Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised to deliver 10,000 more gardaí, nurses, doctors, and teachers by 2021, in his keynote address at the Fine Gael ard fheis.
He 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 the people would choose between continuing the recovery or risking that recovery when they go to the polls.
At the Citywest Hotel, Mr Kenny said 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 jobs created in the next five years, adding that he wanted 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 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: 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 were 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; trolley numbers have spiked above 500 this month.
Mr Kenny heavily criticised Fianna Fail for the state of the economy when it was thrown out of office in 2011.
“I don’t need to remind you about the crisis that gripped Ireland in January 2011... The banks on the brink of collapse, and Ireland’s international reputation in tatters. The troika 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 Ireland’s best days lay ahead.
“We can say that the dream of our nation’s heart has yet to be fulfilled,” he said.
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