YFG Presidential Address 2004

November 13, 2004  

Presidential Address by William Lavelle
20th Young Fine Gael National Conference, Saturday, 13th November 2004, Ridgepool Hotel, Ballina, Co. Mayo


President of Fine Gael, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Deputies, Senators, Councillors, Delegates and Friends,

I come to this National Conference at the end of a momentous year. The tide has turned in Irish politics. Our nation has affirmed its wish for something new. And Fine Gael is back in business!

As President of Young Fine Gael, I have been honoured to lead and serve this great organisation through a period of unprecedented growth and activism. These past 12 months has seen Young Fine Gael become Europe’s fastest growing youth political organisation. Fine Gael is now the party of choice of Ireland’s youth.

We have put in place structures and programmes which have allowed us to recruit more members and establish more branches in the colleges and in the constituencies than we have had in a decade. We have empowered our grassroots organisation, we have engendered an increased level of debate among our membership and we have organised more events in the past year, political and social than in any other previous year.

In April at the 72nd Árd-Fheis, we took CityWest by storm, we championed more motions than ever – and we led the TV debates. We increased the YFG affiliated membership on our party’s Executive Council from 4 to 10 and we had YFG members elected to the positions of Vice-President of the Party and Vice-Chair of the Executive Council.

But most importantly, we have re-established YFG’s proud history of on-the-ground campaigning and we have played an enhanced role in the Fine Gael’s political campaigning, especially in the lead-up to June’s elections. We have held meetings, developed policies and campaigned on the important issues affecting Young Ireland.

Young Fine Gael was the only youth-wing to publish a dedicated youth manifesto for June’s elections. Young Fine Gael was the only youth-wing to make a submission to the OECD review of Higher Education. And Young Fine Gael was the only youth-wing represented at last month’s National Youth Conference on alcohol policy.

Having presided over a year of highlights and successes, having seen Young Fine Gael work to its best, I must thank every one of you, the membership, for your commitment, your passion, your activism. You have done your party proud.

I wish to acknowledge in particular the amazing effort you, the Young Fine Gael membership put in – campaigning for local and European election candidates right across the state.

And on June 12th it was all worth it. In count centres from the TF in Castlebar to the RDS in Dublin: Fine Gael was winning! In the Local elections, our party proved all the pundits wrong as we increased our seats total. But even more significantly, the election on June 11th, with the election of 38 young councillors, many of them active YFG members, has reaffirmed Fine Gael’s undisputed position as Ireland’s leading young person’s party.

And let us not forget, that in the European parliament elections… For the first time since 1927, we BEAT Fianna Fail for first time in a national election!

After June 11th, Fine Gael is a party on the up. Fine Gael is once again a party of winners.

But now we must move on. We must look forward to the greater battle yet to come; when our commitment, our passion, our activism will be once again called upon. And as the battlegrounds shift, I urge you to prepare for what could be the greatest and most intense election battle of your lifetime. A battle to decide the future direction of our state, our economy our society, for generations to come. A battle for our very futures.

I say to this conference, to Young Fine Gael: our biggest challenge ahead of the next general election will to bring this battle to the young people of this country; to convince them that this is a battle for all of our futures.

We need to reconnect young people, their aspirations and goals – with the potential of their vote.

Too many young people still consider politics to be a dirty word. But too many young people do not understand the power of their vote because too many young people do not understand the massive possibilities that politics offers.

Every vote counts. One single vote can decide who’s elected and who’s not. It could decide who’s in government and who’s not. One single vote could the change the future.

So I say to you the membership of Young Fine Gael, do not underestimate your ability to win those votes.

As our party sets a target of 60 seats at the next election, the campaigning begins now. We must go out there and continue and elevate Fine Gael’s campaign of engagement with Young Ireland and we must go out there to win the hearts and minds of young voters by talking something better for Young Ireland.

As a young person, I got involved in Fine Gael because I for one, have always believed that being involved in politics is about striving for something better, not for oneself but for the greater good of our community, our society, our nation. For me, this is what Fine Gael is about: Hope and Duty and proud old ideals. And for me, this is what Ireland’s about.

