A chairde Glasa,
Céad míle fáilte romhaibh go hArd-Fheis an Chomhaontais Ghlais.
Welcome to beautiful Cork,
As we gather here renewing old friendships and making new ones, it is impossible not to think of the heartache experienced by many not so far from here as a result of damage to homes and businesses by major flooding. We are thinking today of those desperately worried about their future, about the journey ahead to rebuild what they’ve lost. Let me assure you that the Government will support you in doing so.
The last time we were in Cork for our convention was 2016. Seven years on, and look how much we’ve grown! We are now a thriving party of 12 TDs, 4 Senators, 2 MEPs, 44 councillors, and thousands of members across the country. We are a party that is growing, that is leading the way and improving people’s lives across Ireland.
The need for progressive, green politics around the world has never been so compelling, so pressingly urgent. At a time when humanity’s focus should be resolutely fixed on tackling the twin threats of climate change and nature loss, we seem intent on revisiting the bloody conflicts of yesteryear. “History,” as James Joyce wrote, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”. Those words, sadly, ring true today. What we have seen unfold in recent weeks in the Middle East is a barbaric nightmare. The slaughter, maiming and capturing of innocent people under any flag, under any name for any cause is wrong. It is reprehensible. We call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. All hostages should be released. Electricity and the fundamental human right to water must be restored and humanitarian aid corridors must stay open.
It is often said that the first casualty of war is truth. The totally conflicting accounts of who was responsible for the horrific bombing of the Al-Ahli hospital this week once again shows the need for reliable or verified information. It also demonstrates that access to an impartial, trustworthy and independent media is more important than ever, both here and abroad.
The growth of disinformation and misinformation by bad actors challenges our democracy and our society, and has the potential to undermine public confidence in news, information, and the political system.
It is a complex issue and no one approach will solve it. But this Government and I, as Minister for Media, are taking unprecedented steps to address this. Work is well underway in my Department on the development of a national counter-disinformation strategy; new laws to be implemented by the recently established regulator, Coimisiún na Meán, will reduce the availability of harmful online content. We will tackle disinformation and make the online space safer for all.
In this increasingly diverse media landscape, the role of public service media and high quality journalism has never been so important. It must be protected.
You only have to look at the work of journalist Paul Cunningham and cameraman Owen Corcoran reporting from the Middle East this week to understand the vital service that public service broadcasting provides. This top quality journalism is one of the many reasons why we pay our TV licence and should be proud to do so.
Unfortunately, the recent controversy in RTÉ has undermined the crucial role our public service broadcaster plays. Trust has been shattered. It is vital that that trust is restored.
The wide-ranging independent expert reviews I have commissioned are key to that process. A greater understanding of what went wrong in the past will set us on the right path for the future and allow us to rebuild RTÉ into a public service broadcaster that we can be proud of once more.
The development of a new strategic vision for RTÉ is in the hands of its Director General and his leadership team and I have always said that he must be given the space and time to do this.
RTÉ’s independence from all state, political and commercial influences is enshrined under law and must be respected at all times. But this does not mean it should be exempt from accountability. And any decision on additional interim funding for RTÉ is conditional on this new strategic vision demonstrating that transparency, robust governance and greater efficiency are at the heart of its operations.
I have full confidence that RTÉ will emerge from this period stronger and better than ever. A different RTE, yes. More agile, certainly. Perhaps one with a stronger regional presence and increased access to home grown content. But crucially one that always has quality journalism and the public interest at its core. And members whilst consecutive Irish governments have failed to address the question of a long-term sustainable funding model for public service broadcasting – I am determined that this Government will be the one that makes that decision.
Friends and colleagues, at a time when if feels as though many countries around us are slipping backwards, it strikes me that Ireland is a country that is forging a path forward. In Government we have remained focused on the urgent action needed to tackle climate change, to protect our natural world and to create a fairer and more inclusive society.
Just last week, we helped oversee a fourth-consecutive Budget that saw those on the lowest-incomes receive the most help. We did this while simultaneously unveiling ground-breaking measures that will transform this country for the better.
We announced a Climate and Nature fund that will invest more than €3bn in vital projects over the remainder of the decade.
We also delivered a second, consecutive 25% reduction in childcare fees. Just think about that for a moment. For many years everyone has known that childcare fees were FAR too high in Ireland but it took a Green Party minister to change course and deliver on this issue. It is an achievement that will stand the test of time.
This is what happens when you elect Green Party politicians – progressive policies that put people first. That, a chairde, is the Green Effect.
Half-price transport fares for young people. A tax credit for renters. Cainéal teilifíse Gaeilge nua do pháistí,Cúla 4, seolta i mbliana. A new national park. Free contraception for young women. That’s the Green Effect right there in action.
A billion and a half euro for new forests. A doubling of funding for Women in Sport. A basic income scheme that guarantees 2,000 artists a crucial financial bedrock of €325 a week. That’s the Green effect.
Members, in just over seven months’ time, the country will elect councillors and MEPs to represent them from the next five years.
We fought hard to get Grace O’Sullivan elected in Ireland South and Ciarán Cuffe in Dublin. We must all work tirelessly to make sure these two wonderful representatives are returned to the European Parliament – and that Senator Pauline O’Reilly joins them for Midlands North-West.
We also have 44 local Green Party councillors who are improving quality of life across 17 local authorities. We need to build on their record and seek to get a Green elected to every county council in the country.
The time has come for Greens to be elected in Sligo, Kerry, Longford, and Monaghan.
The time has come for a Green councillor in Meath, in Cavan and in Donegal.
The time has come for a Green voice for Wexford, Carlow, Tipperary and Mayo.
And the time has come for a Green vision for Roscommon, Laois and Leitrim.
With over 100 passionate and diverse local election candidates, we have never been in a stronger position to go out and get a record number of Greens elected.
A chairde, it’s time to move our campaign up a gear. Let’s knock on every door, walk up every bohereen, and campaign in every housing estate.
Our fate is in our hands. Is linne an todhchaí, agus is féidir linn í a athrú le chéile. Bígí linn.
And finally, a chairde, it is my pleasure to introduce a colleague, a friend, and a true leader. Somebody who has a track record like no other, in fighting for and delivering climate action.
Please welcome our party leader, Minister Eamon Ryan.