A Labour Party we can be proud of

05 March 2020

Speech by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to Labour Party Leadership Hustings, Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport, Thursday 6th March 2020

When I joined the Labour Party as a young teacher, I was teaching ten-year-old girls in Sheriff Street, in inner-city Dublin. I quickly saw how they were missing out on so many opportunities I had taken for granted. I saw how they were at risk of being left behind, and I wanted to change the world for them. 

I knew then, and I know now, that this Party – our Labour Party – is the only party that can achieve change for those children and thousands like them – not just in inner-city Dublin, but in cities, towns and villages across Ireland.

We are a proud party with a proud tradition. We are the party of Connolly and Larkin.

Throughout our history we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with workers, with women, with young people, and with the most vulnerable.

We are still the same Party that I joined all those years ago, with the same proud record. But somewhere along the way, we stopped connecting with working people – including young people who want to change the world. 

The political landscape is changing quickly, and our proud history no longer guarantees us a place in the future.

We have lost the trust and confidence of voters, and we must fight to win back that trust.

Any political party has a relationship with the people. What do you do in a relationship, if there’s someone in your life who feels that you’ve let them down, who thinks that they can’t trust you anymore?

Either you can look inside yourself and deny it – and in your head come up with statistics that show they’re wrong. Or you accept it, you work to mend it, and you try to move together into the future.

We want the Irish people to trust us again. We can’t do that if we merely come up with the same answers I’ve heard ever since I first became a member of the Labour Party.

Knock on more doors; work harder; get back into the communities.

Of course we need to build on our values, but working harder – on its own – is not enough.

Every single labour member is in their community and their constituency. You are working hard, you are doing your best to achieve what you can for your community, your area, and your Party.

But you are hamstrung by the sense that the public has about our party.

We have a choice to make. Either Labour is part of the establishment, or we are part of the change. And I want the Labour Party that I lead to be part of that change. I want people to look at the Labour Party and say: “They are on my side.”

And I want the Labour Party to be a campaigning party, which takes on issues like the sky-high price of housing and childcare, access to quality health care, disadvantage, and the fact that we have 25% of workers in this country on low pay – second only to the United States.

And 40% of workers aged under 30 – the same people that are locked out of the housing market – are in so-called atypical work. A recent report by the trade union-backed Nevin Economic Research Institute says the new norm for young workers is part-time work, because the number of full-time permanent jobs is falling.

That combination of low pay and insecure work condemns our young people to a world where paying the rent is a constant struggle, and owning a home is beyond their dreams. Where the cost of childcare means having a family is a distant prospect. Where a holiday, a new coat for the winter, or sometimes even food on the table is a tough ask.

That’s why the first thing I will do, as leader of the Labour Party, is legislate to break the employer veto on negotiating with workers. We will enshrine in law the right for all workers to be represented by a trade union, and an obligation on employers to engage with that representation.

And if this is deemed unconstitutional, we will build a movement in support of a referendum to give people the right to be represented by a trade union. We will change the constitution to ensure that it’s not just a constitution for the people – but that it’s also a constitution for the worker.

This will demand hard work and courage, just like when we achieved marriage equality and repealed the eighth amendment. Labour will lead the argument with our colleagues in the trade union movement, and we will win.

That’s because Labour does not just believe in reacting – we believe in proposing. It’s not just about what you’re against, it’s about what you’re for.

That’s why, when I launched my campaign to lead this party, I did it in the same community hall where I coached football with those Sheriff Street girls. Because, twenty years later, I still want to change the world for them. And as a Labour Party member, I’m sure you do too.

I wanted to speak from the heart of the community that inspired me to join our Labour Party, and to reach Labour Party members all over the country with a vision for our future.

When we speak of Labour values, we speak of what unites us to fight for workers, their families, and their communities. We are the party of workers. But we are also the party of compassion and solidarity, working for – and with – the most disadvantaged – including those who are excluded from work by disability, discrimination, educational disadvantage or whatever reason.

We are the party that fights for people suffering discrimination, for those in low-paid precarious work, for those on hospital trolleys, for those without a home to go to. 

