In her previous work as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Tánaiste she made an enduring contribution to developing the economic base of the country.
Deputy Noel Dempsey has served this country well in a variety of portfolios. At the Cabinet table he was a straight talking and respected colleague, forceful in his contributions and a loyal supporter of Government decisions. His achievements as a Minister are many. As Minister for Transport he brought forward significant legislation and initiatives which have reduced the number of road deaths in Ireland, thus saving many lives.
Deputy Dermot Ahern has been a reforming Minister for Justice and Law Reform who carried out his duties with great ability and commitment to the public good. He, too, has many achievements, including the recent groundbreaking anti-gangland legislation. I also served with Dermot in the Governments of Deputy Bertie Ahern and saw at first-hand the strong contribution he made to the Irish peace process from its inception in his role as envoy for the UN Secretary General.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin has represented the country with distinction at home and abroad. I especially want to place on the record of the House my gratitude to him for the work he has done to bring further significant progress in the political landscape in Northern Ireland. The Hillsborough agreement last February opened a new and positive chapter for the people of Northern Ireland and Micheál's political skills were crucial to that outcome. Deputy Martin is a politician of substance who have served the people extremely well in the Departments of Education and Science, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Health and Children and Foreign Affairs.
Deputy Batt O'Keeffe has been one of my best friends in politics and in life. He is a politician of great wisdom, intelligence and loyalty. He has been a hard-working public representative for over a quarter of a century and he has come to a decision not to contest the next election. From our discussions I know he shares my assessment that there is a need to have more young people in Government as a necessary source of renewal and vitality in our politics. He has made a major contribution to the Government. As Minister for Education and Science he placed at centre stage the debate on how we are to resource our universities and institutes of technology to make them the best in the world. He embarked on radical programmes of school curriculum reform, including project maths. As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation he ensured significant and tailored investment in the enterprise and innovation agencies which are now helping to drive export-led recovery. He turned a policy focus on commercialised research and set in motion the implementation of the report of the innovation task force.
It was my great pleasure to appoint Deputy Tony Killeen as the Minister for Defence in March last year. Although his time in the Department of Defence was brief, he was responsible for a number of significant developments. He oversaw the successful completion of the Defence Forces UN mission from Chad last summer and announced a new peacekeeping deployment to the Lebanon before Christmas. Overall, his was a wise and sensible voice at Cabinet during some of the most challenging times ever faced by an Irish Government.
I want again to express my attitude to each of the aforementioned Deputies and wish them well for the future. We in this House are all aware of the immense challenges each and every member of this Administration has faced in charting a way through some of the most difficult economic times since the foundation of the State. History will show that the Government has worked hard in the national interest to implement difficult but necessary decisions to help lead our country through an international economic and financial crisis, the likes of which we have not seen in over 80 years. The Government, under my leadership, has followed a consistent path to help stabilise the economy in the aftermath of the biggest downturn in modern Irish economic history.
Our budgetary strategy has helped to stabilise the economy and return it to economic growth. I understand that people are suffering and experiencing immense hardship because of the recession, which we deeply regret. It is incumbent on all of us in public office to put the interests of the country above everything else. Politics as usual should not be allowed to distract from the overriding priority of getting Ireland back on track. As I said previously, there will be a general election this spring but before that the Government has important work to complete.
The Government has obtained approval for its national recovery plan, providing for the proper funding of the State through the negotiation of the EU and IMF package. It will give us time and space to continue on the path of adjustment to restore economic growth and thereby create jobs. It will allow us to continue to bring our public finances back to order while providing necessary public services for our people. It is important in the weeks ahead that the Government gives legislative effect to the budget through the enactment of the finance Bill and other related Bills which benefit the people. There is nothing more important than doing precisely that.
In the interest of proper governance, I have decided to reassign the portfolios of those Ministers who have resigned. Pursuant to section 4(1) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946, I am assigning their Departments as follows: the Department of Health and Children to the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan; the Department of Transport to the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey; the Department of Justice and Law Reform to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith; the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Deputy Mary Hanafin; and the Department of Defence to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív.
From the outset, the main task of the Government I have led has been to secure the best interests of the nation in these challenging times. We have made hard choices and taken unpopular decisions, in the interest of the security and well-being of the people. I believe the best interests of Ireland demand that Government gets on with implementing the national recovery plan, by passing the Finance Bill and other legislation and that a new Government then receives a new mandate from the people at a general election. Until then, as Taoiseach, my priorities, along with those of my Government colleagues, will continue to be returning Ireland to recovery, creating jobs and restoring the public finances. It is my intention in due course to seek a dissolution of Dáil Éireann, with a view to a general election taking place on Friday, 11 March next. Prior to the general election, we are committed to enacting key pieces of legislation to secure Ireland's economic future.
I know that the Government's policies are returning Ireland to recovery and growth and I want us to get through the hard times and see the country prosper in the future. To do that, we need now at this crucial time to get on with the important work in hand. As Taoiseach, my focus today and every day until election day is on completing the work I have undertaken on behalf of the people to continue the process of implementing the economic recovery plan.