By David Young, PA
Critics who portray Ireland as a failed state are misleading the public and selling the country short, the Taoiseach has insisted.
In a robust defence of Fianna Fáil’s record in government, Micheál Martin took aim at opposition parties as he claimed the greatest divide in Irish politics was now between those who wanted to tackle problems and those who wanted to exploit them.
In a closing speech to his party conference in Dublin, Mr Martin insisted Fianna Fáil had helped steer Ireland through the Covid-19 pandemic and had delivered in areas such as housing, healthcare, education and climate action.
The Ard Fheis at the RDS was held days after the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Greens coalition government announced an €11 billion budget focused on cost-of-living measures for people struggling amid the inflation crisis.
Mr Martin, who will be succeeded as Taoiseach by Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar in December, emphasised the international factors contributing to soaring bills, particularly the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“There is no doubt that today we face real and urgent challenges, there are many in our society who need our help – but those who dismiss the progress we have achieved and seek to tell a story of Ireland as some type of ‘failed state’ are deliberately misleading our people and selling our country short,” the Fianna Fáil leader told delegates.
“Perhaps the greatest divide in our politics today is between those who want to tackle our country’s problems and those who want to exploit them.
“Between those who see politics as the means to advance the interests of the nation and those who only care about attacking others.
“Let no-one be in any doubt where Fianna Fáil stands – we believe in taking action.
— Fianna Fáil (@fiannafailparty) October 1, 2022
“We believe in the hard work of finding solutions, creating opportunities, and making Ireland a stronger, fairer country.”
The Government’s €11 billion budget package comprised €6.9 billion in budgetary measures for next year, as well as a €4.1 billion package of one-off measures to help tackle the rising cost of living for individuals, families and businesses.
It was one of the country’s most extensive budgets in years.
Mr Martin told the conference he was determined to work with others to show people in Ireland that the “biggest challenges can be met and overcome”.
His party has faced intense criticism from opposition politicians for its handling of the housing and health portfolios in government.
Ireland’s homeless figures hit a new record high on Friday, with the number of homeless people in the state rising to 10,805.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Martin reiterated his defence of his party’s Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien.
Mr Martin again made clear that Mr O’Brien would remain in post following the scheduled Cabinet reshuffle due in December.
Praising his work as minister, he said it would be “totally unfair” if he was replaced in the job.
The Taoiseach also said the Government was not planning for a mini-budget in the early new year.
He said the budget unveiled earlier this week was designed to get the country through the winter period.
The Government has not ruled out the need for further measures, saying those could be funded from the surplus or from a windfall tax.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) October 1, 2022
Addressing the closing evening of the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, Mr Martin also paid tribute to Irish people who had welcomed Ukrainian refugees to the country.
Delegates rose to their feet in loud applause when the Taoiseach made clear Ireland’s support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression as unwavering.
Concluding his speech, the Fianna Fáil leader said: “Real and sustained progress demands that you don’t just look for headlines, but that you look for credible solutions.
“Just as we did in helping our country through the pandemic and the recession, we will continue to work with our partners to meet urgent new challenges.
“We know the impact which rising prices are having on families and business – and we will continue to provide help.
"Really impactful things happening in women's care now. We see a commitment to the single biggest infrastructure project in the new maternity campus. But also gynaecology finally finding a focus, contraception to women age 30, and introducing IVF."#WomensHealth #FFArdFheis22 pic.twitter.com/QVFOYOkoWM
— Fianna Fáil (@fiannafailparty) October 1, 2022
“And we’ll go much further than that. When our full mandate is completed we will show real progress for the Irish people.
“A new era of social and affordable housing, healthcare which is more accessible and affordable, investment in childcare and education, support for strong communities, moving from words to action on a shared island.
“For Fianna Fáil, this remains our challenge and our commitment.
“An Ireland which stands proudly in the world and listens to its people’s concerns. Which fights divisive policies, supports its weakest citizens, values education, empowers enterprise.
“Now and always, putting action first, and serving all her people.”
Mr Martin’s speech was met by cheers and a long-standing ovation as he was joined by colleagues on stage.