But getting these basics right is only the very minimum required of a new Labour leader. To secure our place in Ireland’s future, we also need to set a progressive agenda. We need to propose solutions rather than simply react to problems. We must achieve real and visible change for our communities on a local and national level. 

As leader I will do that:

  • With a bold policy agenda
  • By re-building a campaigning party with you, and
  • By establishing a fit-for-purpose organisation with a ‘win-back’ strategy for every constituency.

A bold policy agenda

Since long before it was fashionable or electorally appealing, the Labour Party has been a brave, consistent and pioneering champion of economic justice, workers’ and citizens’ rights, equality, decent public services, internationalism, and social reform.

Throughout our history, we have championed sometimes-unpopular causes because it was the right thing to do. We have never been a populist party, but a party rooted in our value system, with workers and the most vulnerable at the centre of our politics.

The Labour Party champions the public service, and rejects the pervasive tax-cutting agenda of the parties on the right – and so many of populists who seek to position themselves on the left.

A party standing for workers and focused on addressing the root causes of inequality in society: poverty, prejudice and a lack of access to education.

Campaigning for an end to failed market-driven policies for health, housing and childcare. 

Prioritising homes by building high quality, affordable and sustainable public housing on public land – with a ban on the co-living model favoured by those on the right.

Pioneering a radical approach to addressing the climate emergency – a just transition, where communities are not expected to pay the price of ambitious carbon-reduction targets – achieved through measures like sustained investment in free and affordable public transport, clean energy and the retrofitting of expensive-to-heat homes.

A campaigning party 

Labour has always been Ireland’s party of progressive change: winning the arguments, building alliances with civil society and across social and political divides, and – hardest of all – getting change implemented through determination and courage.

That message didn’t cut through in the 2020 election. As leader, I will draw on our values, our record and our vision for the future to empower party activists as we rebuild Labour’s reputation for progressive change, along with our standing in communities. 

We need to spend more time out of Leinster House, revitalising the party as a force for change in our communities.

We must cut through the noise and speak directly to people – our focus should be on issues, rather than on other parties.

We will win back trust from voters by listening to them, and by working with them in local and national campaigns focussed on issues that matter to them.

Under my leadership, we will be strategic in how we plan and coordinate our campaigns. For instance, we should execute strong, effective, well-run campaigns around annual events like May Day, the Low Pay Commission consultation, and the expensive September back-to-school rush. 

And we will revitalise the Party’s campaigns unit – listening to Party activists and supporting constituencies as they identify local campaigns that can deliver for their communities.

A fit-for-purpose organisation

As Party leader, my focus will be on rebuilding the Party, including in the many constituencies without elected representatives or Oireachtas representation. All our activity in Head Office and Leinster House needs to be focused on that rebuild.

We will devise individual and effective ‘win-back’ strategies for every constituency, working with constituency organisations to analyse our strengths and weaknesses, and identify opportunities to campaign and raise Labour’s profile.

Every Parliamentary Party meeting will prioritise discussion of a constituency each week, starting with those areas outside Dublin, and those without an Oireachtas representative.

Constituency-by-constituency, I will host monthly meetings of parliamentary party members with local representatives and activists in their area – to connect the parliamentary party with the concerns of the constituencies in every region.

We’ll move away from the old model of expecting candidates to come to us for training. Instead, we’ll meet candidates and their teams in their local areas to deliver tailored training packages that focus on local needs and campaigns, social media, and smart use of the electoral register.

We will becoming a family-friendly organisation that hosts meetings and events, with childcare provision, in accessible and family-friendly locations, and at family-friendly times.

And I will support staff and ensure that our party organisation meets the highest possible standards of professionalism, effectiveness, and accountability.

A Labour Party to be proud of

In short, I want to build a movement that we can all be proud of – and I want each and every one of you to be part of that movement. 

Proud to say: “I am a member of a Labour Party that is on your side.”

Proud to say: “I am a member of the Labour Party that campaigns for working people in, and with, their communities”

Proud to say: “I am a member of the Labour Party that has really changed – and is really changing – Ireland for the better.”

Proud to say: “I am a member of the Labour Party.”

Let’s do this together.

Thank you.


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