The social contract should be a given in Ireland, but it is not
Speech by Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly TD at the Annual James Connolly Commemoration where he addressed the housing crisis, the impact of Covid-19 on young people and the need for a new social contract.
“This week marks 105 years since the founder of the Labour Party, James Connolly, was executed by firing squad by the British Army for his role in the 1916 Rising. As the leader of the Labour Party, and a successor of James Connolly, it is an honour to be here today with his relatives, and our comrades, to mark this occasion, and speak about Connolly’s life’s work, and how it is still relevant today.
The last 15 months have been incredibly difficult for our country. We have been isolated from those who matter to us most, our main streets have been a very different place and our frontline workers have given their all to protect us, some paying the price with their lives. It is only right that today we also we think of those who have lost their lives since COVID first arrived on our shores. But it finally feels like we are turning a corner and that brighter days are ahead of us.
James Connolly founded the Labour Party in Clonmel, in my own county of Tipperary, to be the voice of the working people of Ireland. Not of the wealthy, or the elite, or big business, or investment funds, but for the workers and citizens of Ireland. And that is who we are today and who we will always be. He did this because he understood that the Ireland of that time was in need of radical change.
In our own time, the COVID pandemic has changed a lot about the way we live our lives. But just like in Connolly’s time, the time has again come for radical change in Ireland.
And the Labour Party will lead that change, as we always have. Right now we as a Party are in the process of reflecting on our core values, and our identity, to ensure that our Party is fit for purpose to lead the change that is so desperately needed in Ireland.
The most basic human need we have, after food, water and clothing, is shelter. And yet the last few weeks have once again shown how dysfunctional Ireland’s housing system is, and how many people are not having that basic need met in the manner which it should be. It is failing to provide the shelter which men, women and children need, and it is failing to do this because of political choices. Those political choices are ones where Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil treat housing not as a basic human necessity, but as an investment opportunity.
In 2015 when I wanted to cap rent increases to the rate of inflation, I remember that it was Fine Gael who refused to act, just as they have wasted the five years since 2016 with Fianna Fáil.
Rent certainty would have saved renters a fortune and ensured a more secure rental market. Since 2015, as a result of Fine Gael’s policies, rents have rocketed by 50%.
Let the word go out that this is the crisis they have created.
Connolly wanted us to be revolutionary in exceptional times, and for young people in Ireland, we are now indeed in exceptional times.
Thousands of young people and their parents woke up to a notification on their phones this week that told them something they had long suspected, but now had proof.
The ESRI found that “Under-30s in Ireland are likely to be first generation since independence that will be worse off than their parents due to stagnant wages and a collapse in home ownership rates.”
This is a generation of young people who have been completely abandoned by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on their careers and incomes – young people are more likely to work in retail, hospitality, arts or leisure sectors, which have lower wages and are less-COVID proof. There were 112,000 fewer 15-34 year olds in paid work in the final quarter of 2020 than a year earlier. What’s more, it has hit their mental health. Young people have been left without help or hope throughout the pandemic.
When you couple lower wages with sky high rents, and the activities of cuckoo funds who have Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in their pocket, and are swooping up homes before they hit the market, it is absolutely no surprise that home ownership for young people today is nothing but a pipe dream.
To put it simply, Ireland in 2021 is no country for young people, and that is a direct result of the political choices, and the political ideology, of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The social contract should be a given in Ireland, but it is not. If you work hard, pay your taxes, contribute to society, then the state should assist you with housing, healthcare, childcare, education and a system of decent public services on which you could rely on.
Looking forward, our next major electoral contest as a Party, where these issues will all be thrashed out, and where we will have the opportunity to put our solutions to the Irish people, will be the key by-election in Dublin Bay South. Over the years we have had many incredible candidates who have flown the Labour flag, but I can comfortably say that our candidate in this by-election stands head and shoulders above all others in the field. Ivana Bacik has dedicated her life to public service, and advancing the causes of social justice, equality and environmentalism. She already has a formidable and well earned reputation as a legislator and a campaigner, and I for one simply cannot wait for her to shine for our Party in the coming contest.
As we remember James Connolly today, that is my promise to the people of Ireland: the Labour Party is and always will be the party of workers.
Others are trying to claim Connolly now. They can’t have him.
He is our founder and our inspiration.
He is the very soul of our party.
Connolly, along with Larkin and Johnson and many others are our political heritage and ours alone and we will always cherish them and honour them.
It is our duty to continue Connolly’s struggle today, for this generation and for all future generations.