Leaders Key Note Speech Aontú Ard Fheis 2022
Dia dhiobh a chairde Ghael.
I want to send my solidarity and that of the Aontú Ard Fheis to the people of Cresslough. Our thoughts and prayers are with you on this tragic weekend.
This is an historic day. I have no doubt that in the future when Aontú enters government to implement our political project that this will be seen as one of the key steps in the emergence of Aontú has a real political force in Ireland.
This day did not happen by accident. Aontú do not have a team of paid staff to put this event together. What we have was men and women, volunteers with a conviction that Ireland can do, and must do a lot better.
I thank the people who worked so hard to put today together. Aontú and the growth we have achieved is very simply, the collective product of your work and the actions many other ordinary people who have decided that they will no longer stand idly by.
You have grown this movement in just a short time. 55,000 people voted Aontú in the last elections. 1,300 members have joined us from across the political spectrum. Our 6 elected reps are challenging the establishment from Wexford to Derry. Our poll ratings north and south are on a par with, and ahead in some cases, of political parties such as PbP, Labour, the Soc Dems and the Greens.
I want to thank all of the guest speakers that addressed this Ard Fheis. These people undertake critical work daily for communities that are suffering and under pressure. We look forward to working with you all in the future.
The law abortion law that has been introduced has ended the lives of 23,000 children north and south. That’s 900 classrooms of children who would be here with us today are not, directly due to these laws.
I ask you if you can’t trust a politician in relation to these lives what can you trust them on?
We in Aontú seek an Irish society built on compassion, empathy and kindness, there the most vulnerable are the most protected.
We will support mothers, economically and socially so that they have the confidence to raise their children to their full potential.
We seek to protect children with disabilities, from low income families and baby girls from the discrimination of abortion. We will support them not just up until the day that they are born, but through their whole lives.
Ireland north and south is buckling under a confluence of crisis. The Cost-of-Living Crisis, the Housing Crisis and the Health crisis are hammering families across the 32 counties.
Among the causes of these crises are government politicians who are completely detached from the people that they are meant to serve. TDs will give themselves pay rises this year that is equal to 50% of a pensioner’s total annual income.
Members of the Legislative Assembly in the north have taken their wages for 5 months without legislating for one day. There is a chasm of experience between the political class and most ordinary people.
There is also great incompetency at the heart of government. Lifelong career politicians with little are no practical experience and no ideological compass are bought and sold by senior public servants every day in Ireland.
The third ingredient to the malaise in the Irish political system is that we live in an accountability free zone. No one is ever held to account in the upper reaches of the public service or within the political system. And where there is no accountability there is no change.
Today the Cost-of-Living Crisis is bearing down on families north and south. Parents are lying awake at night wondering if they can manage to a Bill. More than half the population is heading into a winter expecting to suffer fuel poverty. Many families are skipping meals.
Yet today we are paying more in fuel taxes that we did before the Cost-of-Living crisis. All of the €1.2billion Electricity Credits that people will get in 3 instalments from Government, people have paid for in higher VAT, Carbon taxes & ESB price increases. All of the money they are giving us in Electricity Credits, they have actually just taken off us.
The Government even increased the Carbon Tax this year despite the crisis. Shockingly Aontú was only party in the Dail to have the common sense to vote against this tax.
We are the only country in Europe not to have Gas storage facility. We are the most exposed to deviations in price this winter and to cuts in supply. The government also restricted the use of turf in the middle of an energy crisis. Again, Aontú was the only party in the Dáil to oppose this unequivocally.
The Minister for Energy spoke recently in proud measured tones about bringing together all of the EU’s energy ministers to speak about offshore wind. Yet there has been only 7 off shore wind turbines erected in 20 years by successive governments.
Aontú called on the Government to reduce vat on fuel. They refused, citing EU rules that may prevent this. Yet Spain has reduced VAT on fuel.
We in Aontú have called on government decouple the price of non-gas generated electricity from gas generated electricity. They refused, citing an EU competency. Yet Spain and Portugal have taken this step.
We in Aontú have called on the government to introduce a windfall tax on certain energy companies that are making super normal profits. The Government refused again, outsourcing it to the EU. Italy on the other hand has stood up for its citizens.
Aontú again led the way in calling for the Government to reopen Lanesborough and Shannonbridge. Yet, in a country in danger of blackouts the Government has refused.
There is very little analysis of the massive contribution the extended severe lockdowns in Ireland have had on inflation and the Cost of Living crisis. Indeed there has been very little analysis of the outlier lockdown path that this government took at all.
As the other opposition parties stayed quite it was left to Aontú to table legislation to create a Commission of Investigation into what happened in our Nursing Homes, our Hospitals, to the mental health of our children. It is no shock to me that a government allergic to accountability is opposed to the passage of this valuable Aontú legislation tooth and nail.
The Cost of Living is biting hard in the north of Ireland too. Except in the north the political system has ground to a halt. In the North, Stormont is in abeyance while hundreds of thousands of people are in a Cost-of-Living crisis of epic proportions. The NHS will be hit by the health implications of a winter spent with very limited access to heat and food for many. Disability Action has said that people will die if they do not get adequate assistance. There is money available to the Executive but there is no Executive to access it.
