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Speech in Dáil Éireann on the Resignation of Ministers and Nomination of Members of Government


A Cheann Comhairle,

I wish to announce, for the information of the House, that the President, acting on my advice, has accepted the resignations of Deputies McCreevy, Walsh and Smith as members of the Government.

I want to pay tribute to the contribution made to the work of the Government and to the country by the former Ministers for Finance, Agriculture and Food and Defence, Deputies Charlie McCreevy, Joe Walsh and Michael Smith. In the case of former Minister McCreevy he will also be stepping down from Dail Eireann upon taking up his new duties as European Commissioner for the Internal Market.     

Deputies Walsh and McCreevy and myself all first entered this House in 1977.

Deputy McCreevy has spent ten years at the Cabinet table, most notably as Minister for Finance but had previously served as Minister for Tourism & Trade and Minister for Social Welfare.

There is no one better qualified to fill the role of Irish member of the European Commission.  His remarkable talents and record of achievement are reflected in the important and prestigious portfolio, which the President-designate of the European Commission has decided to assign to him.   I am sure that the House will join with me in wishing him well in his new and onerous responsibilities, while congratulating and thanking Commissioner David Byrne on his very successful term, during which he has contributed so positively to the welfare of the people of Europe.

The Economy

While the past couple of years have been difficult economically, the determined and decisive action taken by this Government in 2002 ensured that Ireland has come through the international economic downturn as well as any other country and better than most.

The policies that Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats have implemented since 1997, have supported the creation of 420,000 extra jobs and won strategic new international investments for Ireland. 

During that period, this Government managed the economy prudently and successfully - and we will continue to do so.   We have established a position of strength from which we can now, confidently, go forward to grow the economy over the next three years and beyond.

Apart from his role in managing the economy, Charlie McCreevy instituted a number of key reforms, including the restructuring of the income tax code, the establishment of the National Pension Reserve Fund, the commitment to record rates of investment in infrastructure, underpinned by a new, multi-annual, capital envelope framework, and a package of reforming measures for the public service, covering both legislation and pensions.


I have known of Deputy Walsh's decision to retire from the Cabinet since last Christmas. His tenure as a Minister in one department, the Department of Agriculture and Food, is unique in modern Irish politics.  Having first served nearly five years in that Department as a Minister of State from 1987 to 1992, he has gone on to sit at the Cabinet table as Minister for Agriculture and Food for ten years in total.

Joe Walsh has made an immense contribution to Agriculture and Rural Ireland.  His skilled negotiation of the most radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy since its inception, led to the decision on the full decoupling of direct farm payments from production.  Ireland was the first EU Member State to have made that momentous and courageous decision that will encourage the sustainable development of the sector, while guaranteeing a high level of income stability. 

However, I believe it will be for his management of the Foot and Mouth crisis that Joe Walsh will be most widely remembered. His calm and effective handling of a disease crisis, which had the potential to cause major damage to the whole economy, rightly earned him the plaudits of Deputies on all sides of this House. 

Michael Smith was first elected to the Dail in 1969.  He has previously held the Energy, Environment, Education, and Science and Technology portfolios, but since October 1997 has served as Minister for Defence.

Over the past seven years, he has successfully revamped our Defence Forces with a policy of continuous recruitment and a programme of investment in new equipment and infrastructure. 

In 2000 he put in place the first ever White Paper on Defence, which sets out a blueprint for the development of the Defence Forces over the period to 2010. 

I also want to pay tribute to Michael Smiths excellent work in reducing the overall level of costs to the State on the army deafness issue. Thanks to a robust strategy, the total cost is expected to be around €300 million, far short of the €1 billion originally feared. 

Nominations for Ministerial Office

I now move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the nomination by the Taoiseach of Ministers of State Hanafin, ODea and Roche for appointment by the President to be Members of the Government.

In addition, I wish to advise the House that I intend to make the following proposed reassignments.

I propose to assign responsibility for the

Department of Health and Children to the Tánaiste, Deputy Mary Harney

Department of Finance to Deputy Brian Cowen

Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to Deputy Noel Dempsey

Department of Foreign Affairs to Deputy Dermot Ahern

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to Deputy Mícheál Martin

Department of Social and Family Affairs to Deputy Séamus Brennan

Department of Transport to Deputy Martin Cullen

Department of Agriculture and Food to Deputy Mary Coughlan

Department of Education and Science to Deputy Mary Hanafin

Department of Defence to Deputy Willie ODea

Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to Deputy Dick Roche

Subject to the motion that I have put to the House being approved, Deputies, Hanafin ODea and Roche will cease to be Ministers of State on their appointment as members of the Government.

