By Daniel McConnell, Political Editor
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised to deliver 10,000 more Gardaí, nurses, doctors and teachers by 2021, in his key-note address at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis.
Mr Kenny did not take the occasion of his live televised address to announce the election date, as some had earlier speculated, but he gave a robust defence of his tenure, just weeks out from an election.
In a speech heavily emphasising Fine Gael's credential in fixing the economy, Mr Kenny said that the people will choose between continuing the recovery or risking that recovery when they go to the polls.
At the Citywest Hotel, Mr Kenny said that if re-elected, a Fine-Gael led Government would “end the tax discrimination against the self-employed”, but gave no time frame as to when that would happen.
He also said the party would “protect our 12.5% corporation tax rate which has been a cornerstone of investment and job creation”.
The Taoiseach said the party would aim to see 200,000 new jobs created in the next five years, adding that he wants many of the new jobs that are being created to be taken up by those who are still out of work.
Mr Kenny said If he is re-elected by the people, “just as we said goodbye to the Troika, we will say goodbye to the USC”.
He added: “Five years ago, we reversed Fianna Fáil’s decision to cut the minimum wage, which would have hurt those who earn the least. This month, we increased it again to €9.15 per hour. We reduced the USC for low and middle income earners, and increased the numbers who don’t have to pay it at all to 700,000”.
While there was no repeat of the five-point plan which was the mantra of Fine Gael's 2011 campaign, Mr Kenny set out a three-step plan to continue the recovery.
Those three streps are: More and better jobs, making work pay and investing in better public services.
“Do you want the recovery, the recovery you have worked for, suffered for, and made so much personal sacrifice for, to continue? Or do you want to put it at risk? That’s the only question you will be asked. That’s the only question you will answer,” he said.
A clear choice between continuing on the path of stability and recovery; or putting our hard won progress at risk. We must keep the recovery going,” he added.
Despite recent criticisms of the Health service, Mr Kenny trumpeted that Fine Gael and Labour have committed an extra €800m for the health sector this year. He said he and his party are committed to meeting the needs of an ageing population as well as reducing waiting lists.
He did not repeat the 2007 commitment to end the trolley crisis, however as trolley numbers have spiked above 500 this month.
Mr Kenny heavily criticised Fianna Fáil for the state of the economy when they were thrown out of office in 2011.
“I don't need to remind you about the crisis that gripped Ireland in January 2011. You lived it – every day. The public finances out of control. 300,000 jobs lost. Tens of thousands leaving the country in search of work. The banks on the brink of collapse, and Ireland’s international reputation in tatters. The Troika had arrived. Then Irish people gave Fine Gael and the Labour Party a mandate to fix the public finances and to get our country working again,” he said.
Referring to the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising, Mr Kenny said that Ireland's best days lay ahead.
“We can say that the dream of our nation’s heart has yet to be fulfilled,” he said.