The DUP are holding the democratic institutions to ransom. In no other state in the world would it be tolerated, that citizens would be in such an economic desperation and the political class would draw their fine salaries and do nothing. In no other profession would it be tolerated either. Postmen, teachers and nurses would be told to sling their hook if they refused to turn up for work for so long.
Aontú Cllr Emmet Doyle recently proposed legislation would reduce the salaries of MLAs to the minimum wage while they refuse to do their job. I have no doubt that experiencing life on the wages of many of their constituents would concentrate their minds. Emmet at council has also been forced to bring solutions such as Warm Banks to help those most in need.
Its clear that this impasse cant be allowed to continue. But only Aontú is calling for the reform of the political institutions to prevent any one party shutting down or preventing the function of democracy in the north. If the Aontú reforms are not implemented this crisis will be repeated by the DUP and Sinn Féin again and again
Reform is necessary now as the another election is maybe called in 3 weeks time. Are we really going to have another election to simply see stagnation and paralysis repeated in the new year.
Citizens can help break this impasse. If we keep voting for the same parties over and over again nothing will change. Voting to keep the other side out ends up keeping everyone out.
Aontú is also seeking significant economic reform in the north. Our reforms would empower the Executive to control more forms of taxation and therefore revenue generation. Scotland raises 22% through its own taxation powers, Wales 10% but the north only raises 5%. In a time of crisis the Executive is ill-equipped to help.
Aontú condemns that the Tory Plans to pass the Legacy Bill. This Bill would allow people get away with murder. We demand that the Tories scrap this controversial Bill. We also demand that the Irish Government take cases to the European Court on Human Rights on behalf of campaigns for truth and Justice. The Irish government must use every international legal opportunity to achieve truth and justice.
Constitutional change is coming. Unionism is now a minority. The Irish government must stop running away from this. We need to prepare for this change.
We can start now to deliver services more efficiently on an all-Ireland basis.
We can start to identify all barriers to north/south Enterprise and Agriculture and systematically start to reduce for these barriers.
We can identify tax and employment law barriers north/south and systematically start to reduce these barriers.
We can give rights to elected MPs in the north of Ireland to sit, pose questions and speak in the Dáil on the same terms as a member of the Dáil.
We can save money by amalgamating Invest NI functions with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, by amalgamating Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI and to create a retail strategy for Ireland north and south.
With a new All Ireland Spatial Development Office we can plan together, fund together and deliver together for all our benefit.
Housing is another sector beset with detachment, incompetency and a lack of
This government has created record breaking house prices, record breaking rents and record-breaking number of homeless people.
Yet what did the government introduce during the last budget? A levy on concrete that will ratchet price of every new building in the country up by thousands of euro.
In the middle of the most damaging housing crisis in the history of the state, the FF, FG and the Greens introduced a levy to make it worse.
Up to 30% of the cost of a home is already a tax or a government charge. That’s before you move into the home where they will slap on a local property tax.
The Mica Crisis must be paid for in full. But lets be clear, it happened as a direct result of FF light touch regulation. Their friends from the Galway tents were allowed to produce dirt and sell it as a building material and get away with it.
The government must pursue those who are guilty of the Mica crisis, there must be accountability for the wreckage that they have caused.
There are 160,000 empty homes in the state. The Government are not so eager to tax these.
Aontú has been calling for a vacant home tax for years and for grants to be made available to families to help them get vacant homes back into use.
The Promised Vacant Home Tax plan in the Budget was incredibly vague and nebulous. It seems to be based upon residential properties that are occupied for less than 30 days a year. How do you work that out? 31 selfies, signing in at that Garda Station?
The Residential Zoned Land Tax announced last year, is still in the future tense in this year’s budget.
Aontú is calling on the government and Executive to implement a vacant home and a vacant site tax to incentivise vacant homes and sites to be brought back into use.
This tax should include derogations to safeguard families who through no fault of their own cannot do this. We are calling on the government to implement the Aontú Airbnb Bill to release short terms lets back into the long term let sector and to create one rate of tax for all landlords, be they Irish or foreign investment companies. We need an emergency cap on rents and evictions now.
The Health Service is another sector riven government detachment, incompetency and no accountability. Only a government on incomes far in excess of the citizens they represent could create a two tier health service that fast tracks one income class and allows the rest to languish on waiting lists for years.
Cervical check really exposed misgovernance. The government apologised profoundly to women and promised that no women would be forced to go to court for justice.
But just a few years later, not only are hundreds of women forced to go to court but the HSE internally states it has done nothing wrong.
Key recommendations of the MacCraith report are ditched and 100% of our screening tests are still being processed abroad in foreign labs. I want to commend the work of Luke Silke for helping to expose this.
It was Aontú that fought for justice for baby Christopher. A healthy unborn boy that was aborted illegally on the basis of shoddy information produced by a private clinic.
But the political class sought to sweep the case under the carpet. No one held to account and taxpayers were force to cover the costs of the private clinic who carried out the abortion. The emotional costs of on the family are immeasurable. Who has ever been held to account for this?