I propose to nominate to the Government Deputies Seán Power, Batt OKeeffe, Tony Killeen, Brendan Smith and Conor Lenihan to be Ministers of State.   I will propose to the Government the Departments to which they will be nominated and some other changes in the allocation of responsibilities to existing Ministers of State, including the appointment of Deputy Tom Kitt as Chief Whip.

It will also include the assignment of a Minister of State to the Department of Agriculture & Food in succession to Deputy Liam Aylward, who ceased to be a Minister of State upon election to the European Parliament in June.

I would also like to inform the House that I have accepted the resignation of Deputy Jim McDaid as Minister of State.  I want to thank him for the contribution which he has made at the Department of Transport over the past two years.

Key Objectives

In the period ahead the key objectives of Government policy will continue to be those set out in our Programme for Government.   These are:

-           to manage the economy and the public finances to maximise sustainable growth and employment,

-           to maintain and deepen our competitiveness, especially by addressing infrastructure deficits,

-           to maintain and enhance social cohesion, and

-           to continue the development of our caring services, building on the major investment over recent years.

The Government is firmly focused on the achievement of these objectives. That requires energetic and professional leadership, the kind that results from the right combination of experience and innovation.   That has been my aim in shaping my team for the next phase of this Governments term.   In bringing in new members to the Cabinet and nominating new Ministers of State, I am renewing the Ministerial team with energetic and ambitious colleagues, who are also experienced and professional politicians.   By reassigning Departmental responsibilities, I am taking the opportunity to bring a fresh perspective and renewed commitment to achieving our objectives across much of the machinery of Government.

Public office is demanding.  The people whom we are privileged to serve expect and deserve much from those they elect to high office.  This requires hard work, but also the capacity to deal effectively with problems and to deliver results that make a difference.   My colleagues know that their nomination by me is based on my expectation that they will meet that test.   The Tánaiste and I are satisfied that our two parties in Government can and will deliver on what we have promised to achieve.

Achieving our economic goals will require a continuation of sound fiscal policies.   Confidence and stability are vital ingredients in our strong performance.   We will continue to pursue tax policies that promote enterprise, support jobs, ease the burden of taxation on those on modest and especially low incomes and underpin the productive capacity of our economy.  We know, and the people know, that the tax policies that maximise revenue for spending on important public and social services are those we have been pursuing since 1997, and they are the policies that we will continue to pursue.

On the spending side, we will use the additional resources available to secure real increases in all of those services that make for a decent quality of life, especially for those most in need of our support.   Capital spending will continue to grow in line with the growth of the economy.   Our commitment to a modern infrastructure is reflected in the multi- annual framework which has brought confidence and better value through better project management to our rapidly developing public infrastructure.   We will take a number of key strategic decisions over coming months about the next generation of projects, especially in the area of public transport.   We will build not only to meet the needs of citizens today, but we will lay the foundations for economic and social success for the decades ahead.

With regard to current spending, our well-established record of continuing, real increases in social services will be maintained.   We will secure better value through reform and restructuring, wherever that is necessary.

The economic challenges for the period ahead will be to consolidate our development over recent years, to maintain our attraction for overseas investment, to improve the performance of new and developing Irish enterprises, to increase skill levels right across the economy and to identify and exploit opportunities presented by EU enlargement and the advent of new industrial powers, especially China.  We are well placed to do this, not least through the policies implemented by the Tánaiste over the past 7 years.  Recent major announcements of inward investment projects in leading global sectors are proof of our success.

I want to say a little about some of the priorities within the framework of the Programme for Government, which we will be pursuing over the period ahead, building on the very real and substantial achievements of this administration to date.

Infrastructure, Transport, and Roads

We have worked to address Irelands lack of infrastructure in a coherent and determined way. Capital Investment Envelopes totaling €33.6 billion in spending commitments, for the period 2004-2008, were introduced in the last Budget.   These include a commitment to keep the level of Exchequer-funded capital investment at 5% of GNP over the period.  This allows for an even flow of investment projects, facilitating better value for money and allowing us to plan to meet our development objectives.

We make no apology for leading the largest ever public sector investment programme in transport in Irish history.  Investment in our national roads is at an all time high - equivalent to €100 million every month.  Over €8 billion is committed to national roads between now and 2008.

Under the National Development Plan we are investing almost €3 billion in public transport.  New carriages are in service on the DART and suburban rail, while new commuter services have been introduced between Mallow and Cork, and between Ennis and Limerick.  Bus Atha Cliath and Bus Eireann were given substantial numbers of new buses last year. 

As Deputies will be aware, the very successful Luas from Sandyford to St. Stephen's Green was joined yesterday by the second Luas Line from Tallaght to Connolly Station, and further proposals are being prepared for extensions.   It will play an integral part in keeping the city of Dublin moving in a fast, efficient and clean fashion far into the future. 


