08 May 2014

Minister Fitzgerald's speech at the launch of the Fine Gael local election manifesto

With FG female candidates at the launch.

Fine Gael Manifesto launch for the local elections 2014.

Speech by Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children & Youth Affairs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Most people get into politics – whether local or national – in order to change things.

We succeed to a greater or a lesser extent. But we don’t often get the chance to stand at a point  and say “This is where the real change happened. This is the point at which an old way of doing things – a bad way of doing things – was cast aside and a better model put in place.

Today allows us to say precisely that.

 It’s the election that will usher in a new kind of councillor, who will exercise a different kind of power.

For too long, local democracy was local – and democratic – only in name.

The abolition of rates was a key step in the abolition of local power. It turned the face of every local authority towards Dublin and towards Leinster House, where the money came from. That, in turn, gave central government way too much power and influence in local matters.

The unacceptable closeness of ostensibly local government and national government was hammered home by the fact that TDs often held a dual role. They were county councillors or city councillors as well as Dail deputies.

It took this Government, and more particularly, one Minister, Minister Phil Hogan,  to take the whole flawed system by the scruff of the neck, take a long look at it and say “You know something? This isn’t good enough. And tinkering is not going to make it good enough. This requires radical change.”

Radical change. Not change for the sake of change. Change for the sake of every parish, every neighbourhood, every townland in this country.

Instead of 118 councils, we’ll have just over 30.
Instead of 1,600 councillors, we’ll have less than a thousand.

But that’s just the statistics. What matters is the significance of those statistics.

And the significance is that the smaller number of councillors will have much more influence and power.

Citizens will have much more engagement with the councillors they elect – and will be able to hold them accountable for the actions they take and the decisions they make.
Local Government is moving into a new era. A better era. An era where the connection between what you pay and what you get for what you pay will be clear. The local property tax, for example – Fine Gael promises to make sure that everybody will know precisely how the proceeds of the local property tax are spent in their area.

One of the important new responsibilities being vested in local authorities is that of job creation. Nobody knows the possibilities and needs of their area as well as local councillors do, and it’s time we tapped into that expertise.

Each one of us carries a series of maps in our heads. It’s arguable that politicians have the most precise and detailed mental maps of their constituencies. We know every street, every school, every community centre, and we know them by heart. They are  part of what we are, what we believe in, what we work for. Good politicians, whether they’re local, national or European in their remit, are steeped in the realities of the people they serve.

These local elections are about ‘Making recovery local’.
We will empower you to do just that.

This manifesto makes it clear that each and every politician who gets elected to their council, this time around, will have a strong role to play in driving local economic development.

If elected:

It will be up you to introduce measures to revitalize the Main Street.

It will be up you to make sure commercial rates don’t increase – and reduce them wherever possible, so no extra burden is put on local business to fund local government.

You will have the power, for the very first time, to get landlords moving on the renting of vacant premises - a huge change-maker in this area.

We want to see councils coming together, pooling their strengths and thinking of their region as well as of their neighbourhood or their county.

But this Manifesto; and this election... is not just about the economy.
It’s about much more.

It’s about society.
It’s about our people.
Our families. Our friends. Our work colleagues. Our Neighbours.
It’s about our Community!

Already you are all champions for your community.
If elected, or reelected you will be empowered to do even more, to achieve even more.
For your communities…
To promote healthy, vibrant and inclusive communities!

And you have real influence… and Fine Gael in Government will strengthen your influence… to address real challenges… locally!

As Children’s Minister, I have highlighted the major challenge posed by the stark reality that 25% of Irish five years olds are overweight or obese.

I am working with Minister James Reilly on national responses.
But local responses are up to you.
And we will empower you.

We have brought in new National Guidelines on local area planning, explicitly empowering local authorities to restrict the opening of new takeaway in close proximity to schools and children and youth amenities.

If elected, it will be up to you to translate these national guidelines into your local development plans!

As Minister, I have provided match funding for local authorities to provide new play areas, to support play, recreation and physical activity. I will continue to provide funding.

But it’s up to you… if elected to your council… to ensure that council budgets also provide funding and that your planning policies favour more play areas in walking distance of residential communities.

Similarly I have provided over €2 million in funding for new youth cafes right across this country.

I have been impressed by the innovative approach of local authorities in partnering with youth services… to plan and provide  for the local needs of young people… and to develop new models of youth cafes… as dynamic local hubs for young people… Not  just as places to hang out but also places where young people can get quality information and supports on key current issues such as employment and training but also places where positive mental health is promoted and where accessible counselling can be provided.

If elected you will be empowered to take a lead to plan for the needs of your community’s youth.

You’ll find, as you read through this manifesto, that it’s much more precise than you might expect. On every page are actions, costs, details of precisely what Fine Gael is committed to achieve for every county, and – through that work – for the nation.

It’s time local government meant what it said.

It’s time the public were offered councillors who match passion with professionalism – and that, ladies and gentlemen – is the reality of all of the Fine Gael candidates in this election.

They match passion and professionalism.
They have watched and witnessed as Taoiseach Enda Kenny tapped into the bruised strength of this nation and started us back on the road to pride and resilience and sustainable economic growth.

We now hold our sovereignty in our hands – but we also hold the future in our hands.

In every county in Ireland, men and women of courage and commitment, passion and professionalism, are asking to serve local needs as defined by local residents. They do so backed by a solid, detailed, radical and visionary manifesto.

This is change that matters. Change that empowers.

Thank you.