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Taoiseach backs same-sex marriage

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny appealed for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum

Taoiseach Enda Kenny appealed for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum

Taoiseach Enda Kenny appealed for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has urged the people of Ireland to deliver a strong yes vote in favour of same sex marriage in May's referendum.

In his closing address to the Fine Gael national conference, Mr Kenny said a Yes would send out a "powerful signal" ahead of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising that Ireland had become a "fair, compassionate and tolerant nation".

The Fine Gael leader said the issue to be decided at the poll was whether to allow same sex couples the right to civil marriage.

"As we approach the centenary of the Rising, a Yes vote would, I believe, send out a powerful signal internationally that Ireland has evolved into a fair, compassionate and tolerant nation," he said.

"I believe that this is the right thing to do.

"I, and the Fine Gael Party, strongly support a Yes vote.

"And therefore I say to all same sex couples in our country. This is about you, it's about your right to say two small words, made up of three simple letters - I do.

"For you, in your lives together, may they become your letters of freedom."

Closing the conference in the heart of his own constituency in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Kenny also promised a series of tax cutting budgets if Fine Gael are returned to office at next year's election.

He insisted Ireland was on the road to recovery but conceded many people were not experiencing the benefits.

As well as tax cuts, the Taoiseach said he had set a three year target to deliver full employment.

"That means that everyone who wants a job, can get a job," he told delegates.

Mr Kenny added: "That goal of full employment by 2018 is highly ambitious, but it's achievable. If we make the right choices."

The Fine Gael leader insisted the mistakes he accused the last Fianna Fail led administration of making in the financial crisis would never be repeated under his watch.

"My commitment as your Taoiseach and as leader of this party is that Ireland must never go back to the culture and practices of speculation, lack of oversight, wanton waste of public money and blatant disregard to our international reputation," he said.

"The thousands of Irish families, who made such enormous sacrifices to rescue the country, can never again be subjected to such appalling governance.

"So the strong foundations that have been laid must be protected to ensure that the hard won recovery is secured.

"To make that happen, we must plan for the future.

"If we make the right choices now, Ireland has a very bright future indeed."

He said the 2015 budget was the first in seven years to give people a "modest increase" in their take-home pay.

"My commitment to you tonight is that tax cuts to reward hard work and enterprise will continue in the next Budget and in future Budgets - if the people return Fine Gael to office," he said.

Mr Kenny said his government had helped steer the country through the economic crisis that had threatened to consume the nation and led to the multi-billion euro bailout from the so-called Troika of the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

"It involved very difficult decisions that were painful for many people in our country," he said.

"But the people of Ireland displayed great patience and resilience during the crisis.

"It's because of your sacrifices, that we can now say that Ireland and our economy is recovering.

"The bailout is over.

"The Troika are gone home.

"Yes - we still have too many people out of work, but jobs are being created. It's not enough, but it's a start.

"After years of recession, the Irish economy is now growing again - and at a faster rate than most other European countries.

"Having been regarded by Europe as a problem, Ireland's place as a vital and valued member of the European Union has been fully restored.

"Others now look to us when they want to see a people, with sleeves rolled up, meeting a challenge head on, and meeting it successfully."

Mr Kenny conceded that many people were not feeling the benefits of a recovering economy.

"I hear their stories every week, up and down the country," he said.

"Too many families still struggling to make ends. To pay the bills and meet the mortgage.

"Too many people still out of work.

"Too many families missing a daughter or son who has had to leave Ireland to find a job.

"I know that growth rates, deficit targets and bond yields are of very little consolation to people in those situations."

Mr Kenny said by maintaining discipline over public sector pay and spending, a Fine Gael led government would eliminate the deficit and bring national debt to well below the European average by 2020.

Noting recent political strides forward in Northern Ireland, Mr Kenny stressed that next year's commemorations of the Rising had to be "respectful and inclusive".

Mr Kenny said the recovery was "fragile and incomplete".

"Ireland's future economic stability must be underpinned by political stability," he said.

"It will require a clear plan delivered by a stable and coherent team in government.

"The investors who create jobs demand that stability.

"Without it there will neither be confidence nor investment.

"For the next year, this Government - Fine Gael and the Labour Party - will continue to work day and night to secure the recovery.

"In 2016, the people will judge whether we have fulfilled that mandate.

"They will have a clear choice: between stable and coherent government; or chaos and instability.

"A clear choice between moving forward; or risking the country's progress to those who wrecked it in the past, or to those whose policies would wreck our future.

"I don't want Ireland dragged back to the failures of the past.

"Or for the country's progress to be ruined by those who are intent on blowing a huge hole in our recovering national finances.

"Populist promises to reverse every tough decision are nothing but empty rhetoric, irresponsible leadership and bad politics.

"They are not the solution to Ireland's problems."

Mr Kenny said he and Labour leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton were leading a "strong and stable" government.

"My appeal to the Irish people is to work with us as we work to secure the recovery," he said.

"We worked together to get out of the crisis and rescue the economy.

"Let us now work together to rebuild - both the economy and our communities.

"This time it will be for the benefit of all our people, not for the benefit of speculators.

"That is my pledge to you."