A National Address by an Taoiseach, Enda Kenny
Tonight I'm taking the opportunity to speak to you directly on the challenge we face as a community, as an economy, and as a country. I know this is an exceptional event, but we live in exceptional times, and we face an exceptional challenge. It's important that you know the truth of the scale of that challenge, and how we are addressing it. That challenge, to restore our economy, to create the environment to sustain jobs, and to look after the most vulnerable people in our society.
At the end of last year, our economy was in deep crisis, and while steps to recover from the crisis have been taken, we remain in crisis today. I would love to tell you tonight that our economic problems are solved, and that the worst is over, but for far too many of you, that is simply not the truth.
If you are unemployed, you're one of the many who still can't find work. If you are in business, you may still not be able get the credit you need, or to get paid on time. If you're a parent who has just put the children to bed, you may be wondering how you're going to meet that mortgage, or pay those bills. Or you may be looking at your adult children, wondering how you'll say goodbye to some of them as they leave Ireland in search of new opportunity in the New Year. Tonight, that may be the truth as you live it, and know it.
Let me say this to you all: you are not responsible for this crisis. My government is determined that, now, the necessary decisions and changes are made to ensure that this is never allowed to happen again.
Right now, our most important responsibility is to do what must be done to get our economy back on its feet. That requires fixing the enormous deficit in our public finances caused by too much borrowing, and the cost of rescuing the banks. We all know that if, in our own lives, we are spending more than we are earning, we have a problem. Right now, the state is spending €16 billion a year more than it is taking in. This problem will not be fixed unless we take action to bridge this gap. This can only be done by us, ourselves, working together. That means that in this budget we must cut public spending by €2.2 billion and raise €1.6 billion in extra taxes.
When we were elected, the tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and I pledged that our government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party would fix this deficit in a way that would get Ireland working. We began by taking urgent steps to stem the crisis and close that gap in our public finances.
We're shutting down dysfunctional banks and we've recapitalised the remaining ones at a lower cost than expected by imposing losses on some bondholders. We implemented a jobs initiative that cut taxes on tourism and employment, and that created over 20,000 new job and training placements. We secured a lower rate of interest on the country's borrowings that will save us €10 billion over time.
We've met our commitments to the EU and the IMF in full and on time. This has been acknowledged worldwide, and has helped restore some international confidence in Ireland. But the steps the government has taken merely reflect your courage, your character, and your sense of responsibility, for which I thank you.
While none of this has ended the crisis, and we have not so far been in a position to do everything we promised, we have made a start. We have begun to stabilise our finances. The improved confidence has helped strengthen exports which are a key driver of future success. But we have a long way to go.
This week, we will introduce a budget that will build on those first steps towards recovery. This budget will be tough — it has to be tough. It will move us towards a manageable deficit of three per cent of our GDP by 2015.
But getting the deficit under control is just a means to an end. The main purpose of this budget, and of our four year strategy, is the creation of jobs for our people. Jobs are central to this budget because work plays such a central role in our lives. Work provides focus; work gives us independence; work gives our families hope and confidence. I get to meet lots of people in this job — a woman in Limerick whose husband had found work after being on the live register for months told me recently, "He did not just get back his job; he got back his dignity; once more he felt he was making a real contribution."
We won't be able to create the jobs overnight; it will take time. By 2015, I want to see our deficit under control and real growth in jobs. We are not able to do all we would like to in this budget because we simply can't afford to. We have had to postpone some really good projects, like Metro North, for example.
But this budget will be a jobs budget in two ways: Firstly, by putting our public finances back on a sound footing. As our deficit moves to sustainable levels, investors will start regaining their confidence in Ireland and credit will be made available at better rates. This means businesses will be able to start borrowing, expanding, and hiring again.
Secondly, the budget will include a series of targeted measures specifically designed to create jobs and get people back to work. It will include, among other initiatives, a new system of loan guarantees which will enable banks to resume lending and a new micro finance scheme which will help people to start their own businesses. This will allow small firms to take on one or even two new employees — new jobs to create new incomes, to assist the economy on the path to growth and confidence.
