Kenny seeks treaty backing


Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night warned that his party had no cause to celebrate while hard-pressed families continue to struggle.

In his keynote address to 4,000 delegates at the 76th Fine Gael Ard Fheis at the Convention Centre in Dublin, Mr Kenny said: “As we gather at this Ard Fheis, our purpose cannot be one of celebration”.

“We will not celebrate until Ireland has reason to celebrate. Tonight, unemployment remains too high.” Earlier, Mr Kenny said he was heartened by those who had already paid the levy, which he described as the law of the land.

In his speech, Mr Kenny acknowledged the hardship many were enduring, but insisted stabilising Ireland’s economy was the Government’s priority.

The referendum on the fiscal compact was "a brilliant opportunity to say to the world that Ireland believes in the future of the euro" and that it "is four-square with Europe, as together we build a system that will bring responsible budgeting," Mr Kenny said.

Passing the referendum would give the State access to the "insurance policy" of the permanent euro-area bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which was a critical reassurance for investors, he said.

Mr Kenny added the country "will not default," and it was continue to negotiate with its international bailout partners "to find a cheaper way of financing the cost" of bailing out its banks.

The cost of the banking bailout has risen to €64 billion, including €1.3 billion the Government is preparing to put into the banking arm of Irish Life and Permanent.

During his first ardfheis as Taoiseach Mr Kenny said: "I know that for many people, the measures we have had to take have been painful".

“But we are doing the best we can to protect the most vulnerable.” The Taoiseach also took the opportunity during his speech to reinforce the Government’s commitment to Europe in paying its debts. “Let me be clear.

I will not throw away the progress we have made in the last year by reneging on our international commitments,” he went on.

“Ireland will not default. But we are determined to ease this burden on our people.” Mr Kenny said an example of this was the ongoing negotiations with the Troika - the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank - to restructure promissory note payments to the former Anglo Irish Bank.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan earlier told delegates at the conference that he believed “mainstream Ireland” would stay with the Government as long as they believed it was acting fairly.

Mr Noonan also said the country's future was in the euro, and urged support for the upcoming referendum on the fiscal pact.

Ireland was emerging from a “demonstrably unfair” system that was in place until very recently, under which “untouchables” in society were allowed to do what they liked, he said.

Not everybody thinks it’s fair, but mainstream Ireland will stay with the Government as long as they think what we are doing is fair,” he said.

“The societies that work best and are actually the most wealthy are the ones that are the most democratic and have the best opportunities for everyone,” he added.

Mr Noonan said one small section of society should not be expected to carry the entire burden. Mr Noonan also said the country's future "is in the euro" and that passing the European Union fiscal pact in a referendum in May is in the country's interest.

"Being at the centre of the euro zone means that we have real influence," he said. Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton said the Government’s plan was starting to work, with the country making “solid progress” in addressing the problems facing Ireland’s banks and the public finances.

Banks are in a position to start lending again and balance is beginning to return to public finances “with great difficulty and sacrifice from many people”, he told the ardfheis.

“However as a party and as a Government we have always said that our top priority cannot be the banks and cannot be the public finances,” he said.

“Our top priority, and our ultimate aim, is to bring about a major reduction in the shocking level of unemployment that blights our country.” Mr Bruton said Government targets to creating jobs for 100,000 more people by 2016, and to get 2 million to work by 2020 are ambitious but realistic.

He warned that the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs 2012 alone would not solve the unemployment crisis, and said it would take several years to rebuild the economy and put it on the path to sustainable growth. “We have a very long way to go in addressing the unemployment crisis we face.

Over the past year we have laid some of the foundations in the long process of rebuilding the economy,” he said. “Completing this rebuilding process over the coming years will require very hard work and painstaking implementation across Government.” An implementation report for the first quarter of the year will be published shortly, Mr Bruton said.