A New Republic – keynote address to Labour Party Conference 2018

03 November 2018

Wexford last year, Now Dublin.

The last Wexford-Dublin fixture I was at, Wexford did some lovely hurling, with 22 points over Dublin’s 2 goals, 14.

But, I’m willing to concede a small victory to Dublin tonight.

Here, at our first ever one-member-one-vote conference,

We have an even larger attendance than at Wexford.

And we have many serious issues to discuss.


Young people.

Our friends, our children and our grandchildren.

The next generation… is the first generation in 100 years to inherit a world in worse condition than it was for their parents and grandparents.

We have only 12 years left to prevent extreme climate change, according to the world’s greatest experts.

It is the moral imperative of our age.

And the top 1% of people take half of the world’s wealth, while many young people won’t earn enough to have their own home or to enjoy a decent quality of life.


So many problems seem overwhelming… Bigger than what any one person can handle.

On our own, what can we do to stop climate change?

We can reduce, reuse and recycle… But all our efforts can seem inadequate.

When we walk out our front doors, we see an economy that keeps producing pollution and waste.

There are so many overwhelming issues.

Not just economic inequality and climate change, but other issues that deeply affect us, like cancer and heart disease; depression and anxiety; drug addiction, poverty and homelessness.

How can we solve all of these problems?

This is the feeling of powerlessness.

As individuals, we can’t change ‘the system’.

Our personal power is too small to change the world.

But we are not alone!


Hundreds of people are in this room to build a New Republic.

Tens of thousands of people in trade unions know what it means to work together for a common purpose.

Hundreds of thousands of volunteers and campaigners know that real social and environmental progress is possible, when we work together.

All the great achievements in our State’s history have been collective efforts.

We built homes, Founded State industries, And provided hospitals and schools for all.

And we can do it again!


Working together is not all about the State.

The GAA and other sporting organisations have sustained communities.

The churches took action on homelessness and disability before the State became engaged.


Ní neart go cur le chéile…

But we have lost some of our ability to work together as one people.

Democratic politics is not working as it should.

Only one in five people say they trust politicians.

Many voted for anti-politics candidates, who give voice to their frustrations, but offer no solutions.

I don’t just mean the current Government and Dáil.

Democratic traditions across the world are being challenged.

Some nations have fallen for the lure of the ‘strong man’ – and it’s usually a man – coming to power and dismissing the rule of law and human rights.

Too many people are giving up.

They focus on their own personal challenges: money, a place to live, personal life goals.

But we need collective solutions to our shared problems!


Individualism is not new.

Durkheim recognised the threat of societies losing common values.

Marx warned of ‘social alienation’: a breakdown in solidarity.

Every generation has to work hard to maintain social cohesion and to argue for the common good.


The onus is on us, the politicians and the activists, to bring people together again.

And the way to do that, is to make it clear that we need collective solutions, to the major challenges we all share.

Let’s start by agreeing our basic aims: We will not allow our planet to be destroyed.

We will not allow people to starve because global financiers buy and sell tomorrow’s crops to maximise profits.

We will not allow people to suffer homelessness, depression or chronic pain because the services they need are not made available.

We will make them available.


Labour will build a truly responsive system of government:

Restored town councils, Properly-financed local government,

A well-functioning Dáil and Seanad, and stronger democracy in the European Union.


Labour has consistently championed decency, justice and equality.

We don’t want Poor Houses, we want everyone to have a secure home.

We don’t want handouts, we want to eradicate poverty.

A hundred years ago, Labour asserted the right of the people to sovereignty over all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes.

We still do so now.

Private property must take second place to the public’s welfare.


We want a market economy.

We want enterprise.

But it must be well-regulated and socially-conscious.

We want a just transition to a sustainable economy.

Our modern, socialist vision of the market economy mimics the obvious successes of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.


And Irish voters are not allergic to socialism.

Our President, Michael D. Higgins, is not just a Labour man and

trade unionist, he is a socialist.

People, from across the political divide, admire Michael D’s integrity, his intellectual vigour, and his warm humanity.

His socialism won 700,000 first preference votes in 2011.

And despite the lower turnout, the people of Ireland backed him again, with more than 820,000 first preferences last week.

Tá sé léirithe ag Michael D go bhfuil tacaíocht tromchuiseach i ngach Dáilcheantair do lúachanna Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre agus do smaointe Phairtí an Lucht Oibre.

Níl aon Dáilcheantar ann nach raibh níos lú ná deich míle [10,000] vota aige.