The Minister for Health presided over the South Kerry CAMHS Unit. A specialist mental health unit operating with no specialist consultant in Mental Health and a doctor treating vulnerable children with no specialist Psychiatric training. Who has been held to account for this?
1.3 million people are on health service waiting lists. 1 in 4 people in this state who are waiting for health treatment, many whose illness is getting worse, many who will need more costly and more invasive treatment as a result and many who cannot work and earn a living as a result.
There are 900 missing Consultants. The GP sector is grinding to a halt with 400 GPs emigrating to Australia so far this year. On top of that we have the longest A&E waiting list on record.
The National Maternity Hospital is another example of the culture wars trumping common sense. The National Maternity Hospital has been delayed for years in large part because of a culture war stand-off between the government and most of the opposition participated in.
Anyone being held to account for any of this?
Aontú is calling for a change to the funding models of hospitals, Primary Care Centres and all other patient engaging Health Service Units. Funding should be on the tied to the actions, operations, therapies and treatments that are undertaken. This will ensure that funds make their way to the front line and do not get lost in increased numbers of middle management.
Aontú is calling for the merging of the HSE and the Department of Health. Both authorities are regularly in conflict with each other, there is no control leading to a costly, over inflated, slow moving, opaque bureaucratic monster. I want to commend the work of Cllr Emer Tóibín in this area.
In 2016 Ireland just after austerity had one of the smallest per capita police forces in the EU.
But figures Aontú has received show that in 6 years that figure has hardly increased at all. Today we have still one of the lowest police forces in the EU.
The Government had a target of recruiting 800 new members this year. However, we now know that Just 24 Gardaí were actually recruited. That’s just 3 Garda per month recruited to a police force that is one of the weakest in the EU.
Sexual Assaults and Domestic Violence in Ireland have significantly increased. Garda cars rammed with impunity. Many people are afraid to use public transport, yet we have a Government who seems more interested in banning what people can say and where they can say it. Aontú is working on a a new Bill that will bring about a minimum custodial sentence for anyone that significantly physically assaults a Garda, a member of the Fire Service, the Ambulance Service or a Medical professional while they are at work. This will be launched in the coming weks.
Today there are farmers standing outside supermarkets seeking just 2 cent extra for the price on an egg so that they can make a living and raise a family. Factories and Supermarkets are being allowed to squeeze ever last cent out of farmers while they make billions of euros profit, much of it untaxed.
When we in Aontú introduced the Equitable Beef Price Bill to guarantee a fair price for farmers, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael stated that it was unreasonable for farmers to expect a price above the cost of production. It seems to me that the government is getting ready to sell out the farming sector in the same way they sold out the fishing industry. I want to commend the great work Cllr Sarah O Reilly and cllr Jim Codd in these sectors.
We in Aontú will hold this government to account. We will puncture the political bubble with common sense solutions. We will reform the political system that is failing this generation of Irish people.
Aontú was the first to call out the Zappone appointment, the first to call for Robert Troy’s resignation. We were to the fore in calling out the Robert Watt appointment and salary, and the Tony Holohan secondment. Indeed Paul Reid has stood down in part due to our defence of Health capacity in Meath.
We have exposed wrongdoing in the Prison Service that put the lives of prison officers in danger. We are the only party fighting for ethos pluralism within schools north and south, that wild idea that parents should have an influence over the ethos of the education of their child.
Nearly two years on from the leaking on the Mother and Baby Home report we are still perusing the Taoiseach to provide details on the never-ending investigation. We were the only party to push back on the severity and length of Covid restrictions north and south seeking a policy more in line with other democracies.
None of this dysfunction has to be our future. The Irish people can put an end to the rotten culture that has taken over our political system.
One of the most significant things that I have learned through two decades of political activism is that the people do not know how strong they are. In fleeting sparks when people’s backs are against the wall, like the water charges, like the cut in pensions, people power comes to the fore.
But for the most part, the political establishment is banking on docile, disempowered citizenship, consuming their political marketing and just complaining on social media. Where once the major parties were activist led organisations now most are hollow ideological husks led by career politicians.
These are the politicians who will u-turn on every key value to suit the prevailing winds and package it as evolving politicaly. The Dáil and Stormont are stocked to the roof of politicians who will wrestle with their conscience and win every time, it does not need any more.
Because of the political fluidity of parties such as Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the SDLP in recent times, many people are politically stranded. Don’t remain in parties you no longer believe in.
Don’t get angry at what’s happened. Get organised. Social media is full disparate and angry political noise. But its not going anywhere.
Change won’t happen without good organisation. That’s why a key activity of Aontú over the last year was to build a grass roots people powered organisation in every county in the country.
Aontú is the most important political movement in Ireland. The lives and welfare of tens of thousands of people depend on our growth and development. And that growth depends on you. As citizens we are all equally responsible for this democracy.
More and more people recognise this and more and more people are joining our movement. Today Aontú is emerging as a clear alternative to the Political Establishment. Ar Aghaidh linn le cheile, Aontú agus Éire Abú