The Taoiseach has said he will be seeking real change in the public service as part of the forthcoming partnership negotiations.

Mr Ahern told the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis in Killarney that the Government wanted the best for public servants - provided they deliver the best for society. 

Bertie Ahern used his keynote address to stress his Government's record in office, outlining the progress which has been made in the economy, the health service and education.

He took a swipe at the Opposition parties, saying Fianna Fáil would not risk the people's prosperity with uncosted plans, contradictory policies and empty promises.

Looking ahead to the forthcoming partnership negotiations, he pointed out that benchmarking had modernised pay in the public service, but that they were determined to get good value for this investment.

Mr Ahern said we cannot go into the 21st Century with old fashioned and out of date structures and procedures - he said he wanted the best for the country's 350,000 public servants, provided they delivered the best for society.

He also called on consultants and doctors to lead the process of reform in the health sector, and promised a ten-year transport plan in the coming weeks which will provide better roads, new train and new ways of travelling.

He said he hoped that recent moves by the IRA were for real - but he would need to be sure, through the reports of the International Monitoring Commission.

Concluding, he said that in the last eight years, all has changed utterly, with a new Republic being born, a confident country, an ambitious people and an island at peace.

Calls for improved health services

Earlier the Ard Fheis heard strong calls for improved health services in the regions.

The debate on health heard calls for the retention of services at smaller hospitals like Monaghan, with one delegate saying there was no good reason why the hospital should not be on call.

Junior Health Minister, Brian Lenihan, addressed the recent death of Patrick Walsh at Monaghan, accusing the Opposition of a 'despicable' attempt to politicise the tragedy.

A number of delegates also called for a satellite radiology unit to be established in the north west, to avoid patients having to travel for up to 18 hours a day for treatment.

Motion over women members

The Ard Fhéis also passed a series of rule changes to increase the number of women involved in decision-making.

Half of the members of the party's ruling committee of 20 and at least one third of constituency delegates to the Ard Comhairle, will now have to be women.

A number of delegates opposed the move, claiming it was mere 'tokenism', but it was adopted overwhelmingly after a rousing speech by party deputy leader Brian Cowen.

Last night, a string of senior ministers attacked the alternative coalition of Fine Gael and Labour.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin said the parties were the first opposition in history which had agreed to share power before agreeing a single significant point of policy.

The Taoiseach made a similar criticism, claiming that people knew where he and Fianna Fáil stood on tax, and they are entitled to be told truthfully where others stand too. 

He also moved to outflank Sinn Féin by stressing Fianna Fáil's republicanism, announcing the reintroduction of military parades to commemorate the 1916 Rising, as well as the start of planning for centenary celebrations in 2016.