To make sure we keep as many jobs as we can; to make sure you get to bring home as much as you can; and to make sure you know where you stand with your wages; to give you some certainty for the year ahead — we will leave income tax untouched. Instead, we will raise the €1.6 billion of extra taxes that Ireland needs mainly through indirect taxes, difficult though these will be.
The highest priority is to create more jobs, but we will also do all we can to protect the most vulnerable in our communities — our children, the sick, and the elderly. I wish I could tell you that the budget won't impact on every citizen in need, but I can't. Difficult choices are never easy, but we will invest in crucial projects like the National Children's Hospital, school buildings, and health centres.
Before asking families to make sacrifices, we insisted on sacrifices from those at the top. We cut the pay and removed state cars and Garda drivers for ministers. In the last few weeks, I've informed former taoisigh that entitlements, like free mobile phones and staff allowances, are being withdrawn. The pay and pensions of senior public servants have been cut.
This week's budget will go further. Fifty quangos will be abolished or merged, and the public sector will be downsized by 23,000 people by 2015. Next year, we will hold a referendum to abolish the Senate. But these steps are just a start. We will reform how we run this country so that we never return to the practices that drove our economy into freefall: reckless spending, weak oversight of banks, and reliance on a property boom for tax revenues.
However, in Ireland, an island nation, we cannot operate in isolation. We are part of the European Union. All the changes we undertake ourselves are set against the backdrop of continuing uncertainty about the future of the European single currency.
Let me be very clear: Ireland supports stronger economic governance throughout Europe, and particularly in the Eurozone. In fact, the Irish people are paying the price now for the absence of such rules in the past. European leaders must make and, more importantly this time, must implement clear decisions this week to prove our shared determination to protect our currency. Otherwise, international confidence and investment in Europe will continue to fall. So, in these negotiations in Europe, I will work to achieve a positive outcome for our country, one that ensures and protects our economic security. Firm action will help to restore confidence throughout Europe, and here at home.
In outlining the government's strategy with you tonight, I do not for a moment want to make it sound simplistic or painless. It is not. We are on a four year path to recovery. This, our first budget, is a necessary step, but it will include cuts to many worthwhile projects. It will also raise some indirect taxes which will be hard for many people. The truth is, our economy remains fragile, and it will take us several years to recover fully.
While the creation of jobs will be at the centre of our plan, I am painfully aware this will not happen quickly enough for many who are out of work today. It will take several years to create the numbers of new jobs we need. But over the last months we have made a start, towards more jobs, towards more opportunities, towards renewed confidence; a start towards a country where our young people can stay at home to build their future here, rather than moving away; a start, in essence, towards getting Ireland working again. That's the commitment the Tánaiste and I made to you when you elected us, and that is the commitment we are working to deliver each and every day. We have begun taking hold of these problems and dealing with them head on.
I am very optimistic for the future. I want to be the taoiseach who retrieves Ireland's economic sovereignty, and who leads a government that will help our country really succeed. I want to make this the best small country in the world in which to do business, in which to raise a family and in which to grow old with a sense of dignity and respect.
All around Ireland, I meet people who want to play their part in achieving these goals. I meet young people, students, [and] business people who are full of ideas, energy, and optimism. I want to enable them, and thousands others like them, to achieve their full potential. I believe government, being honest and open and working with the people, will meet and beat the challenges that we face.
Next Tuesday, December the 6th, is the 90th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty in 1921. Just as our fledgling state made its difficult way to becoming a republic, I believe with all my heart, that we, the Irish people, can now make our way to recovery, to prosperity and to the fulfilment of the dreams of our children and the founding fathers of our nation.
Go raibh maith agaibh, agus oiche mhaith.
Notes and references
1. State of the Nation Address From An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny — Video recording of Kenny's speech YouTube, 4 December 2011.
2. Taoiseach Speech - Full Text RTÉ News. 4 December 2011. (Video and text.)