To put the scale of housing activity during our time in Government in perspective, almost one-third of the countrys homes will have been built in the period 1997 - 2004.    Increasing supply was our goal and this year, we will build more than 80,000 homes three times the average rate per head of population in the EU and five times the rate in the UK.

On Social and Affordable housing, our range of initiatives, supported by €1.8billion in funding, is meeting the needs of some 13,000 households every year.  Through the Social Partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, 59 projects on State and Local Authority lands are planned, a demonstration of the Governments commitment to ambitious and early delivery in this area. 


A key priority for this Government is the Health service. In the National Health Strategy, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats set out the blueprint for the most fundamental restructuring ever of our health system and we intend to complete it.  In the past year, Minister Micheál Martin announced significant initiatives regarding a new Health Services Executive, which will include a National Hospital Office, a Primary and Continuing Care Directorate and a Shared Services Centre. 

Taken together, these structural reforms represent the biggest single national reorganisation of the health system since 1970. They will build on the foundation of the 162% spending increase, shorter waiting lists and increased staffing and treatment levels achieved in recent times.  It is our policy to continue to match investment with reform, so more and more patients will benefit through this Governments progressive development of a world-class health system. 

We will push forward the physical renewal and development of services in all parts of the country including an ambitious programme of bringing new acute specialties to the regions.  Services for the elderly and people with disabilities will continue to be prioritised.

Investing in People (Welfare)

Our record on old age pensions and on child benefit is one of which we are very proud.  From the outset, we said that those who are most vulnerable in our society are the young and the elderly.  It is at the beginning and at the end of our lives that we need help the most.  In Government, we have delivered record increases in the old age pension.  In 1997 it was €99. Today it is €167. And we will focus on increasing the pension again - and again - and again - so that we reach our target of €200. 

In the same period, we have more than trebled the rate of child benefit to €131.60 per month for the first and second children and to €165.30 per month for the third and subsequent children.


Education will remain a priority for this Government.  We believe that a high quality education system with equality of opportunity is vital to a modern republic as it offers all our citizens the chance to participate fully in the social and economic life of our country.  That is why since 1997 we increased overall investment in Education by 124% to €6.5bn this year.

We are determined to reach the highest international standards on class sizes and the foundations are now there to achieve our goal.  Since I became Taoiseach, there are 4,000 additional teachers at primary level, and an additional 2,337 teachers at post-primary level.  And to ensure further progress, we also increased Primary teacher training places by almost 300%.


As a government, we promised to cut crime by getting tough on criminals.  We have done just that.  Serious crime dropped 18% last year and has already dropped a further 19% in the first half of this year compared to the first six months of 2003. But this is not a cause for complacency:  we need more Gardaí and more prison places in an effort to further target street violence and drugs.

Our policy is clear:  more Gardai to protect the innocent, and more prison places to punish the guilty.   We have built over 1200 new prison places with more on the way to make sure that the revolving door for violent criminals remains firmly closed.  We have put more Gardaí onto the streets than ever before.  There are 1,400 more than in 1997, and we are determined to bring the level of the force to 14,000.  The Minister for Justice will shortly bring proposals to Government, which will ensure that 2000 recruitment places at the Garda College in Templemore will be phased in over the next three years. 

Northern Ireland

I now want to turn to our work on the Peace Process. When this government was formed, I said peace in Northern Ireland was the issue I would give priority to above all others.

I know that Irish people everywhere take tremendous pride in the role we played in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, which provides the political framework for building peace based on a just settlement. 

Working closely with our British counterparts, we have sought to bring about the conditions for full implementation of the Agreement.   After the recent talks at Leeds Castle, both Governments believe that what is on offer now is reasonable in its substance and historic in its meaning. In the period ahead, we will do everything in our power to ensure that we maintain the momentum in the process in order to allow for the return of devolved government as soon as possible. 


This Government has the proven capacity to meet the key opportunities and challenges facing this country.

Our people understand that we must firstly ensure our economic success in order to ensure that we succeed in implementing our social objectives.  In addition to record investment in roads, rail and housing we have also increased dramatically our spending on social services, especially health and education.   In the period ahead, the Government will build on this record to address a number of critical social needs. 

We will work with the social partners to continue the balanced and consensus-based approach to managing change and protecting jobs, living standards and the quality of life of our communities.

We intend to continue to provide incomes so that the elderly and others can live life with dignity.

Through additional targeted spending and improved management, we will continue the development of the health services, especially the provision for accident and emergency and long-stay patients.   We will also address the needs of those with disabilities, both through a new legal and service framework and through targeted investments.

I am proud to lead a Government with the talents and record of achievement of those whom I have named for my team for the balance of the Governments term.   I commend them to the House.