to draw on our rich Labour history, on our collective resources, on our solidarity and comradeship, and to work with and for our people. To face into the challenge. We shall overcome! We will succeed.