A New Deal for Ireland

13 November 2021

Speech by Party Leader Alan Kelly to 71st Labour Party National Conference, the Mansion House, Dublin.

Friends, thank you.

I might be from Tipperary – obviously the home of hurling, and the Labour party – but I am so proud to speak to you tonight from the historic Round Room in the Mansion House here in Dublin.

Over a year and a half ago I was elected leader of the Labour Party.

The proudest day of my life.

Little did we know what lay ahead of us.

Covid has changed everything and it’s still with us.

It brought us back to our communities and our core values.

I’m from a small village called Portroe, just outside Nenagh.

We all rallied together, like everywhere else.

Neighbours looked out for each other, got the groceries, made sure people were ok.
We didn’t know what lay ahead.

But out of fear, came a great strength – our Meitheal.

And we are coming through it together.

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But it made us question who we are.

What we want from our lives.

And what we want from our futures.

What kind of Ireland we want to live in.

I know personally it’s made me reconsider everything.

How much time I spend with my wife Regina and my kids Aoibhe and Senan, and my elderly parents’ Nan and Tom.

And it made me think about what kind of Labour Party I want to lead.

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I thought of the people who inspire me and motivate me.

My parents, leaving school at 11 and working every odd job to give me an education and every chance in life.

My good friend Vicky Phelan. Vicky, you are so much in my thoughts tonight.

We will always be grateful for your struggle for truth for the women of Ireland.

People like Niamh Breathnach who helped me and so many others go to college with free third level education.

People like Jim Kemmy and Mervyn Taylor and their inspiring work on equality.

And not to forget Tom Johnson, the first leader of the Labour Party in the Dáil and in my view the most under-appreciated politician in Irish history.

And recently I’ve been able to get out and meet with people again.

What I heard was the stories of hard-working people struggling to get by.

Listening to families in Donegal and across the North West with crumbling homes because of MICA.

Hearing from young people in Maynooth locked out of the housing market,

Speaking with students in Cork who can’t find digs and struggle to afford college,

And in Dublin the frustration of young healthcare workers because of the soaring cost of living.

A hunger for action and change.

A hunger for a real alternative.

A hunger for a new deal.

And that’s why as Leader of the Labour Party I want you to know – I will be your voice.

The voice of those who are running to stand still.

With the courage to speak up, and the humility to listen.

Because the time has come again for a new deal.

To make Ireland a fairer, kinder, better place.

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And the Labour Party will lead that change.

Why? Because we always have.

We have served before, and we will do so again. That is what informs my politics.

I’m not interested in running for office just to get elected, or being in government for the sake of it.

I am passionate about delivering a real alternative for our people.

And by god we need that.

From the first Dáil in this room over a century ago, Labour has always led that change.

We don’t just talk about it, we make it happen.

That is our mission, and it is never easy.

It’s what distinguishes us as a party.

We must be positive about our future.

And if we set our minds to it, we can act.

And we can win again, just like we did in Dublin Bay South.

Because in Ivana Bacik, the Labour Party offered a real social democratic alternative, and the public responded to our positive message.

A message of real change rooted in our values.

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Covid, has been the great disrupter.

Our expectations of what the State can do for us changed overnight.

People have come around to a Labour point of view.

Unlike others, we always knew the market couldn’t solve everything.

But the pandemic showed people why.

In a crisis you expect solutions from the State.

If we can act so strongly when we really had to, then why are so many problems still so bad?

We can’t continue as normal because the Labour Party believes normal was the problem in the first place.

People want security – in their work and in their homes, a safety net to catch them when a child falls sick or an elderly parent needs care.

Childcare that doesn’t cost more than a mortgage, and universal access to education.

Respect for our way of life whether urban or rural, that doesn’t pit one against the other, and a plan to save our planet delivered with real urgency.

There can be no going back to the way things were before.

And it’s why this weekend my party, the Labour Party is calling for a new deal for Ireland.

For workers, for housing, for care and for climate.

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Because too many people are just about getting by or not at all.

Under pressure from the rising cost of living.

Any surprise – an unexpected medical bill or extra fuel costs, brings worry and stress.

Working families should be able to afford a modest holiday, a pizza at the weekend and be able to change the car every few years.
Work must always pay.

