I am presently in New York where I will attend the UN Summit on Sustainable Development later today. There are three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particular to this Summit, namely ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and combating climate change by 2030. Of course, this Summit takes place in the context of the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe and I also intend to reiterate Ireland’s commitment to work closely with our EU partners in that regard.
Yesterday I was in Connecticut, my first visit there as Taoiseach, where I was honoured with a Degree from Quinnipiac University. I also visited Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum which chronicles the awful events of The Famine and its aftermath, particularly from an Irish-American perspective. This is a sobering look at the awful loss and suffering of those years, the effects of which are still felt in many ways today.
When this Government’s term began back in 2011, our overwhelming focus was placed on working to restore our damaged reputation internationally and urgently implementing a range of measures in support of job creation. I am glad to be in a position to say that, today, because of the Irish people’s incredible sacrifice and commitment, a new more sustainable period of prosperity is now within our grasp. However, as you are no doubt aware, that recovery is both fragile and incomplete and so extreme caution must be taken in the period ahead for our country.
Accordingly, I took the opportunity at the annual IBEC Presidents’ Dinner in the RDS, to commit Fine Gael to publishing a detailed, fully costed, five-year economic plan to secure the recovery in advance of the General Election. This is to be a realistic plan centred on three key steps: First, additional measures to replace all the jobs lost during the recession and reducing unemployment to 6%; second, making work pay through a combination of cuts in the rate of tax on work, better and more affordable childcare and a higher minimum wage; and third, restraint in public spending growth to return the public finances to surplus, and crucially to guard against the repeating of past mistakes.
In his State of the Union speech in the European Parliament, Strasbourg this morning (Wednesday), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker showed realism, practicality and with his measures he has called for a more resilient Europe.
The challenge of migration was the focal point of Mr Juncker’s address today. Importantly, he stressed that the current influx of refugees is a direct result of conflict, instability and a terrorist threat in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. The President stated that Europe needs to be stronger in its Foreign Policy. Diplomacy has a key role to play. Globally, there is a need to address the ongoing sources of conflict and other nations must recognise their responsibility in helping these refugees too. Combatting human trafficking and the criminal gangs who profit on human misery is essential, on which Mr Juncker also voiced a commitment. In the long-term, I believe the EU can lead by example but the United States, the Arab countries and democratically governed African countries all also share the responsibility for resolving these issues.
Human dignity and a humanitarian approach were prominent themes in Mr Juncker’s speech this morning, echoing the public’s sentiment. Many Member States, including Ireland, were mentioned as having experienced persecution in the past and having witnessed so many hundreds of thousands or more emigrate in the past. We are all or have historical national experience of being refugees, Mr Juncker pointed out. Perhaps it is that feeling of solidarity that many European citizens are feeling at present that has led to the strong public plea for EU leaders to continue to offer refuge to those in need.
The migration crisis hitting Europe is unprecedented. People are risking their lives to get to Europe. Many do not make it and die in the waters of the Mediterranean or in sealed trucks – abandoned by people traffickers.
The normal rules of EU migration policy are in tatters, designed for another time and not fit for purpose today.
It is not true to say that nothing is being done by the EU, perhaps it is more accurate to say that not enough is being done, because of the absence of agreement among the 28 member states about the way forward.
I believe that will change. It must. Sadly, the washing ashore of the bodies of two little Syrian boys has elicited a reaction among the public and political leaders. They are not the first little children to suffer and unless something is urgently done they will not be the last.
It is alarming to watch migrants at train stations shoving children through windows of overcrowded trains, unsure of where they are going or if they will get there.
The EPP Group, to which Fine Gael is aligned, supports responsibility sharing on a European level through a solidarity mechanism in support of those Member States where most migrants are arriving, especially along the Mediterranean coast.
This special 40th edition of the Cavan Voice is to ask for your support at our Convention next Tuesday night, 8th September, in the Hotel Kilmore.
I greatly appreciate your support and certainly do not take it for granted. I want to set out in this special edition, some of the reasons why I believe I can go on representing you effectively.
Since my election to the Dáil I have tried to provide a good service to you, the members. I have done this by writing and emailing to you regularly, providing up to date information. I have provided a monthly round of Clinics throughout the County and kept you informed of them. I have made myself available to meet people in our office in Cavan as often as possible and, in my own home as often as was required. I am delighted that with the help of my outstanding staff I have been able to provide you, the Membership, with a first class service in our offices in Cavan and Dublin. Accompanied and ably assisted by Mr. Michael Smith and Mr. Peter O’Reilly, I have attended good participative Annual General Meetings in our branches, giving most winter and autumn nights to this.
Over the Dáil term I have tried to modernise our Party’s approach to canvassing and political activity. With your outstanding co-operation we have put out regular editions of the Cavan Voice Newsletter throughout the County. During the Dáil term I have canvassed regularly in our urban centres to maintain a strong connection with our voters. I want to especially thank those who assisted me in that. Of course, I have done all the traditional things that TD’s do, such as attending family events, local festivals, official functions and relevant public meetings. I have maintained a very strong social media presence, and a strong presence in all local media.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Maelstrom has described as “myths” concerns raised by Slow Food Ireland about the negative impact on high food standards of ongoing TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) negotiations between the EU and the US.
In a letter to Mairead McGuinness, MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament, the Commissioner thoroughly refutes the concerns raised by the movement.
Ms.McGuinness said. “The Commissioner clearly states she is fully committed to retaining the ‘precautionary principle’ which is written into EU Treaties.
“I welcome the Commissioner’s strong reassurance on this point and also her statement that the EU’s farm-to-fork approach will not be challenged by TTIP. She has stated categorically that the discussions on harmonising our EU food regulations with those of the US are focused on cutting regulatory duplication rather than anything more fundamental. And she highlights distinct differences between what she terms ‘distinct social choices’ and those which exist only because the systems are different and in practice could be made more coherent.