I say never forget, our country’s political heritage. This is Ireland, cradle of revolution, beacon of freedom, the land that gave us mass-politics and monster-meetings.

This is Ireland, where here in Mayo in 1798, General Humbert rallied the county, routed the oppressors and declared a republic for Connaught based on the revolutionary ideals of liberty, egality, fraternity.

This is Ireland where in 1848, our nation’s first-ever political youth organisation: the Young Ireland Movement first raised the tricolour of green, white and orange in revolution for freedom and social unity.

This is Ireland where Michael Davitt from here in the county of Mayo, united a quarter of a million Irish men and women to mount a principled campaign of opportunity and social justice, to win back the land for the people.

And this is Ireland, the country that produced one of the greatest young leaders the world has ever seen, Michael Collins. Collins was a visionary, an innovator, a young man who could see what possible for Ireland and a young man who gave his everything for his country, for a better kind of Ireland. I’m proud to a member of the party of Michael Collins.

And I’m proud to be a member of a party, which STILL believes in the proud values and the old ideals that has made our nation great. I’m proud to be a member of a party who have put these values and ideals into action when given the chance to govern our country.

80 years ago, from the rubbles of independence, William T Cosgrave’s Cumann na Gaedhal government built this state. They built dams and generating stations to power our country, to drive on our fledging national economy, They established the Gardai and the courts to protect our country and ensure fairness and justice for all.

While in more recent time, just 8 years ago, the last rainbow government led by Fine Gael and in which our Party Leader served was giving hope to a new generation, our generation, by opening new horizons of opportunity, by abolishing college fees

The Fine Gael tradition, our proud history, has been one of hope for Ireland.

Unfortunately, the political history of the last 7œ years has not been. The truth is that for the last 7œ years Ireland has and still is being governed by a stale & mediocre government We have a government, who’s spinning, lying, arrogance, incompetence & self-serving pragmatism has seriously shaken public faith in politics, in Irish democracy.

By constantly dumbing down the role of democratic politics to improve people’s lives: They have acted to disconnect the people and their aspirations from the potential of their vote, They have conspired to put up a wall up between people and government

This batch of ministers is focussed so intently on keeping their state Mercs that they have forgotten what it means to lead and to serve our state and our people. They have lost touch with the reality of Irish life.

They seem to think it’s ok that Irish children have to go to school in damp, rat-infested prefabs or are priced out of a college education by rip-off registration fees.

They seem to think it’s ok that so many young Irish people cannot afford to buy a home.

They seem to think it’s ok that we have to endure an inequitable health service where waiting for days on a trolley is a luxury and if they get their way: it will be a health service that can’t even guarantee us accident and emergency cover in our local hospital if God-forbid we ever needed it? But they’ll probably say that’s ok too!

I say here today that Ok should not be the height of any government’s ambitions for the nation.

We need leaders in our country who will aim for something better than ok. We need leaders who will aim for the excellence and innovation in everything the state does and most importantly we need leaders who will not stop thinking about tomorrow.

But in this New Ireland: in looking to tomorrow, I ask: Do we even know what to expect or what to hope for anymore? The world is transforming before our very eyes.

Globalisation & Urbanisation, Materialism & Consumerism all sound pretty abstract. Yet Ireland is being turned inside out by the real pressures of these real phenomena.

We are witnessing an obliteration of our country’s traditional community structures, the dissolving of familiar comfort zones, the increasing isolation of the individual.

Our urban areas are expanding rapidly and without vision or planning. We are seeing the development of bleak edge city environments comprising of bland shopping centres and sprawling housing estates miles from where people work, miles from playgrounds & parks; miles from schools and community halls.

In the post manufacturing age, we are seeing economic realities change dramatically. Research and development, innovation and patenting are the new key sectors as is the myriad of high-level professional services needed to keep the globalised economy on-track.

