On the occasion of the changeover of Taoiseach, I spoke in the Dail to pay tribute to Micheal Martin TD personally for the courtesy he extended to me since I became a TD and Leader of the Labour Party. But I went on to outline how, on the substance of this government’s political agenda, we in Labour fundamentally disagree on the approach, policies and solutions proposed.
This is not an Ireland that works for all.
Over 100 years ago, Tom Johnson wrote in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, in 1919: “It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter”.
Yet nearly a quarter of a million children live in deprivation in Ireland of 2022, with 3,480 homeless in November. This Christmas, far too many parents will struggle to heat homes, put food on the table for their children and ensure Santa brings a gift.
We have come through a once in a century pandemic, but the government has failed to seize the opportunity to refashion our social infrastructure, our health system, and our way of work.
The opportunity to transform our country and our society has been squandered.
Brutal war is once again being waged on our continent with tens of thousands of people killed in Ukraine, and millions of refugees fleeing horrific Russian aggression.
The return of inflation is ravaging incomes and living standards, hitting those on low wages, pensions and social welfare payments hardest.
Rising prices and interest rates are slowing down the building of new homes, while the government salts away billions that could instead be used by the State to directly build much needed houses and apartments.
Record heatwaves in the summer were a sharp reminder of the stalled progress on renewable energy and the fudge on sectoral climate emission targets.
We were told it was a programme for government that would invest in climate action and a new energy system.
But once again, the climate action plan for next year is delayed.
When the outgoing Taoiseach was nominated two and half years ago, we were told the test of the government would be delivery.
On all the key measures of success this government has failed:
Waiting lists up,
Too many children without an adequate home, or appropriate school place,
Too many parents unable to find an affordable home or a suitable childcare place.
Too many workers on low and insecure pay or stuck in traffic without decent public transport options.
Too many older people worried about heating their homes or getting the care they need.
Ireland remains far too dependent on fossil fuels, especially gas, due to the surge in data centres and the failure to build and develop capacity for offshore wind.
The events of the last two years, and the failure of delivery on so many priorities, should have refashioned the agenda of this government.
Instead, the programme for government, the blueprint for this coalition remains unchanged with no new ambitions.
There is a complacency at the heart of government that is not addressing the urgency of the moment.
At the mid-way point of this coalition, what does it say that no substantive revisions will be made?
Take just one example on immigration. We know that the commitment to end direct provision won’t be delivered upon, and the refugee crisis is overburdening the Department of Children, when the Departments of Housing and the Taoiseach should be taking a much stronger role in the sourcing of accommodation.
The Programme for Government is now out of step with a changed world.
The cosmetic changes in the Cabinet have simply seen tired Ministers retained
This is also a government that has been plagued by resignations, instability, and ethical concerns.
Deputy Leo Varadkar will return to the office of Taoiseach and on a personal level I wish him well, but his Party has spent too long in government, and has run out of ideas.
In the seven years since the 2016 general election, Fine Gael has singularly failed to resolve the housing crisis and instead has made it worse, with an ideological overreliance on the private sector to deliver homes.
There has been a catalogue of unforced errors by his Ministers while backbenchers remain blocked from taking high office.
The erosion of standards in public office has accelerated under this Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government.
A laissez-faire approach to ethics rules and appointment processes, and the growing habit of centralising power with Ministers and ramming legislation through the Oireachtas, points to a growing arrogance in office.
There has been no progress on the public sector standards bill first developed by Brendan Howlin in 2015 that would overhaul ethics legislation and standards in public office.
To hide the government’s embarrassment, the outgoing Minister for Public Expenditure issued a press release recently to announce approval of a report on the ethics review.
But we still have no draft law, despite SIPO repeatedly asking for more powers and multiple scandals in recent years.
So the Labour Party have put the government on notice on the need to act on ethics reform.
When the Dail last gathered to elect a Taoiseach, I was not a member.
The only electoral contest since the coalition was formed delivered a rebuke to the punch and judy politics of Fine Gael and Sinn Fein,
It showed the public desire for a more positive alternative to the status quo and a demand for more action on housing, care and climate.
And that links back to what the Labour Party made clear in 2020 as to why we could not form part of this government.
The permanent improvements in public services and increased role for the State that Labour wants to secure in childcare, housing, climate action and public transport requires some commitment to tax increases, especially on wealth.
Our view was further confirmed by the recent report of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare.
But in 2020 both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ruled out tax increases, limiting the scope for a government to deliver the transformational change Ireland needs.
The fixation of the incoming Taoiseach with tax cuts won’t resolve the weaknesses in our social wage and public infrastructure.
Tax cuts won’t deliver homes, better healthcare, more buses, or smaller classrooms.
Through this Dáil the Labour Party has put forward constructive and creative social democratic alternatives, and we have worked to deliver change from opposition. We will continue to outline our vision – of an Ireland that works for all, on care, on climate, on housing and on jobs.
On workers’ rights, we have proposed legislation on sick pay, a living wage, a real right to flexible work and reproductive leave, rights for platform workers and interns, and pay rises for workers.
On housing, our renters rights bill over a year ago would have limited the grounds for eviction and frozen rents while our bill to implement the Kenny report would end land speculation.
On care, we’ve championed student nurses, community and care workers, a public universal childcare scheme and truly free education.
On climate, we’ve argued for radical measures including a €9 a month climate ticket for public transport and more ambitious state action on emissions.
On social issues, we’ve argued for a ban on gambling ads, rights for cohabiting couples, reform of our citizenship rules, an equality referendum to deliver recognition of the value of care; and a national autism strategy.
And on the economy our fully costed Budgets and cost of living measures would have put us on a pathway to achieve real equality:
- to provide safe and secure homes for everyone;
- to create quality well-paid jobs that move us towards a green economy and a cleaner environment;
- to reform taxation to prioritise fairness and redistribution, and to fund a health and care system for children, older people and everyone in between.
That is the Ireland that the Labour Party wants to see and that we are building.
That is an Ireland that would work for us all.
Some of our ideas have been half-heartedly adopted by government but not fully implemented.
And that’s why the Labour Party will offer the public a clear vision and alternative in the next election to both narrow nationalism and right-wing orthodoxy.
A social democratic alternative to the punch and judy show – the show that may grab headlines but won’t deliver change.
I have always believed that social and economic rights – social and economic equality – are two sides of the same coin.
That is why I joined the Labour Party.
Campaigning for economic justice and standing up for those struggling to make ends meet is core to the vision and values of our Party.
And hope is needed now today as much as ever.
People deserve better. Ireland deserves better.
Our communities deserve An Ireland that Works for All.
We need to build an Ireland that works for everyone – and that is core to Labour’s mission.
Our mission for care, climate, housing, jobs – and communities.
This government oversees an economy where even those with what we would all agree are ‘good jobs’ cannot afford to live with a real sense of security for their families.
Good earners, people with ‘good jobs’ are unable to afford to live get by.
Our failed ‘market knows all’ economic, housing, childcare and other policies have made the cost of living unbearable.
And this is why Labour values – are needed more than ever to deliver ‘An Ireland that works’ – for everyone.
The government, and the programme for government it is founded on is not delivering and it’s why we do not support the nomination of an FG Taoiseach.
The changeover of Taoiseach is cosmetic only – we need real and substantial change to build the socialist and social democratic alternative that Labour can offer.