Go n-ainmneóidh Dáil Éireann an Teachta Bertie Ahern a cheaptha ag an Uachtarán, mar Thaoiseach.
That Dáil Éireann nominate Deputy Bertie Ahern for appointment by the President to be Taoiseach.
Deputy Bertie Ahern, although still only in his early forties, has immense political experience and an outstanding record of public service. While, as a Deputy, he represents our capital city, he enjoys public respect and confidence throughout the country.
Both he and I first became Members of Dáil Éireann on the same day. Both of us have been Members of the Dáil since 1977. He was Chief Whip of the Fianna Fáil Party and Minister of State in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence in 1982. A long-serving member of Dublin Corporation, he was a very distinguished Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986 and 1987.
As Minister for Labour in 1987 and Minister for Finance from 1991, he has played a key role in creating a better industrial relations climate, and in resolving industrial conflicts that threatened our vital national services. He also helped to negotiate each of the three national programmes with the social partners and to create a national consensus on economic and social policy, which has been the cornerstone of economic recovery and national prosperity since 1987.
Deputy Ahern played a pivotal role in the formation of the last two Governments. He joined me as negotiator for a joint programme with the Progressive Democrats in 1989 and also took part in the review of that programme in October 1991. He led the Fianna Fáil delegation which negotiated the Programme for a Partnership Government with the Labour Party in 1992. This is widely acknowledged to be an outstandingly successful Government programme, the most ambitious and comprehensive programme ever.
Deputy Ahern has been Minister for Finance for three years, a position which has been part of the preparatory experience of the last three Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, including myself. Deep experience in economic management is increasingly essential to the modern head of Government.
Since 1991, he has been able to manage the economy in accordance with the Maastricht Treaty guidelines, something achieved only by Luxembourg and Ireland. He also had to steer the country through a difficult international recession, throughout which Ireland almost alone was able to maintain positive economic growth. He also brought Ireland through several months of the currency crisis in very difficult conditions, and succeeded in establishing stable conditions for the Irish pound post-devaluation, which allowed interest rates to tumble to their lowest level in over 15 years. As we know, even the strongest currencies such as the French franc were not in the end able to withstand the huge speculative pressures.
The outgoing Government and the Minister are handing over an economy in excellent shape and with glowing prospects for the remainder of this decade. It is reasonable to expect that, at the end of its term of office, the new Government will leave an economy in equally good shape that has made further strides forward following the same path.
As Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern has succeeded in meeting or bettering his budgetary targets. This year, the current budget deficit has been completely eliminated for the first time in nearly three decades. In the last two years, confidence has been strong, with high economic growth of 5 per cent or more, low inflation, an investment boom, and balance of trade and payments surplus. Net employment has risen, the numbers at work are now at their highest level in 40 years, and the Central Bank now projects an extra 32,000 new jobs for 1994 alone.
Earlier this year, Deputy Ahern chaired a major OECD conference on employment and unemployment, examining the structural causes and remedies of unemployment. As this is the biggest problem facing the country, his deep involvement as a Minister in this issue over several years will be a valuable asset. Over his three budgets, he has further reduced the personal tax burden, and undertaken significant tax reform. This year's tax measures gave reliefs to the mainstream taxpayer, costing in excess of £300 million in a full year. It also made provision for alleviating PRSI on lower paid jobs. It is very obvious that further progress can be made on that in next year's budget without prejudicing the integrity of the Social Insurance Fund.
As a Minister since 1987, Deputy Ahern has had considerable European experience, chairing the Council of Labour Ministers during the 1990 European Presidency. He accompanied me to the European Council at Edinburgh and has been involved in negotiating and directing the formulation of the six-year National Development Plan which involves public and private investment in excess of £18 billion. This process will have brought him into direct contact with the needs of all regions of the country. The results will become very visible over the next few years and it will be the incoming Government's duty to put that plan into effect. Deputy Ahern has recently been appointed by me to the Fianna Fáil delegation at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. He is determined to give the same commitment and priority to the peace process as I have done.
Deputy Ahern will represent a new generation of leadership in Ireland. He has proved himself to be an exceptionally effective negotiator and conciliator. If not now, then later, these qualities and skills would be helpful in consolidating peace and establishing confidence in both the Unionist and Nationalist communities on the road to a new Northern settlement. These qualities and skills would be valuable in managing the economy and maintaining social consensus.
Deputy Ahern is a deeply caring and compassionate man. He represents a constituency, Dublin Central, where he has had first-hand experience of some of our deeper social problems, where he has worked hard to improve conditions and facilities at both a personal and community level. The trust he enjoys among his constituents is eloquent testimony to a person who is fully in touch with the problems of modern Ireland. For all these reasons, I consider Deputy Ahern to be an extremely well qualified candidate to be my successor for the position of Taoiseach and to lead Ireland towards the 21st century.
I have been privileged to have led one of the most successful Governments in the history of the State. It matters not how long one occupies any position in political life, but what one achieves while in that position.
On the first anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, I hand over to my successor an Ireland at peace with itself. With its people now enjoying rising standards of living, employment at its highest level for more than 40 years, an economy growing at the highest rate in Europe, and a budget surplus for the first time in nearly 30 years, I have made my contribution to our national advancement. It is hard to recall any occasion, when an outgoing Taoiseach and Government have handed over to their successor such a favourable situation. Mo bhuíochas leat, a Cheann Comhairle, mo bhuíochas libh go léir agus go n-éirí an obair libh go léir.