Opening Address by Labour Party Leader, Brendan Howlin TD to Party Away Day 2018

16 September 2018

Opening Address by Labour Party Leader, Brendan Howlin TD to Party Away Day 2018

D Hotel, Drogheda, Co Louth

Good afternoon,

And thank you all for being here today.

Over the course of today and tomorrow, we will be setting out and discussing some of the policies and campaigns that we will be working on over the coming months.

The Labour Party has always had a strong tradition of internal democracy.

And I made clear when I was elected, that mine would be an inclusive leadership.

Over these two days, I will be listening carefully to what everyone here has to say.

We have scheduled plenty of time for discussion alongside guest speakers.

And we have included a long session this afternoon where everyone can have their say on the Party’s future direction.

I look forward to hearing the full range of your views.

But we are not only here to discuss the future of the Labour Party.

We are here to discuss the future of Ireland,

And how we can bring about a New Republic that leaves no one behind.

We are all here because we believe in the Labour Party’s fundamental values.

We are all here to make life better for people across our country.

Anyone who thinks Labour is on the way out of Irish politics should think twice.

Labour has always come back,

And we are doing so again.

Because our work is not done.

Not nearly done.

And it never will be.

Because the cause of Labour is the cause of positive social change.

Labour’s fundamental purpose is to protect people from an unregulated economy and to ensure everyone…

Everyone…

Has a decent life in this country.

The capitalist economy is inherently unfair.

People in communities across this country need a Labour Party that will change the system,

For the benefit of people not banks,

For tenants not developers,

And for workers not multinationals.

Today, more than ever, Ireland needs a Labour Party to stand up for basic decency and people’s fundamental rights.

Labour exists to champion access to education and health services,

Affordable housing,

And a decent standard of living for everybody.

I have heard suggestions that the party is not energetic enough,

Or that we are not focused enough on economics,

Or that we are trapped by our time in Government.

Wrong.

I have heard say that the first thing I want to do is jump straight back into Government with Fine Gael.

Wrong.

I sought the leadership of our Party.

I was proud to be elected leader,

And I will continue to lead, outlining the values and beliefs of Labour in clear language.

Values and beliefs that we all share.

But we need to face political reality.

We have lost the trust of many people who should be supporting us.

They feel we let them down in Government.

I can talk about how we increased the rights of workers through collective bargaining legislation,

How we blocked Fine Gael privatisations;

And cleaned up the mess left by Fianna Fáil.

And I can repeat the message that we are truly sorry – I am sorry – that many people suffered hardship on our watch.

But for too many people, the recession still isn’t over.

And although overall income inequality and deprivation fell under our watch,

Despite what our opponents claim,

We lost that argument in February 2016.

We need to accept that.

Now we have to fight to recover people’s support.

The last decade has been a throwback to darker political times.

We’ve seen a rise in economic inequality,

And many citizens feel that democratic governments have let them down.

We’ve seen a rise in nationalist xenophobia,

And authoritarian politics.

We only have to look at the Swedish election result,

The A.F.D. in Germany,

Or Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party in Hungary, only this week sanctioned in an unprecedented vote by the European Parliament.

Democratic socialist and Labour parties across Europe have suffered numerous electoral defeats.

But the tide is turning.

Labour and socialist parties are rising again.

Socialists are leading the Government in Portugal and Spain.

The British Labour Party has grown a huge membership and is polling at 37%.

Many young Americans are discussing socialism again, after decades where it was almost a banned word.

And the Swedish Social Democrats are still the largest party, by a significant margin.

How?

How have Labour parties rebuilt and regained people’s trust?

The only way we regain people’s belief is by doing what Labour does best:

finding real solutions for their problems.

In our communities

and in the Oireachtas.

We need to focus on the goal of a full social recovery, which Labour always intended would follow the economic recovery.

We will fight to recover that lost trust with a style of politics that that is not based on focus groups and spin,

But on hard work and one clear message:

The State must protect people and improve their quality of life.

People look with admiration at the excellent healthcare system in Sweden,

The world-leading education system in Finland,

And the integrated and ecological transport network in the Netherlands.

People are surprised by the fair share of income before tax in Denmark,

And the affordability of public housing system in Austria.

And they ask, how did these countries manage it?

The answer is very simple:

Labour parties.

Labour policies.

People decided that it was better to work together rather than to compete.

People decided that it was better to share resources to create efficiencies.

Rather than trust the inhuman forces of the market, people made sure that private profit was carefully regulated and controlled.

That’s the Labour way.

Now we need to fight for that future together.

There are too many people who will suffer if we are not all united in this fight.

Our reforms allowed many people to get back into education and work.

But not all benefitted.

Even today not everyone has managed to find a job, especially outside of the main urban areas.

Far too many people are trapped in low paid work, while the cost of living soars.

Those on pensions, disability, carers’ and jobseekers’ payments are seeing living costs far exceed their incomes.

