19 January 2017

Address by Brendan Howlin, T.D.

Leader of the Labour Party

To a meeting of the Labour Party Executive Board

Leinster House

19th January, 2017


As we enter 2017, a cold wind is blowing.

Theresa May has decided that Brexit means hard Brexit.

No matter the consequences.

Donald Trump will be inaugurated tomorrow.

And we all fear the consequences.

But these events are symptoms – we already know the cause.

Inequality is the cause.

Economic inequality has taken hold of too many communities.

And a fear of such inequality is breeding conservatism, protectionism and xenophobia.

It’s time for us – across the developed world – to start doing something about it.

50 years ago, Robert Kennedy said that:

“We must recognise the full human equality of all our people.

We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous – although it is;

Not because the laws of God and man command it – although they do command it;

Not because people in other lands wish it so.

We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”

It is the right thing to do. 

And to do otherwise would be to place one person on another level to another, denying our common humanity.

We in the Labour Party have always been the champions of equality in Ireland.

As we rebuild this great party, that will remain the centre of what we stand for.

And it will start with economic inequality.

We believe in the decency and dignity of work. 

We believe that people deserve work.

And that their work must be decent work, with decent pay.

We have argued for a Living Wage.

And we’re not done arguing.

Because working people should go to bed on a Sunday night knowing how much work they will have for the week;

They should know how much they will earn;

And they should know that it will be enough to pay their bills, to keep a roof over their heads, and to support their families.

The Government, instead of moving towards a Living Wage, increased the minimum wage by a paltry 10 cent per hour.

That’s not good enough.

And I think they know it.

So we will keep arguing – in Dáil Éireann and in communities across Ireland – for a living wage for all.

We’ll do that.

And we’ll do a lot more besides.

We are legislating to protect vulnerable workers, and to end uncertain hours.

We are legislating to protect those who are being bullied in the workplace.

And along with the trade union movement, we are looking at the future of work.

Because a creeping casualization is eroding the value of jobs that were once secure and stable.

Attacks on defined benefit pensions become more regular by the day.

And automation looms – further breeding insecurity and uncertainty.

We won’t stir up fear.

We will come up with answers.

That has always been the Labour way.

Taking on economic inequality also means standing for investment in education, and in housing, and in hospitals, and in childcare.

Because only people who have equal opportunities can truly strive for equality.

We tabled legislation to control house prices, but it was cynically opposed by the Government.

We called for much more investment in services, but they cynically sought to buy the electorate.

And not for much of a price, it must be said.

We are campaigning across the country for investment in childcare,

And we won’t give up until they give in.

We will stand for decent work, and we will stand for decent public services, and we will stand for decent taxes too.

Our tax code needs to be overhauled.

Because rising income inequality must be tackled;

And everyone needs to pay a fair share.

With equality as our watchword, we will fight for all of these changes.

And we will do a lot more besides.

As a movement of people, I want the Labour Party to campaign against any injustice we see.

Economic inequality is one such injustice.

And as I have outlined, we’re going to work on that.

But despite all of the progress we have made over recent decades, there are still many other injustices left to tackle.

We support the development of a pluralist society, where religion is valued for the role it can play in strengthening our communities;

And where individuals have their freedoms protected in all situations.

We have proposed legislation that would remove the baptism barrier that stops local children from attending local schools.

We are campaigning to ban rogue crisis pregnancy agencies.

We will fight for repeal of the 8th amendment.

And we have a lot more work to do, to reduce the gender pay gap, and for proper supports for those who face domestic violence.

We also want to exonerate and apologise to gay men, who were criminalised under historic laws that failed to recognise loving relationships.

From even these few items, it is clear that despite amazing social progress over recent decades, many injustices still exist in Irish society. 

Wherever we in Labour see injustice, we will campaign for an end to it.

And make Ireland a more equal place in the process.

As we carry out all of this work, we have to ask what we are working towards.

We want to build an Ireland that we can all be proud of.

We believe that a healthy public space is a precious inheritance;

And that each generation has a responsibility to protect and develop it.

We are committed to the public realm – to the arts and recreation – as parts of our national identity, and also as a recognition that life must be fun as well as fulfilling.

We want to be part of a renewed conversation about the national question.

Indeed, I believe that Brexit makes that conversation incredibly necessary.

I want this great party of ours to do more to work towards a united Ireland.

Not violently – that has never been in our DNA, and it never will be.

But we need to create the circumstances that lead to the people of this island choosing to join together as one nation.

We are Europeans.

We believe that the EU has brought a lasting peace and stability to our continent.

But we also believe that the idea of a social Europe must once more be central to the project.

We are fighting for a Europe that promotes investment in our societies.

And our colleagues in the Party of European Socialists are standing alongside us in that fight.

We also insist on more sustainable interaction with the environment, as the common heritage of humanity.

We will promote initiatives that prevent the destruction of our environment, like our bill to ban microplastics.

And we will find new ways to make sustainability central to the operation of our economy.

There’s a lot of work to be done.

But the rebuilding of Labour will be how we’ll do it.

The 1,000 additional members we have recruited;

The 32 new local area reps we already have in place;

And the Dáil candidates we are beginning to select;

All of them will play a huge part in our rebuilding, as will the people gathered here today.

But the centrepiece of how we rebuild this party will be our vision.

A vision of an Ireland where economic inequality is no longer accepted;

And where injustice is taken on at every turn.

An Ireland we can all be proud of.


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