These global trends, are not abstract, they are very real. They are manifesting themselves in the Irish economy and Irish society with profound consequences on both. Yet these pressures seem to be too big for this government’s small-imagination.

As a result:

We have a New Ireland where small business is suffocating and where jobs are being put at risk. We have a New Ireland whose social fabric is unravelling before our eyes. Substance abuse, anti-social behaviour, depression, suicide and in particular youth suicide are all on the increase in Ireland. I have known too many of my generation who have taken their own life. It shouldn’t be this way!

Ireland is changing and we need a government that’s ready to change with it.

We need a government that has the courage and the vision to address the big issues, a government capable of joint-up thinking, a government of solutions.

I say we need a Fine Gael-led government who will aim for nothing less than a Re-imagining of this New Ireland – and the realisation of a New Ireland: that’s just and caring; a New Ireland rich with possibilities and rich in hope.

So I want to talk about four big ideals, the four pillars of a new politics of hope- things I believe are central Re-imagining New Ireland, to delivering something better for Young Ireland.

Firstly, I want to talk about Fairness.

This current government can refer all they like to economist’s analysis that says our personal debt burden is ‘manageable’ and we’re doing ok. But the after having to borrow, borrow and borrow just to insure a car, buy a first-home and survive in rip-off Ireland, the people can testify: life is far more difficult than any economic formula can quantify.

Our generation is becoming the ‘IOU’ generation. Personal indebtedness in Ireland is higher than in any other developed country in the world. The government thinks this reality is acceptable, but the truth is that any future economic downturn could leave debt-paying young Ireland in very precarious position.

The biggest rip-off facing Young Ireland is the house-price rip off. With average prices for new houses up now around €250,000, it is a scandal that 45% of this cost is going straight back to government and local authorities in stealth taxes and levies.

Meanwhile the rich in our society can reduce their tax-bill to near-zero thanks to the scandalous Fianna Fail/PD tax-system.

That’s not what I call fairness!

Earlier this year YFG campaigned for a fair deal for young homebuyers. We brought our campaign onto the streets, onto TV and onto the radio. We brought our campaign to the people. And now I wish to reaffirm Young Fine Gael’s absolute support for Fine Gael’s current proposals to help first time buyers. Proposals: to abolish stamp duty on second hand homes for First Time Buyers; to frontload mortgage interest relief; and to create a Housing Deposit Savings Scheme. These proposals are concrete ones that if implemented would make a REAL difference to first time buyers.

We need leaders who will ensure fairness for all young people. A Fine Gael led-government will give us those leaders.

The second ideal I want to talk about is Opportunity.

This government’s legacy has been one of diluting opportunities for young people at every level and we need to change this.

Students shouldn’t have their path to college obstructed by rip-off registration fess and poor grants. Those who had dropped out of formal education and who now want to return shouldn’t have their initiative hindered by cutbacks in the Back-to-Education allowances. Those following apprenticeships shouldn’t be lumped with the increased registration fees introduced by this government. Young Farmers shouldn’t have to battle red tape and unfair taxes and levies. And new graduates shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can get a job in this country, any job, let a lone a basic pay-job or a job in their home county.

If we want to protect job opportunities, if we want to avoid a new phase of emigration, then we need make Ireland competitive again. We need to remould Ireland as a global centre of excellence, a hub for high-skilled and high-knowledge enterprise. And we need to invest more in education and training. We need to protect and expand equal access for all to education, from cradle-to-grave.

We need a government with common-sense policies on education & jobs. We need a Fine Gael led-government to rebuild an Ireland opportunities, to secure our futures.

The third ideal is that balancing Right and Responsibilities

The current government’s response to alcohol abuse in Ireland has been to curtail people right’s to drink. To curtail our freedoms. This government’s policies are failing.

Sometimes regulation is needed. But I fully believe that the Politics of saying NO only serves to depress the human spirit and on it’s own the Politics of saying NO will never achieve something better for our society.

I have always believed the solutions to Ireland’s alcohol problems lie not in prohibitionist, nanny-state policies; but in respecting people’s rights and at the same time fostering a real culture of responsible drinking.

