Enda Kenny vows to secure economic recovery
Enda Kenny has vowed to secure Ireland's economic recovery if Fine Gael is returned for a second term.
Addressing his party's Ard Fheis in Dublin, the Taoiseach said the choice for voters in the General Election was "as stark as it is clear".
"A clear choice between continuing on the path of stability and recovery; or putting our hard-won progress at risk," he added.
"We must keep the recovery going."
Mr Kenny, who earlier made clear he would serve a full term if re-elected Taoiseach, said voters did not want to return to dark days of the economic crisis.
"I don't need to remind you about the crisis that gripped Ireland in January 2011," he told delegates at the Citywest Hotel.
"You lived it - every day."
He said the electorate had given the Fine Gael and Labour coalition a mandate in 2011 to haul the country "back from the brink".
"Many thought that ending the bailout, rescuing the economy, and saving the country was an impossible task," he said.
"But the people and the new government faced up to that crisis."
The date for the imminent election has not yet been announced.
Mr Kenny acknowledged his government did not get everything right in the last five years or manage to do everything it wanted to.
"But working together, government and the people, we have made real progress," he said.
"Thanks to your hard word and resilience, we've gone from economic wreckage to economic recovery.
"Ireland is now moving in the right direction."
He said he knew many people had not yet felt the recovery.
"Too many families and older people are still struggling to make ends meet," he said.
"Too many families are still missing a son or daughter who has had to leave Ireland to find a job.
"That's why the job is not yet complete.
"The recovery must be strengthened and secured."
He said the Fine Gael plan had three "clear and inter-connected steps".
"More and better jobs, making work pay and investing in better public services for our people," he explained.
Mr Kenny reiterated his desire to abolish the Universal Social Charge if re-elected.
"Over the next five years, the USC will be abolished - with measures to limit the benefits for high earners," he said.
"This will cut the maximum tax rate for middle income families to 44%, from the 52% rate introduced by Fianna Fail, giving a working family earning 45,000 euro per year a boost in income of over 1,750 euro per year."
He said investment in public service would see an additional 10,000 gardai, teachers, doctors, nurses and other front-line staff by 2021.
The Taoiseach stressed his plan would cost money, adding: "And the money will only be there if our economy is strong.
"For us the economy can never be the end in itself.
"Rather, the economy is where we generate the resources that will make life better for our people.
"So I say to you tonight that yes, the recovery and the economy are at the centre of our long-term plan.
"But ultimately it is the lives and the well-being of our people that are, and must be, at its heart."
He added: "Ireland can't afford to go back, to put its hard-won recovery at risk.
"With growing international economic uncertainty, now is not the time to take risks with Ireland's economy."
Reflecting on the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, Mr Kenny said the future of Ireland a century on looked bright.
"In this, the centenary of the rising, we can say that of Ireland, our best and brightest days, are still uncounted, still to be unwrapped," he said.
"We can say that the dream of our nation's heart has yet to be fulfilled.
"And it is you, we, each of us, all of us who will be those necessary dreamers.
"I want to thank the people of Ireland for staying the course over the last five years.
"Thank you for giving Fine Gael and the Labour Party your trust.
"We have worked hard to be worthy of it.
"Personally and politically, I have always tried to do my best for you and for Ireland.
"I am humbled, touched, and deeply privileged to be your Taoiseach.
"In a few weeks, I will ask the people of Ireland for their permission, and their support, to finish the job we have started. To deliver our plan.
"To keep the recovery going, in the interests of all our people."