We must ensure that people who work or want to work are not struggling to get by, and see Labour as their political home.
That’s the Party I will lead.

Working with trade unions to make it a reality.

This is core to who we are as Labour people.

Bread for all, but there must be roses too.

And it starts with a living wage and full trade unions rights for all workers.

There is an epidemic of low pay in Ireland, and everyone gets a raw deal in a low wage Republic.

Women and young people are affected most.

Ireland pays a high price for low pay.

And Covid has shown us who we can really depend on in a crisis.

Care and retail workers, our cleaners, delivery drivers, transport workers, so many essential staff, all deserve more than a bualadh bos.

Because you know what?

Claps don’t pay bills or put food on the table.

The latest increase in the minimum wage won’t even keep pace with inflation.

And the gap with the living wage is only growing.

It’s time the government used the Low Pay Commission that Labour set up to deliver a Living wage.

And a new deal also means the right to be represented by a trade union in your workplace.

Because together we are stronger.

Countries with more people in trade unions are fairer.

That’s a fact.

Workers in Ireland need a right to collectively bargain.

They need a right to paid sick leave, a right to disconnect, and a right to switch off.

But I can assure you the Labour Party will be relentless in our efforts to secure those rights.

So what workers need, and what workers deserve is a new deal that gives them decent pay and protection.

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People also need secure housing, because our housing system is fundamentally broken.

Young people believe they will never follow in their parents’ footsteps with their own forever home.

The cost of renting has become obscene.

The latest government plan is more of the same tired efforts to pay off private developers.

They’re setting up a Housing Commission, but its terms of reference must be radical.

We’re still not building enough homes.

A whole new class of absentee institutional landlords is being created instead.

Where is the radical state action to deliver homes?

Where is the ban on evictions?

Where is the referendum to deliver a right to housing?

Where is the rent freeze?

I was able to freeze rents for 2 years in 2015 but since then the conservative parties in power have allowed record increases.

There is no constitutional issue here – I should know – so government just do it.

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Ireland also needs a new deal on care that finally delivers on childcare, education,
and health.

At every Budget Labour puts forward our alternative fully costed proposals.

And we’re upfront about how we would pay for it.

By taxing wealth – not work, and by closing loopholes.

Too many parties are peddling the myth that we can have both tax cuts and public spending.

It’s a con job. It’s total lies.

They are lying to the Irish people, pure and simple.

Populist nonsense that all Labour Party representatives will always call out.

None of us like paying taxes, but we can’t have decent services without them.

And you can’t call yourself a left-wing party if you’re against a property tax.

Our mission is to deliver services that reduce the burden on working families rather than forcing extra costs on them.

This is the reality of Ireland today and the government is doing little to help.

Inaction is the only action they know.

We will keep campaigning to put in place our universal public childcare scheme.

We want equality for children, affordability for families, and fairness for professionals.

And we need to cut costs for parents by ending the dreaded voluntary contributions, investing in disadvantage and giving every child free schoolbooks.

Now is the time to finally tackle the role of religion in our hospitals and schools.

Our National Maternity Hospital must be publicly owned and controlled.

And our education system made fit for purpose for a modern Ireland.

We need to change our constitution to recognise all modern families.

And give citizenship to all children born here.

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But friends, this evening, I want to pay tribute to our frontline healthcare workers.

Once again, their workplaces tonight are under severe pressure.

We must do all we can to help them.

We need a commitment that early next year booster shots will be rolled out to everyone.

And we must show solidarity with the rest of the world and share our spare vaccines.

All of our closest neighbours managed to reward their frontline healthcare workers.

Only this shambolic government could mess it up.

Trolley numbers continue to rise and nearly a million people are on waiting lists.

What kind of country allows a child like Adam Terry wait four years for scoliosis surgery.

The only answer from government to delays is to shovel more money into profit making private health services.

It’s immoral.

We’re meant to be developing a single tier health service, not slowly privatising it.

If that approach continues, we will never develop the capacity or the skilled workforce we need.

The chronic underfunding of our disability services continues.

The rollout of Sláintecare has been neutered and momentum stalled.

Labour would ensure a single tier health service was a priority.

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And we can’t delay any more on climate action.

