Speech to the Fine Gael National Conference

11th November, 2017

Good morning everyone, here in the conference hall and looking in at home.

I want to start by saying what an honour it was to have been appointed Minister for Finance, in addition to being Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, in June of this year, and how grateful I and all of us here are to my predecessor, Michael Noonan.

Helping people get jobs, helping emigrants come home, helping businesses to grow again.

All due in no small part to his work.

Thank you, Michael.

HOW FAR WE HAVE COME

It is worth reflecting on how far we have come.

In 2011, the IMF was in charge, our national sovereignty was suspended and Fianna Fail irresponsibility was destroying communities all over the country.

Too many young people were on the dole or on a plane out of the country.

Ghost estates became an ugly reminder of bad planning and bad government.

Today, things are different.

A healing economy is not the same as a healed society.

But our economy has improved.

So now the focus is not on where we were, but where we want to go.

And to address the new challenges we face.

Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the Irish people, together with the policies adopted by Government, the country has emerged from the darkness.

And only Fine Gael – as the only Party with a proven track record in doing so – will continue to protect the economy and renew our society by delivering the Republic of Opportunity.

A republic where everyone has the home they need and deserve.

A republic where an even better health service becomes a reality.

A republic where everyone can grow old with security, opportunity and dignity.

THE FINE GAEL WAY

Because, friends, the horizon we now face – a horizon of increased resources and potentially full employment – is exactly the same horizon we faced in the late 1990s.

But the positive legacy left by the Fine Gael-led Rainbow Government that left office then was subsequently squandered.

The Tiger became a nightmare.

We cannot and will not let that happen again.

Faced with Brexit, faced with a new trade agenda in the United States, and faced with all the other international and domestic risks, we must mind what the Irish people have achieved.

I know this.

I understand your concerns for our future.

We will make choices.

We will say “no” when we have to and “yes” when it is in the country’s best interest.

Because meeting every need now creates the risk that we might not be able to meet important needs in the future.

We will ensure that the good government that has brought us to the cusp of a new age of opportunity will now drive us forward in a radical and responsible direction.

We will continue to rebuild our economy and our society so that we can build a secure future for our children.

And we will take steps to keep our tax base broad just as when, for example, I took steps with regard to commercial property market in the Budget last month.

Keeping the tax base broad is not just an economic concept.

It means ensuring that we don’t rely too much on too few areas of the economy to fund our health, social welfare and education services.

That was a terrible mistake in the past.

It will not be a feature of the future.

And because we believe tax reform is important- to create jobs and to help families, and everyone at work – we also believe that it must be done sustainably and target those on low and middle incomes who need help most.

INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE

I have already stated that I believe that a personal tax system that sees someone on a below average wage pay the top rate of tax is unsustainable and unfair.

In Budget 2018 I took steps to begin to remedy that.

But the years that lie ahead offer an opportunity to do more.

To do more for hard working families and individuals who, when given the opportunity to work a few hours extra, or who get a raise, must pay nearly half of that extra money in tax.

It is my intention, while always honouring the Confidence and Supply Agreement, and the Programme for Government, to continue the process of increasing the point at which workers become liable for the top rate of tax in the next Budget, and the one after that and the one after that.

This will be done in a sustainable way and will make a real difference to people who pay too much at too low a level of income.

But it is not just PAYE workers who we must ensure are treated fairly.

So too must we ensure that we are fair to the self-employed- the shopkeepers, plumbers and business owners who keep our communities going- too.

That is why I increased the earned income tax credit in the Budget and will do so again in the next.

I also increased the Homecarers’ Tax Credit to recognise the efforts of parents who work in the home.

And I will do it again in future Budgets.

But we will only do this if we can afford it.

So a condition for making these tax changes will be to continue to broadly balance our books, so as to safeguard our economy- and our society – from potential shocks either from home or abroad.

We will not borrow more to cut taxes.

But we will establish the Rainy Day fund, to be used should such a rainy day ever come.

Because to care about the economy does not mean we ignore the great social issues that need to be solved.

Actually, it is the opposite.

Because we care about our society, we know we need to get the economy right.

To be responsible, in this day and age, when other parties spend their time out-promising each other, is to be radical.

CONCLUSION

So let our Fine Gael message be one of optimism.

Optimism in a changing world, a changing Europe and a changing Ireland.

Our future will be different to our past, and better than our present.

With a sustainable tax system, that rewards work, we will use the years that lie ahead to invest.

To invest in schools, in hospitals, in our people.

We will renew opportunity in our Republic and create new opportunities for our Republic

That is how we will build the new Ireland, of which we can all be proud.

Thank you.

ENDS