If the whole Labour Party could command that level of support, we would have Ireland’s first Labour-led government.

Now that’s a dream worth striving for.


But why support Labour?

Labour in Ireland has always been outnumbered by conservatives, nationalists and populists.

But we lead on the issues.

We make the arguments, and the rest eventually catch up.

We were outvoted by every other member of Dáil Éireann on the Bank Guarantee.  But we were still right.

Labour and other progressives were outnumbered two-to-one when the Eighth Amendment was put into the Constitution 35 years ago.

This year, at last, that was reversed.

Labour has always delivered real social progress:

Workers’ rights.

Women’s rights.

Gay rights.

Reduced poverty.

Free education.

Public ethics.

No Labour politician has ever been charged with corruption.

What other party leader can say that?

Labour has always led on better government… We championed transparency in our public agencies, and we will do more to ensure that all public servants are fully accountable, especially concerning women’s health.

I was delighted to honour today, three incredible campaigners:

Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh.


For over 100 years Labour have led step-by-step reform towards A New Republic, A Better Republic.

The core of that work, as everyone here knows, is through local meetings, the leaflet drops, and conversations with people, on the doorsteps, and in workplaces, all around the country.

I want to salute everyone in this room, who have given countless days, evenings and weekends to advancing Labour’s vision of a better society.


The current Fine Gael government is not delivering.

They are driven by the news cycle not ideas.

They are failing in housing, in health, and on climate change.

They were gifted an economy well on the way to recovery, but they are squandering this opportunity to achieve real progress.

Confidence and Supply isn’t working.

Fianna Fáil goes through the motions of opposing the Government.

But then they turn their backs and abstain on every crucial vote.

What would they really do differently in office?

Their only economic goal is to persuade people to forget that they ruined this country.

Labour has put forward what we would do differently, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have made it clear… they prefer to keep things the way they are.

They won’t fundamentally change our country for the better.


Sinn Féin are untested.

Their leadership has ducked the big issues and big decisions.

They’ve stayed out of Stormont and Westminster, at a time when it matters most to the people of this country.

For some, they are credible defenders of working class interests.

But for many others, Sinn Féin continues to glorify IRA terrorism, and has failed to break with the past.

The treatment of Máiría Cahill, and the exodus of their Councillors due to bullying and intimidation, shows they still have a way to go.

They need to demonstrate the responsibility of leadership, which means doing far more than simply opposing everything, and putting their party interests before the public interest.


Labour is a party of progress…

We want action on climate.

We want economic justice.

We want social equality and real personal freedom for all.

And we are alert to new public concerns.

Everyone needs access to the knowledge and opportunities from broadband Internet.

We would use State agencies to deliver rural broadband.

Labour would introduce new digital rights, for personal privacy, and for freedom from online abuse.


Labour is a broad family of progressive thinkers.

The Democratic Socialist Party joined us in 1990.

Democratic Left joined in 1999.

Each alliance has brought new thinking into Labour.

Even on our worst day, the diversity within Labour gives us the strength to punch above our weight.

And Labour is not alone.

We are not the only progressives in Ireland.

On many issues, we agree with the Green Party, the Social Democrats, and progressive independents, some from the Labour family.

They share our analysis.

We often vote together.

And we have co-operated on new laws and policies.

Last week’s Exit Poll showed the combined appeal of our policies.

At least 1 in 7 nationwide would vote for progressive parties, 1 in 5 for Dublin and among younger people.


The people will always need progressive doers.

Those who will work to make their lives better… Who are capable of making real change.

Labour has always been a party of doers.

I know that Labour will come out stronger from the next local, European and Dáil elections.

Our candidates include many first-time candidates: a new generation of Labour politicians willing to serve.

Alongside seasoned veterans, people who know how to deliver.

Young and old, women and men, and from different walks of life.

It’s a strong team, that I am proud to lead.


But we might not win every seat we target.

And if there is a constituency where we cannot have Labour, let us not have more conservatives, nationalists or populists.

Let us have other progressives.

As many progressive voices as possible… in the Dáil, and in local Councils.

To maximise the progressive voice, at the next election, I will call on all Labour voters to give their next preferences to progressive candidates, from the Green Party and the Social Democrats, and to progressive independents.

Because we know that only a progressive platform, for economic equality and climate justice, will deliver a New Republic for all our people.


And why is that?

What’s so special about our viewpoint?

We alone see the State as the means to achieve economic, social and environmental progress.

As we know, all too well, Ireland is perhaps the only European country never to have had a left-wing majority in parliament.

