An Taoiseach, Ministers, councillors, local election candidates, a dhaoine uaisle, ladies and gentleman
Is onóir mor dom é, a bheith anseo, ar son mhuintir na Longfoirt agus na h-Iarmhí.
It is a great honour and privilege for me to be selected here tonight as Fine Gael’s bye-election candidate for Longford-Westmeath.
Being here also is a painful reminder for all of us of how my beautiful sister Nicky was taken at the prime of her life by a debilitating illness.
On Saturday, I attended Nicky’s Month’s Mind mass. . .Today, I stand before you as an election candidate determined to honour and fulfil the mandate that the people of Longford/Westmeath gave Nicky three years ago.
After her funeral, we heard many amazing stories of Nicky’s kindness, and of her determination to serve. On the very first week after she was elected to Seanad Eireann, a young woman, for whom Nicky had secured a house, rang the constituency office, saying the house was unsuitable. But instead of referring her to the council, Nicky went to the house, then went across the road and bought cleaning products. And together, Nicky and the young woman scrubbed the house until it was spotless.
Later, Nicky explained that no-one had taught the young woman how to manage a house on her own, so how was she expected to know? That woman is still living in that house today. In an age when everyone is wondering what the state will do for them, the story is typical of Nicky; her work was helping people to help themselves, and I share that mission.
Even after Nicky’s diagnosis, she refused to be defined by Motor Neurone disease. She continued to carry out her duties despite the huge difficulties she faced, especially in the last twelve months. When her voice went, and she could no longer walk, I was proud to step up to the mark; and to continue the important business of representing the people of Longford and Westmeath. I raised parliamentary questions. I made representations to ministers on behalf of the midlands. I ran Nicky’s clinics for her, meeting with a slew of constituents and dealing effectively with the issues they raised. I know the work a TD does. I am ready to hit the ground running.
There has been much clichéd commentary about political dynasties. Nicky and Aine and I grew up in a political household. My father Brendan was a county councillor for 25 years. In the days before emails and mobile phones, people would arrive at our doorstep from 8 am in the morning, just to catch him before he went out. And he often took his last phone call at half eleven at night. No-one raises an eyelid when a doctor’s daughter becomes a doctor, or a lawyer’s son becomes a lawyer. I am proud to say that like my father and my two sisters, public service, not self-service, is in my DNA.
And as we campaign on the doorsteps together and face into this Longford-Westmeath bye-election on May 23rd, I want to stand on my own record. I have worked tirelessly as a full time politician in the last five years. Full time! And I will continue, as I have always done, to be a voice for ordinary people of the midlands.
If anyone on the doorstep asks you what does Gab stand for, it is Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
Make no mistake. This recession was created by the reckless governance of Fianna Fail. And yet, at the depths of the recession, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, led by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, oversaw 100,000 new jobs from start-ups. Most of these came from small and medium size enterprises. Only last week, An Taoiseach was on hand to formally launch the new Local Enterprise office in Mullingar, one of 31 such offices nationwide providing a first-stop shop where businesses and start-ups can access supports in one place without being stifled by red tape.
The Government’s action plan also includes a commitment to focus on regional job creation in 2014 and just recently, the sod was turned on a new IDA advance factory in Athlone. And I am committed to accelerating the roll out of faster broadband speeds, particularly in Longford so that we have a level playing field on which to compete with any small business in the world.
As a former self-employed businesswoman, I will promote targeted supports for small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. For example, I have been passionately involved in the opportunity in a million initiative, which provides seed funding for start-up businesses in the midlands to create jobs, and once in profit, to return the investment so that other businesses can grow in their turn. At every level, what matters most is not just what the state can do for us, but what we can do for ourselves.
I know I may be a little biased here, but we live in the most beautiful part of the country, the heart of Ireland. To add to the natural amenities provided by our lakelands and rivers, I want to see the cycleway, and the careful development of our cultural heritage. I want to see the Midlands as a destination to rival any in the country.
While the country is moving in the right direction and we are on the road to recovery, I know from my work on the ground, that people have seen their incomes reduce and are yet to experience any improvement in their daily lives. We need to remember that exiting the bail-out was not an end in itself. It was only the end of the beginning. Mar a deir an seanfhocail; “tús maith, leath na h-oibre”. And just as this Government had an effective plan to exit the bail-out, Fine Gael has an effective plan for rebuilding our economy.
Whether you live in the beautiful towns in Longford or Westmeath, or in the many rural communities that make up our constituency, I am asking you for your support over the next three weeks, to ensure we secure that strong Government mandate for this constituency. With your help, I want to play my part in this recovery programme on behalf of the people of midlands.
Tonight, I have fulfilled a promise to Nicky by putting my name forward.
Nicky did not ask me to do this because I am her sister.
Nicky asked me to do this because she believed I could do it. And so do I.