Serving as Labour Leader has been a great honour

10 May 2016

This afternoon I informed my colleagues in the Labour Parliamentary Party that I intend to stand down as Leader of the party once my successor is elected.

I have asked that the Executive Board of the party immediately make arrangements for the election of the new Leader under the provisions of the party constitution.

I have had the great honour of serving as Leader of the Labour Party for two years, and as Deputy Leader for seven years before that.

In 2011, the people of Ireland asked the Labour Party to take on the responsibility of Government during the worst economic crisis this State has ever known.

Like most of the party, I entered Government with both hope and fear in my heart – hope that with unyielding effort and sustained policy implementation we could turn things around; fear that the situation had already deteriorated to a point of no return.

In the five years that followed, the Labour Party stood by the Republic, helping people back to work, safeguarding the social protection system against those who would have stripped it to the bone, building new schools across the country, and securing the funding for a new social housing programme – while all the time dealing with the morass of failed banks and toxic banking debt.

In everything we did, our overriding focus was to bring about recovery so that families could face the future with hope rather than despair, and so that communities could once again prosper.

Despite February’s election result, I firmly believe we made the right decision in 2011.

The proof is in 140,000 more people at work. In 700,000 low-income workers removed from the USC net. In a minimum wage now worth €3,000 more a year than when we took office. In the fact that workers have enhanced rights through collective bargaining. In 300,000 children and older people now being able to visit the GP for free. In the legislation that finally dealt with the X case. And in the referendum that made marriage equality a reality and saw Ireland become a truly Rainbow Nation.

Of all this and more, I am immensely proud. But I am also acutely conscious that for many people, we couldn’t deliver quickly enough, and that the recovery still hasn’t been felt in all homes. That housing itself remains a national priority. That the fight to protect and enhance workers’ rights will be an ongoing one and never won. And that there are still real obstacles to social progress.

We didn’t do everything right but I believe we left Ireland a better place than we found it – the true test for any party in government.

I know that as a party, Labour will continue to do everything we can to address all these issues, setting out a progressive vision to deliver fairness and equality in Irish society.

While the result of the election was very disappointing because of the loss of so many outstanding public representatives, I know, too, that our fight-back has already begun, as evidenced by the recent election of new Labour senators.

In the same vein, we have great young councillors – women and men who will be the standard bearers of the future, fighting for economic and social justice.  

In recent weeks across the country, at a series of meetings I initiated, our members have been charting the way forward for the party.

Hundreds more will gather in Arbour Hill next Sunday to mark a very poignant occasion – the centenary of the death of our founder James Connolly.

It was Connolly who inspired the electrifying sentence in the 1916 Proclamation: “The Republic guarantees civil and religious liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities.”

In the 100 years since Connolly’s death, a great deal has been achieved but more remains to be done.

The new Leader will take forward the fight to build that Republic in line with Connolly’s vision.

As my time as Leader draws to a close, I would like to thank all of those who served as Ministers, TDs and Senators in the last Dail, particularly those who were not returned to the 32nd Dail.

I would also like to thank my staff and the staff in the Labour Party for all their work.

My gratitude too goes to the Labour Party organisation in Dublin West for their enduring support.

The new Dail arithmetic will make for more open and progressive debate, and I intend to participate fully in those debates. In particular, I look forward to debating how best as a society we can achieve tax justice, and end the scandal of massive tax avoidance through the kind of legal but morally dubious schemes witnessed in the Panama Papers. I also look forward to contributing on issues such as how parents who don’t profess a particular religion are enabled to access local schools. And how the role of arts and culture can be permanently enhanced in Irish life.  

On all of these issues and more, I will remain an active and committed member of the Dail and the Labour Party on behalf of the constituents who elected me.

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