Only the State can take the action that is needed to deliver a just transition for workers and families, that unites people, rather than divides urban and rural communities.

We need a new deal on climate change now, not in five years’ time.

When it comes to retrofitting, forestry, offshore wind and new technologies – it’s taking too long to act.

It’s embarrassing.

Because right now workers and businesses are paying the price of delay.

Fuel costs are spiraling out of control.

Those in rural areas with no other option but to drive a car are paying the price,

Those waiting on the Metro and DART PLUS are paying the price.

Those in poorly insulated homes are paying the price.

That’s why Labour wants a Carbon Credit for ordinary working families.

And why we’re calling for the VAT rate to be cut on fuel for the coming months.

The window of opportunity to act is being squandered.

And it is a betrayal of the next generation, for my children and yours.

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Young people once could have expected a better life than their parents.

That can’t be said anymore.

They’ve been hard-hit by the pandemic and they deserve better.

If we don’t act Ireland will become no country for young people.

It’s no way to treat our best and our brightest.

They want to build their future here.

Let’s help them make it happen.

Over the last decade they have driven social change.

But the State is letting them down.

A generation is being left behind.

And just as the pandemic made us question everything.

So has Brexit, and that new generation, north and south are talking about what the future of our island will look like.

What an agreed and united Ireland could look like.

And not just for a narrow nationalism, but for all who call our island home.

Because tens of thousands of people who live here are proud of their Britishness.

We cannot pretend otherwise.

And we’ve had enough of Johnson’s games on the protocol.

It must stop. It’s putting our peace at risk.

Since 1912 the Labour Party has worked to achieve that shared peaceful future.

Our Starry Plough has been an enduring symbol of our journey.

And the trade union movement that gave birth to our Party has always represented workers from all communities.

And we must learn from their work.

Our Labour Party members in Northern Ireland want to play their part, and I will work with them so that we are ready to stand when that time comes.

And Labour will work closely with all those who want to achieve a shared, progressive future.

It cannot just be left to those who until very recently advocated for sectarian violence.

And remember, dialogue means listening, as well as speaking.

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And that’s why we’re at a crossroads.

There is a lack of depth in much of Irish politics at the moment.

Too much governing by soundbites and leaking.

Ministers more concerned with chasing headlines than changing Ireland.

There is a lack of space for reflection and understanding.

A lack of political philosophy and intellectual rigour.

Our President Michael D. Higgins stands out as a true leader.

Labour politics and my own politics are grounded in his politics. It’s how I was reared.

Let me be clear, I am a republican in the truest sense of the word, but I’m a social democrat first.

That’s what distinguishes me and my colleagues from other parties.

When it comes to politicians, we’re not all the same.

There is a real political choice facing people.

Which ideology do they follow?

Is it nationalism or social democracy?

When you break it all down what is your biggest priority?

I’m a social democrat, and a proud Irishman who aspires to deliver a United Ireland but I know what comes first for me.

At this moment I believe that our biggest priority for everyone on this island should be getting a home, getting the medical treatment you need, and providing for your children, whether you live in East Wall Dublin, or East Belfast.

And those priorities must be central to the next election and the next government.

And if the Labour Party is to enter government it will only do so under two conditions.

Firstly, will our core policies be implemented?

And secondly, can we trust the moral compass of those who aspire to govern with us?

Because the tone of political debate really matters now.

Some parties in the current government think they have a right to always govern.

While others in opposition go around arrogantly acting like their ascension to high office next time is just inevitable.

Neither are true.

You, the people of Ireland will decide and there is always a third option as we proved in the recent by-election win.
We have a positive vision for the future of our island.

And we will offer a real electoral alternative in the Limerick Mayoral election.

Because at our core, we believe in always putting people first.

And as our very own Michael D. said on the centenary of 1916, “A democracy is always and must always be a work in progress”.

This is why we work together to shape policies.

To make Ireland a fairer, kinder, better place.

This work is not easy.

It takes a vision of where we are going.

And action to get us there.

It challenges us to lead the change.

And bring everyone with us.

We want a new deal for Ireland.

On housing, on climate, on care, for workers.

Come join with the Labour Party, My Party, Our Party.

And let’s get to work.

On a new deal for Ireland.

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