And pockets of deep disadvantage are again a serious problem in our cities and regions, despite the growth of our economy.

Women have been disgracefully treated in this country,

They need to be able to trust hospitals and screening programmes to keep them informed and to treat them with dignity.

Too many young people have come into jobs where the rate of pay is lower than it was in the past,

Which is why we have called for a reversal of the two-tier pay system in the public sector, established by Fianna Fáil.

It is time to raise up public pay into a single, equal system.

Today, I want to further set out Labour’s basic commitment to defending people from poverty and want.

In the Rainbow coalition government of 1994, Proinsias de Rossa initiated Ireland’s first National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Now in 2018, I am calling for a new National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Fine Gael have been quick to claim credit for adopting Labour’s positions on gender equality and marriage equality.

But their so-called centrism is shown wanting when it comes to economic equality.

As part of Labour’s push for a stronger Anti-Poverty Strategy, we are calling for the creation of a successor to the national Combat Poverty Agency, which was abolished by Fianna Fáil in 2009 in a moment of hubris.

Poverty and disadvantage still existed in 2009, but the Fianna Fáil government decided to stop trying to deal with it.

What we are proposing is a new agency.

It needs to go beyond the remit of Combat Poverty, a name which could imply that poverty is inevitable and we can only react to it.

Instead, I am proposing the creation of an Economic Equality Agency.

The purpose of this agency will be to identify the root causes of poverty and economic inequality in Ireland,

and to provide practical solutions.

It would bring together the expertise of specialists who have been scattered across multiples agencies.

For example, professionals working on child poverty, educational disadvantage, money and debt, housing and homelessness, mental health, addiction and disability.

The new agency would also include economists and specialists in regional development and social enterprise.

The straightforward purpose of the Economic Equality Agency would be to provide a clear blueprint

For a genuinely new economy in Ireland.

We should draw inspiration from the Nordic countries and the open social market economies like Austria and the Netherlands,

And we can also draw lessons from nations and regions that have achieved high levels of equality and wellbeing outside of Europe.

Our vision for Ireland is an economy that serves all of society, and doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Because there should be no going back to the unequal economy of pre-2008.

There is no need for Ireland to repeat the mistakes of the Anglo-American economic model.

That model has delivered the high inequality and precariousness that we see in Britain and the United States today.

And the political results have been catastrophic.

Ireland’s future is, and should remain, inside of the European Union.

Stronger State intervention is the norm across Europe, with robust protection for workers and better preservation of the natural environment.

Whether or not Brexit happens, and even if the UK stays within the EU single market, the balance of power has shifted in favour of the continental European economic traditions.

Labour’s vision is for Ireland to become more like the social democratic market economies of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands,

where prosperity is shared much more equally across the population,

not least through strong public services like health care and education that are genuinely free at the point of use.

Pushing for a new Economic Equality Agency is just one example of how Labour will clearly communicate our commitment to our core purpose:

We are in favour of State intervention to protect people from an unfair, unregulated market.

Later this afternoon we will talk more about our vision for the economy.

Tomorrow, we will discuss Brexit and the real threat it poses for tens of thousands of jobs in Agri-Food and other industries.

A threat that is acutely felt here in Louth, with the Border less that 50km up the road.

Tomorrow, we will also outline our specific proposals for housing, based around our call for State-led investment of €16 billion in 80,000 units of social and affordable housing to be built in the next five years.

These proposals are absolutely realistic.

There is €5 billion available in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

Rather than an unnecessary ‘rainy day fund’, we’d divert €3 billion from tax revenue to house-building.

And with matching funds from European Investment Bank investment, and a new investment vehicle for pension funds and credit unions, this can be doubled to €16 billion.

There is no doubt that we can now, finally, afford to make the necessary investment in housing.

It is just a matter of political will.

Make no mistake about it, Leo Vadakar does not believe in the State leading the way in solving our housing crisis.

The free market parties,

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,

are still wedded to a model of house building and development entirely centred on private developers.

Labour’s model of home-building has affordable housing for all Irish families at its centre,

Based on a simple idea: everyone’s inalienable right to a secure, decent home.

These are the kind of policies that are Labour’s red line issues.

We will never support a Government just for the sake of being in power.

Labour will not join or support any Government that is not willing to fully meet our core demands.

Labour is a party of progress that has delivered and will always deliver real benefits for everyone in Ireland.

Come the next election,

whether it is the local and European elections next May

or a General Election sooner,

Labour is ready and willing:

To offer the people of Ireland a real alternative to Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

And with less than 40 days until the Presidential election,

Our immediate task is to do our utmost,

To ensure that Labour’s candidate, Michael D Higgins, is re-elected as President of Ireland.

All of us,

working together,

as a united Party.

Working together to achieve Labour’s vision of a future where no one is left behind.

Our vision of nothing less than a New Republic of equality.

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