And it shows.

Our incomplete public health system, with its State funding of private hospitals.

Private ownership of most of our schools, even though our taxes built them and pay the teachers.

And whole areas of public service are insufficient.

Not least the lack of State-built affordable housing for middle income families.


But there are challenges in using the State for the public good.

Too many public managers draw their ideas solely from the private sector.

Too much public money is spent on private consultancy, instead of developing our own social and environmental analysis.

And quite simply, some public managers no longer see their primary role as serving the public.

We need to take back the State.


We need to take back the State as the instrument of social progress.

We need a stronger State to enforce worker’s rights, and to force rogue employers to meet minimum standards of decency.

We need a strong State to regulate private rents, and to build 80,000 homes over the next five years.

We have identified where we would find €16 billion to do just that.

And above all, we need the State to lead on climate action.


We can take back control of the State.

We would put expertise for housing back into local government, through regional Housing Executives.

We are committed to creating a single-tier, publicly-owned healthcare system. 

We want to create a coherent State approach to social care and disability, working with community and voluntary bodies.

And we want a State-led drive to make Ireland carbon neutral in our lifetimes.


We need a new economic model. 

We would create an Economic Equality Agency, To understand the causes of poverty and disadvantage, And to provide a blueprint for a genuinely new economic model:

One that serves all of society, and leaves no one behind.

We cannot remain over-dependent on multinationals.

It’s time Ireland acted responsibly.

That’s why Labour supports a digital services tax, so the giants of the Internet pay a fair share of tax.

The next great transformation of our economy, has to move us away from an insecure reliance on foreign investment,

Towards a social and ecological market economy, that delivers decent jobs, sustainable jobs, in dynamic Irish businesses that unleash the great potential of our people.


The State, the private sector and the voluntary sector are

mutually-supportive, mutually-interdependent.

But when the State is weak, people are routinely left to fend for themselves in a competition where the strong exploit the weak.

That leads to a weaker economy… And a damaged society.

We see that… We see it in Ireland today.


Our New Republic will be built on social solidarity.

The private market will never deliver affordable housing, decent childcare or a fair health system.

The State must work alongside the market to ensure people’s essential needs are met.

To give just one example of our vision.

The private market gives us a low-wage childcare system.

But State-led pre-school education would make our children ready for the future, and would break the cycle of poverty.


We want a New Ireland.

Our first priority is for everyone on the island of Ireland to have a decent standard of living.

That’s our promise to everyone. 

It’s our promise to Northern unionists too,

And for the diverse, new communities in Ireland… including those of our people denied their citizenship, because of who their parents are.

Labour’s vision of a New Ireland is not any kind of final victory for nationalism.

Our vision is victory for an inclusive, tolerant, diverse Ireland.

An Ireland for people of all faiths, and none.

An Ireland that cherishes its minorities, and preserves its traditions.

I want to see greater dialogue with all sides on the future of Ireland, North and South, which is why we’d recall the New Ireland Forum.

And let me say this too. 

If some within the SDLP do merge with Fianna Fáil, Labour and others will step in.

We will ensure a pluralist option in the Labour tradition is available for voters in Northern Ireland.


As the UK cuts itself adrift, and abandons seven decades of European peace and co-operation, Brexit poses an external challenge for Ireland, the likes of which we have not seen since the oil crises in the 1970s.

The scale of this challenge is why we have been immersed in the technical detail, to find ways to stop Brexit, if we can, but at least to save as many jobs and businesses as possible.

Labour will strive for the best outcome for workers and families.

Our friends in the British Labour Party are fully informed of Ireland’s concerns.

But we must be prepared for challenging times ahead.


Labour is presenting an incredible team of candidates for the upcoming elections.

Excellent contenders are already in the field.

We are ready for whichever election comes next.

In advance of the next general election, we will publish a list of core ‘red line’ demands.

Labour will not support any Government that does not meet each and every one of our ‘red lines’.


I encourage you to meet our candidates.

Listen to what they have to offer for your area and in response to your concerns.

Help them, and help us to build a New Republic.

A New Republic of affordable homes, health equality, and genuinely free education.

A New Republic, with decent work for all, with real social protection, and where the greatest challenge of our time… climate change… is taken seriously by the State.

This is what Labour offers.

Solutions, Not rhetoric.

Unity, Not division.

Working together, Le chéile,

A simple notion.

The core of Labour.

We can, And we will, build a better future by working together.

Together, We will build a New Republic.

Thank you.


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