Responsible pub-goers should not be stereotyped or scapegoated by having reduced opening hours imposed on them just because a small minority go out and get drunk and then engage in violence or vandalism or else end up in an A&E ward.

We need a government with positive, constructive solutions, which will address the social ills of this country while safeguarding young people rights and freedoms.

Finally I want to speak about a fourth ideal: Community.

Ireland is changing. Those parts of Urban Ireland, which are not being left to decay, are now being recast as harvesting grounds for unbridled commercialism. Our town centres and inner cities are being raped of their civic heart and have been set adrift on a course to ruin. Suburban Ireland has become a soul-less jungle of gates, concrete and tarmacadam. Rural Ireland is being bled of its people, it’s spirit, it future.

As our communities stumble, Irish life falters! It’s time to stop the rot!

If we want vibrant and sustainable communities, then we must strive for the promotion of world-class standards for the planning of residential areas and the implementation of these standards at development stage.

Developers of residential projects should be required to provide social infrastructure such as green areas, playgrounds, football pitches, community halls, crèches; social infrastructure which will improve life in our communities.

We need to come up with new systems for the planning; and provision of public services and facilities – so as to reassert a sense of community in areas where there has been a large growth in residential population.

I’m only talking about the basics here: warm well-built schools, accessible primary healthcare, counselling services, special needs teaching, youth centres, a Garda presence on our streets.

And we need to do an awful lot more to beat the hellish rat race that is Irish commuter life.

We need a Fine Gael-led government who will reconsider what it means to be part of a community and a society and who will stitch back together our nation’s social fabric.

Fairness and Opportunity, Rights and Responsibilities and Community: four big ideals that have been around for a long time.

But now is the time to reconnect politics with ideals.

Now is the time to strike, to fulfil OUR DUTY: to redeem democracy for our people.

To sweep away this tired and mediocre administration.

To give to our people:

A government who will get to grips with the gritty realities of this New Ireland;

A government of patriots who will not just dream a better dream for Ireland, but who will help our nation realise our dreams;

A government who will restore hope to Irish politics…

…And who will make that hope real!

That’s some hell of a challenge, but everything I have witnessed over the last year tells me:

Fine Gael is up for that challenge.

Fine Gael has shown itself to be a party of values, of ideals, of truth.

Fine Gael has shown itself to be a party on your side, on the side of the Irish people.

So I say:

Its time once again for a Fine Gael-led government.

It’s time we had the likes of Phil Hogan, Fergus O’Dowd and Denis Naughten as Ministers.

And it’s time we had Kenny as Taoiseach.

It’s time for Enda for Ireland.

Enda, I wish you all the best for the coming battle.

You carry the future of our country, our futures. But you will not be alone, because already you have given hope to so many and we will with you every step of the way…

And I look forward to the day, when the bonfires will be blazing throughout the land and in particular throughout this county as we welcome Taoiseach Kenny back home to Mayo.

12 months ago when I was seeking the presidency of Young Fine Gael, I spoke about the great need for our party to mount a campaign of engagement with Young Ireland. I believe that during my year as President we have begun to achieve this.

I’m happy that during my year as President, I achieved a lot for Young Fine Gael. I have had a great year, a very enjoyable year and I have been truly honoured to meet and serve with some of the brightest and best young people our party has seen in a long time.

I urge you all to unite around our new President, our new executive. I wish our new leaders every success.

When I commenced my term one year ago in Ennis, Young Fine Gael commemorated the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the most inspiring political leaders in modern history: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

As I began my term talking referring to JFK, so let me finish my term referring to JFK In 1963, President Kennedy visited Ireland and addressing the joint-houses of the Oireachtas he said:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not”

41 years on and those words have lost none of inspiration.

So I say:

Let us stand up to the sceptics and cynics who are dragging this country down;

Let our generation strive for new horizons;

Let us look to tomorrow and ask WHY NOT a better Ireland?


And in this New Ireland – let Fine Gael make that hope real.

Thank you.