Proudly Labour – Speech by Brendan Howlin
I hope you all enjoyed the morning session, and welcome to the councillors who have joined us for the afternoon.
Last night, I spoke about the rebuilding of the Labour Party. I spoke about our achievements over the five years. And I also spoke about some of the mistakes that we made, and how we have learned from them.
But most of all, I spoke about the future rather than the past. Because as a nation we face an immense set of challenges at the moment.
We have a growing economy, but a shrinking capacity to use that growth for our people. We have a Government that is utterly dysfunctional. And an opposition clamouring to outdo each other with radical thoughts they have no intention of implementing.
We heard this morning about a new way of measuring Ireland’s progress. Not one that is based on an economic figure that is meaningless to our people. But one that measures the wellbeing of our people in a rounded way.One that values healthcare, education, childcare and personal freedoms as much as the state of our economy.
This is an old left-wing idea whose time has come: our society is not just a set of numbers – it is the health and happiness of our people.
As other parties have gathered over the last fortnight, I haven’t heard anyone else make that point. At a basic level, that is why we need a Labour Party.
By measuring the wellbeing of our society, we can see that our education system functions very well. That is something we should be proud of, and build upon.
We can see that we have created a culture with high levels of tolerance and inclusion; an enormous change that Labour has nursed into being over recent decades.
We can see and we can champion the areas where Ireland is doing well, and we will. And we can see where the state needs to do better.
On water and the environment, we must do better. On broadband and infrastructure, we must do better. On housing most of all, we must do better.
The Labour Party will be to the fore in the months ahead in championing each of these areas.
Of course, another area where we lag behind other countries is childcare.
When we were planning for the last election, I was excited about the childcare plan that Jan had worked hard to draft.
It was perhaps the most radical idea in our manifesto. And it was visionary in exactly the sort of way that people expect from the Labour Party.
Often, incremental progress is welcome; tear after year, our society should improve.
But sometimes we have to make a step-change, and to recognise there is an area where Ireland is genuinely failing. Childcare is exactly such an area.
As we have just heard, spending on the earliest years of a child’s life in Ireland is a fraction of the international average; and an even smaller fraction of what the top-performing nations are spending.
We have heard leaks and rumours from the Government about a new childcare scheme.
Honestly, I think Katherine Zappone is a capable woman with good intentions. But I have absolutely no faith that Fine Gael will support her.
When Labour funded the area-based childcare programmes we heard about from Emma, it was done despite Fine Gael objections.
When we secured the second free pre-school year, delivered free GP care to young children, or introduced paternity leave – all of these were delivered after months and years of discussions with Fine Gael.
So next month, I’m not expecting the budget will do very much on childcare. But Labour’s alternative budget will.
As Jan has outlined today, childcare will be at the centre of our budget proposals. Because the status quo isn’t good enough.
This afternoon, we will focus on the future of work.
Of all issues, this is the one that is at the heart of our DNA as a party.
We were founded 104 years ago as a political party to champion the cause of labour.
Two days ago, Ged Nash published a bill that underlines how 104 years on, we are still committed to that cause.
In Government, we increased the minimum wage twice. I negotiated two public sector pay deals when many thought the days of negotiating with public sector unions should end. We reinstated the REAs and brought in constitutionally sound Sectoral Employment Orders. We introduced collective bargaining legislation that has become a model for other countries.But this work is not, and never will be done.
Ged’s bill takes the issue of a creeping casualization of work in certain sectors, and tackles it head on. Because on a Sunday night, no family should lie restless wondering how much work might come in the week ahead. The uncertainty and anxiety that causes is indefensible.
We know the Minister for Jobs won’t do anything about it. But our lad from Drogheda will!
Our conversation this afternoon will focus on this. But it will be broader too.
For too long, a corporation tax rate of 12.5% has been the single element of industrial policy in Ireland.
To build a sustainable future, that’s not good enough. And so today we’re going to talk about how that should be widened.
So that work isn’t something that comes and goes – it must endure in a way that is sustaining and sustainable.
The rebuilding of the Labour Party is underway.
Last night, I spoke to you about the hundreds of new people we are attracting to our party.
And I spoke about building a shared and inclusive leadership; one that involves everyone in this room; and one that reaches into workplaces and living rooms.
Today, we are talking about some of the policies we will champion as we rebuild.
Tomorrow, the work will start to build the campaigns that will see these policies implemented.
In towns and communities across Ireland, we’re going to ask people to get behind these campaigns.
There should be no doubt; we will rebuild this party.
We’ll be Labour.
And Ireland will be the better for it.