A Programme for Government deserving of progressive support must do more than simply use Labour’s language of building a strong economy for a decent society -O’Sullivan

14 April 2016

For 104 years, the Labour Party has been a voice for progress in Ireland.

We are a smaller party now than we have been for many years, but our role is still vital to the progress of our nation.

Over the last seven weeks, we as a party have grappled with our changed position.

Many long-standing public representatives and friends of mine have left Leinster House.

Many of the staff who have put in countless hours supporting us, campaigning with us, and working on behalf of the Irish people, find themselves without work.

Politics can be cruel, and Labour has certainly paid a price.

But amongst our members, and amongst those who support us, we have repeatedly seen something very bright indeed – the undimmed passion of people who want to continue the fight to make Ireland a better and more equal nation.

Since my first involvement in politics, I have known that the Labour Party cannot act alone.  We are a progressive force in Ireland, but not the only one. 

I am glad that we are beginning discussions with other parties on the responsible left.

I hope those discussions will see a progressive alliance develop in this house.

Such an alliance must in my view retain one central focus – a roadmap to deliver social and economic equality.

We must argue for the policies that are sadly lacking from any of the proposals that have so far emerged from seven weeks of talking, leaks and grandstanding.

A Programme for Government deserving of progressive support must do more than simply use Labour’s language of building a strong economy for a decent society – it must include the policies that could bring that about.

A progressive Programme for Government would set the eradication of child poverty as a national objective, and include the funding, structures and policies that could at least half child poverty in Ireland by 2021.

It would stop the growing gap between rich and poor in Ireland by protecting the real value of social welfare payments, providing a living wage to all in work, and making sure that any changes to income taxes exclude any benefits to the highest earners.

And it would build on the work done by the last Government to protect the rights of workers. 

For example, it would make a clear commitment to outlaw abusive terms and conditions of employment including low pay, insecure hours, enforced and bogus self-employment, and address abuses of zero hour and “if and when” contracts.

A progressive Programme for Government would deliver on the promise of equality of opportunity for all, with a step-change in investment in childcare in Ireland, continued reductions to class sizes at all school levels, and a real commitment to end all discrimination in school admissions, regardless of religion, social class or family connection.

It would recognise the need to truly grasp the scale of our housing crisis, with a new balance between the common good and property rights, to allow for site value taxes and the protection of all tenants, including in the event of property sales.

It would provide a clear and time-limited roadmap for repeal of the 8th amendment, and it would set new ambitions for delivering local democracy and the infrastructure that local communities need. 

I would suggest that it would also include a commitment to hold a referendum to retain Irish Water in public ownership, and to protect the rights of those working for Irish Water.

These are progressive policies. 

They would not bankrupt our nation, nor would they prevent progress from being made on other policy areas. 

Unfortunately, Labour has seen no proposals for a Programme for Government that would address these issues.

And so we cannot support a candidate for Taoiseach here today.

 

As the Tánaiste has said, seven weeks have now passed.

Seven weeks during which we have watched as independents refused to support any party until Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil made a deal.

We watched as Fianna Fáil demanded independent support before they could continue their talks with Fine Gael.

We’ve watched, and we’ve waited.  But here we are – seven weeks on, with nobody getting much support at all outside their own ranks.

Those of us elected to this house have a duty to reach beyond narrow self-interest.

We have a duty to our people, and our nation.

It is about time that those who have the numbers required to form a Government got around to recognising that duty.

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