Three years ago, Ireland entered a bailout programme. This affected every household in our country. In March 2011, you gave Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and me a mandate to fix the public finances, and to get Ireland working again. Two years ago, this month, I said that retrieving our economic sovereignty was an important step in the plan to deliver on that mandate.
Since then – the people of Ireland and your Government – have worked hard to deliver that plan. This has required very difficult decisions at home and tough negotiations abroad.
In 2011, the immediate and urgent priority had to be to stabilise the economy by tackling the enormous budget deficit and the banking chaos that we inherited.
We had to act decisively to show investors, and markets and our international partners that we were serious about fixing our economic problems.
This was tough – wages and services were cut, and new charges introduced. Many families have also had to face the devastating consequences of unemployment and emigration.
I know that many people are struggling to make ends meet. I also know that, for many of you, the recent improvements in the economic situation are not yet being felt in your daily lives. But it is now clear that your sacrifices are making a real difference.
Ireland is now moving in the right direction. Our economy is starting to recover.
While we still have far too many people out of work, jobs are being created. While borrowing is still too high, our public finances are moving towards a sustainable position. Internationally, our good name and our credibility have been restored. Thanks to these efforts, Ireland will exit the EU-IMF bailout tonight.
Tomorrow morning, Ireland will again stand as a full member of the euro zone – with the same rules, obligations, supports and opportunities as all other member states. From tomorrow, we will access the financial markets in the same way as other countries.
This is an important step but it is not an end in itself. Our lives won't change overnight. But it does send out a powerful signal internationally that Ireland is fighting back, that the spirit of our people is as strong as ever.
Your patience and resilience have restored our national pride and empowered us to face the challenges that remain.
The clear and decisive path that has been followed for the past three years puts us in a position where we can now be optimistic for our country’s future. But the progress that we have made must not be put at risk. Now is not the time to change our course or direction.
While the bailout is over, we must approach the future with that same clarity and decisiveness.
This week, the Government will publish a new medium-term economic plan that lays out the road ahead for our country. This plan will set out the steps that we intend to take to grow our economy between now and 2020.
It will be a plan based on enterprise, not on speculation. A plan to ensure that never again will Ireland’s stability be threatened by speculation and greed. We are never going back to that culture.
The plan will have two central pillars. First, we must continue to pursue prudent budgetary policies. That’s what convinces those who create jobs that Ireland is a place in which they can invest with confidence. Everyone knows that you can’t keep spending more than you are earning. As of today, we have already completed over 90 per cent of the necessary cuts and tax increases.
As a result, we can now begin to reduce the national debt burden. So, by 2020, with continued effective management of the public finances, we can eliminate government borrowing and cut public debt by a quarter, relative to the size of the economy.
The second pillar is to get more of our people back to work. The creation of jobs will be at the heart of the plan.Three years ago, 1,600 jobs were being lost in this country every week. Now every week over 1,000 extra new jobs are being created.
That’s progress, but we must build on it. The plan will focus on developing the skills of our workforce, particularly our young people. We will remove the barriers to new jobs in key sectors, and reform the welfare system to provide supports and incentives for unemployed people to take up new jobs.
It will show how we will require the banking system to become a contributor to the economy, rather than a huge drain on it. The banks must do more to deal with mortgage distress and to provide access to credit for small business.
By increasing total employment to over two million people by 2020, we can replace all of the jobs that were lost during the crisis with new jobs, offering many of those who have left Ireland the choice to return home.
Creating more jobs will also improve our public finances and help to bring the era of tough budgets to an end.
Throughout our history, the Irish people have always shown that nothing is impossible for us to achieve, when we really apply ourselves to a challenge or cause. Believe me, government will work with you to put in place the foundations for a secure and prosperous future for you and the next generation.
I thank you for the part that you have played in Ireland’s recovery to date.
My commitment to you and to your families is that, for the remainder of its term, this government will work, might and mane, to finish the job that you entrusted to us.
Thank you . . . Go raibh míle maith agaibh.”