LAST 12 MONTHS HAVE NOT REPRESENTED IRISH POLITICS FINEST HOUR
It’s great to see such a turnout here to support our lad from Drogheda!
The last twelve months have not represented Irish politics finest hour.
Having squabbled for 70 days, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael finally came to an agreement.
And we might have thought that some work would begin.
Very quickly, we realised how wrongly placed that hope had been.
This has become, in Jan O’Sullivan’s words, a do-nothing Dáil.
2016 saw less legislation enacted than in any other year on record.
And issue after issue, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have kicked important issues down the road.
The baptism barrier in schools.
Repeal of the eighth amendment.
Funding of third-level.
Creating a living wage.
Reform of the Gardaí.
Tackling water charges.
Creating a health system that works.
All of these have been repeatedly kicked down the road.
Bluntly, it’s not good enough – our people deserve better.
We have had our own work to do over the last year.
After a bruising few years, we needed a bit of time to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down.
And that is what we have been doing.
We have a new constitution to be debated at our Conference next week.
We have hundreds of new members, and 40 new local area representatives.
We have been rebuilding our party, so that we are ready to play a role in rebuilding our country.
Six weeks ago, at my request, the Executive Board instructed the General Secretary and my Chief of Staff to put the party on an election footing.
There is no point pretending this Government might last five years – there’s no chance of that.
So, whenever this cosy little arrangement falls apart, we will be ready.
Over the last few weeks, that work has started in earnest.
The policy committee are taking a fresh look at our policy platform.
Next week, we will launch two new policy projects – one on the future of work, and the other on the greening of Ireland.
We’ve been looking at poster designs, and at fundraising to support candidates, and at all of the other logistics involved in an election campaign.
But there is one thing more important than any other during an election:
The strength of our candidates.
I am delighted that Ged Nash is the first Dáil candidate to be selected for the Labour Party.
You all know Ged at least as well as I do, but it’s only good manners for me to take a moment to say a few nice things about our candidate!
The first thing to say about Ged is that he is an absolute gentleman.
He’s always smiling, always engaging – he’s a brilliant part of our team in Leinster House.
But he’s much more than just a nice fella.
He is Labour to his bones.
He is, in every way, an authentic voice for labour – both party and movement.
If you want proof of that, you need only look at the work he did during his time as a Minister.
I was reading something earlier. It was an academic study of how social partnership had thrived or diminished across Europe during the crisis years.
The study rightly pointed out that Ireland was almost unique in having little or no industrial unrest during our time in Government.
More significantly, it found that, in contrast to other European countries, Ireland did not see any liberalisation of labour laws during this time.
Quite the opposite – it notes that the minimum wage increased twice, that sectoral employment orders were introduced, that the low pay commission was created, and that collective bargaining legislation was put in place.
Without naming our lad from Drogheda, the study made clear that these things happened because of Labour, and specifically because of a Labour Party Super Junior Minister in charge of Labour affairs.
That Minister was of course Ged.
A year ago, he might not have received the support he deserved.
But I think as time goes on, people recognise the value of politicians of substance.
We need politicians who are committed to implementing, and not just campaigning for, progressive change.
And Ged is all of that, all day long.
Being in the Seanad has done nothing to diminish his passion for politics.
Along with Ivana Bacik, he has advanced legislation to give collective bargaining rights to freelance workers – the first Bill to have passed either House, and one we are hoping to see enacted by summer.
He has introduced another Bill to put an end to the growing use of uncertain hourscontracts.
And he’s working on workplace bullying legislation too.
But the trade union issues aren’t all he cares about.
To my mind, Ged is a classic Labour Party politician.
Where he sees injustice, he wants to fight it.
And that is why he introduced another bill – this one to exonerate and apologise to gay men who were wrongfully criminalised in the past.
Nobody can deny that Ged belongs at the heart of the Labour family.
That’s true in the Dáil, and I know it is true here in Louth also.
It’s notable that he’s nominated here tonight by Paul Bell and Pio Smith – the two capable and passionate councillors who do such terrific work for the people of Drogheda.
And the team in Louth has been growing.
A few months have now passed since Eimear Martin and Vanessa Ryan were selected as local area reps.
I was here in Louth to unveil their selection, and I was struck by their commitment to the party, and to their communities.
I was shocked by the news a week later that Vanessa had passed away.
The tributes that have been paid to her show what an extraordinary young woman she was.
We’re all the worse off without her.
But our Louth Labour family persists.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Eimear hosted a public meeting on Brexit – probably the biggest Labour meeting in Dundalk for some time.
All across the county, the campaigning continues.
Ged is lucky to have Louth Labour. And you’re all lucky to have him.
But you’re only one of his families.
He comes from Labour stock, as we all know – I see his Dad Jimmy at the back of the room as usual!
Whether from his Dad or his Mum Elizabeth, or his sister Mairead – all of whom are here tonight, we can see he was well reared!
And in Marian, he found the woman to keep him grounded, even if she has encouraged the growth of some unusual facial hair!
He has everyone here tonight.
He has everyone in Leinster House.
And he has a wonderful family at home too.
He’s a lucky man in many ways. I don’t think it’ll be luck that will bring him back to the Dáil though.
With hard work, with a continuing commitment to progress, and with all of us standing next to him, he will win back our seat in Louth.
And I have no doubt it will be one of many, whenever that day comes.
Because people are rapidly getting sick of the politics we are witnessing.
Parties on one side that hold power, but do nothing with in.
Parties on another side who fight for change, but don’t want the power to deliver it.
And only Labour committed to change;
And committed to doing the hard yards to deliver it.
Only Labour working to build a better future.
The way it has always been.