Kenny – Why I support this man for Taoiseach

Irish Times Saturday April 10th 2010

Citizens will seize opportunity to rebuild the Republic

If people give Fine Gael the mandate, we will create jobs and change our health service and the political system, writes ENDA KENNY

PRESIDENT KENNEDY once said we should not pray for easy lives but should instead pray to be stronger. His words are still relevant. For it is certainly the case in Ireland today that many of those out of work, or barely making ends meet or cast aside in a society that can’t or won’t care for them, have abandoned any aspiration to an easy life and are focused solely on survival and then to become stronger.

Strong enough to survive losing a job and keep on hoping for a new start. Strong enough to keep a family together despite unprecedented pressures and strong enough to retain faith in their country and countrymen and women.

This, despite the injustices visited on them by a small elite who used our country as a plaything for their own enrichment and enjoyment.

That is the strength that I read about every day in the Renewing the Republic series in this paper. It is because I know and recognise this strength within us that I am unashamedly hopeful and optimistic about our future. About renewing our Republic, where contribution and values matter.

But to achieve the renewal and revolutionary change that this country needs requires the backing of the people through a mandate. This Government has no mandate to carry on as it does. The people did not vote for Nama or the €75 billion bank bailout, or the pay cuts or the service cuts. That’s why a general election is needed to give a new government a mandate to put our country back on track.

The sooner this happens, the better. The sooner people embrace the power of the ballot box to seize back their Republic, the sooner their Republic will serve their interests and the sooner we return to the ambition of the original proclamation’s determination to “provide equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.

This is a lofty but noble ambition. It demands that politicians meet and surpass your expectations for that renewed Republic. I can assert total confidence in Fine Gael’s people and in our plans for this great country, that we will travel that hard road of renewal with you and reach our destination – a transformed and vibrant new Republic.

Why do I have such confidence to make such a bold commitment? Because I know that our people and plans have the ability, competence and resolve to work with you to renew our country. Fine Gael’s plan to renew our Republic is based on three pillars – getting people back to work; revolutionising our health service and transforming our political system. As the party that set up the State institutions, it is fitting that Fine Gael will reform these institutions to meet the needs of 21st century Ireland. Our New Politics plan will reduce the size of the Dáil by 20 and seek public approval for the abolition of Seanad Éireann. We are determined to bring more women into politics and new Dáil committees will have strengthened powers of investigation so costly tribunals become a thing of the past. The Dáil will become the forum of accountability to the people.

Changing our system is not an end in itself, however. If we are to deal with the big issues, we need a political system fit for purpose. And there is no problem bigger than the 434,000 people out of work and the thousands more being forced to emigrate in search of jobs.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael differ sharply on how to fix this problem. Fine Gael recognises that we have a jobs crisis which can only be cured by employment. Fianna Fáil sees a budgetary crisis to be cured by balancing the books. Our approach to the economy is driven by one simple and central principle. We must get our people back to work.

As a former minister for trade, I know the way to grow the economy is to sell our goods and services overseas. We need to get back to what made our economy strong – being competitive, low prices, controlled and targeted spending and a real focus on exports.

Our jobs plan has a short and medium-term aspect. In the shorter term, we will take 70,000 people off the dole within 18 months. This will be achieved through a combination of second-chance education, a graduate internship programme, targeted tax cuts for small business, a 5 per cent cut in government charges, a newly flexible use of the social welfare code and a jobs subsidy scheme.

In the medium term, Fine Gael has proposed an €18 billion stimulus plan to invest in broadband, green energy and water networks infrastructure. This plan, called NewERA , will create over 105,000 jobs in a four-year period in the construction, engineering, IT, agribusiness and service industry sectors. The money for this plan will be sourced from private equity, the sale of non-essential State assets like Bord Gáis and investment from the European Investment Bank. The final pillar is our FairCare plan to revolutionise our health system. We examined the best health systems around the world and believe that the Dutch system is best suited to our needs.

Their health system is ranked number one in Europe and it costs less per capita than ours. Its best elements can be introduced in Ireland within five years.

The FairCare plan will end waiting lists and deliver a really strong primary care system. Hospitals will be run by local trusts where patients are seen as resources, not obstacles. The hospital will no longer get an arbitrary allocation of money. Instead each hospital will be paid per patient and per procedure. The two-tier system will be ended and everyone will be treated based on their medical needs. The plan includes free GP visits and it can be delivered within existing health budgets.

These three pillars will lead to confidence and investment. The next 10 years will bring massive changes to our world and education is the key.  When priorities have to be decided upon, I will support investment in education.

So we must make choices. We can choose between the status quo or modernisation and change. The opportunity is there for us to grasp, but we need to embrace it. That chance to change will present itself when an election takes place. Out of the wreckage of the recession, I believe Irish people will seize that moment to create a new Republic and rebuild our country. We have no time to waste.