Ceann Comhairle, I have tasked my new Government to build in Ireland a Republic of Opportunity, one in which every person has an opportunity to succeed and one in which all parts of the country have an equal chance to share in our prosperity.
I have also tasked them with ensuring that Ireland remains at the heart of Europe, as becomes an island at the centre of a global world.
To help create that Republic of Opportunity we need to be a government of purpose. This will be a government that gets things done.
We are fortunate to be in a government with some hugely talented independent TDs, men and women who have brought with them their own vision for the country, their own determination to do what is right, their own ideas about what is needed to help all our citizens. We are stronger because of them. They showed courage entering Government, they are making a real difference in terms of medical cards for people on Domiciliary Care Allowance, childcare, judicial reform and broadband.
I want this to be a genuine partnership government, one that mobilises the talents of all those involved, those of us in Fine Gael, Independent Alliance Ministers and TDs, as well as Independent Ministers and TDs. It will be a partnership built on mutual trust and respect, underpinned by a shared desire to help all our citizens. Whatever the challenges, whatever the problems that are thrown at us, we will work together in the public interest for the common good.
Today marked the end of one chapter of Irish history, and the beginning of another.
To those countries around the world who are looking at Ireland tonight I have a simple message. This is a country that will be at the heart of Europe, playing our part in the great debates and meeting the great challenges of our time.
We will strengthen the bonds with those countries with which we share strong historical and cultural links, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. We also reaffirm our connection with all the countries where we have developed strong links in recent years. This is a government that is committed to multilateralism, and we will face the great international causes of our time - with climate change and international development two of the most pressing.
We will continue to play a role in the United Nations, building on our great history of international co-operation, multilateralism and responsibility.
We will work to protect our citizens, and we will work to play our part in combatting the growing threat of radical terrorism.
I also have a special message of support for our disaspora around the world, wherever they are to be found. We pledge that we will provide a voice for your interests and strengthen the links to this country.
So allow me to set out some priorities.
I have asked Minister Simon Coveney to take on the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for co-ordinating the whole of Government response to Brexit. We face enormous challenges in foreign policy as relationships on this island, between these islands and across Europe change.
I have tasked him to work towards re-establishing devolved Government in Northern Ireland, securing the best possible deal for Ireland on Brexit, winning a seat for Ireland on the UN Security Council and expanding our diplomatic and trade footprint overseas.
I have asked Minister Paschal Donohoe as serve as Minister at the head of two Departments, the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. I have asked him to keep our public finances sound, and drive the implementation of an ambitious new capital infrastructure plan for Ireland. And ensure that our public services continue to be prepared for Brexit. In 2011, given the scale of the crisis this country was facing, it was the right decision to create two departments to deal with the questions of finance, public expenditure and reform. Having restored our economic sovereignty, we are now working to ensure that the recovery is shared across all the country, and so there is a real logic to having the same minister in charge of the two areas to ensure an integrated and co-ordinated approach.
Frances Fitzgerald will continue to serve as Tanaiste, a role she has excelled in over the past few years, and will also serve as Minister for Enterprise & Innovation. She has been tasked with driving employment growth and investment in Ireland and especially outside the Greater Dublin area, expanding our agency presence abroad and ensuring that we are business-ready for Brexit. I also intend an enhanced role for the office of Tanaiste including attending state occasions, trade missions and chairing some cabinet committees.
Charles Flanagan will serve in the Department of Justice where his key tasks will be to continue reducing crime, pilot the Judicial Appointments Bill through the Dail and drive reform and culture change in An Garda Siochana.
Michael Creed will remain as Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food and will prioritise preparations for the next round of CAP reforms, expand Ireland’s overseas markets for food and drive the implementation of Foodwise 2025 and Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth.
Richard Bruton will stay as Minister for Education and will be responsible for the enactment of the Technological Universities Bill, securing broad consensus on a new model for funding third-level and implementing the Action Plan for Education. Education is the most effective tool to break the cycle of disadvantage and provide opportunity. It is also the foundation of a successful modern economy.
Given the central importance of education in a society where there is a genuine equality of opportunity I am appointing Mary Mitchell O'Connor to take responsibility for Higher Education attending Cabinet. We need to drive this sector forward, give it autonomy and resource it adequately.
Regina Doherty will take my place at the Department of Social Protection which, in line with other countries, will gain the labour affairs and labour law responsibilities of the former Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Her key responsibilities will be ensuring that budget packages are progressive and reduce inequality, advancing social insurance reform and the new deal for the self-employed, and providing access to an occupational pension for all employees.
No country has a perfect health service. However, Ireland is an outlier among wealthy countries when it comes to patient charges and patient access. Surely, a country and a political system that managed to weather the worst recession in a generation, save the banking system and bring an end to a conflict that last centuries should be able to get this right? I am determined that we do so.
The all-party Slainte Care Report provides good guidance, and so I task Minister Simon Harris with preparing a detailed response to the report including proposed measures and timelines.
I am also asking him to complete the passage of the Public Health Alcohol Bill through the Houses as soon as possible. He will also be responsible for bringing forward legislation to allow for a referendum on the 8th amendment in 2018.
Minister Shane Ross remains at the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport and will drive the implementation of the transport improvements provided for in the new capital plan, protect tourism from the risks of Brexit and work to secure the Rugby World Cup for Ireland in 2023.
Eoghan Murphy will join the Cabinet as Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government. Rebuilding Ireland is working but it may not be enough. I am tasking him to review Rebuilding Ireland within three months and consider what additional measures may be required including consideration of a greater quantum of social housing build, a vacant home tax and measures to encourage landlords to stay in or enter the rental market. He will also take responsibility for Ireland 2040 and a further reform of local government and electoral reform.
Minister Katherine Zappone stays at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Her principle responsibility will be the successful introduction and implementation of the Affordable Childcare Scheme, leading the government response to child poverty.
I am appointing Michael Ring to head up a newly reformed Department of Community and Rural Affairs. His role will be to support local communities in all parts of Ireland and also to ensure that rural areas, market towns and villages that have not experienced economic recovery do so.
I have been enormously impressed with the Decade of Commemorations so far, and Creative Ireland, and I want Minister Heather Humphreys to continue her excellent work in this area. I want there to be a new emphasis and new importance attached to the promotion of the arts, culture and heritage in Ireland with the budget to match. It’s our creativity that makes Irishmen and Irishwomen different and we need to foster it.
I am assigning responsibility for An Ghaelige, An Gaeltacht and the Islands to the Chief Whip as Minister of State at this Department in addition to his duties as Whip. I say ‘An Ghaelige’ rather than ‘An Gaeltacht’ as I am tasking him with the role of promoting the learning and use of the Irish language in all parts of Ireland and to be a voice at the cabinet table for our first national language.
Minister Denis Naughten will remain at the Department of Communications, Climate Action, and Environment. I am determined that the Government should show new ambition when it comes to tackling climate change by setting out a roadmap to a low carbon economy. Climate will be the first item to be discussed at our first full day strategic cabinet meeting. He will also drive the National Broadband Plan with every premises having access to high-speed broadband.
Minister Paul Kehoe will remain as a Minister at my Department and as Minister for Defence. I will fully delegate all functions relating to Defence to him including responsibility for the office for emergency planning.
Minister Finian McGrath will remain as Minister for Disability across several Departments. As a Government, we are renewing our commitment to ratifying the UN Conventions on People with Disabilities this year and improving services available to people with disabilities, especially respite care and emergency residential places.
I commend the new Government to the House.