Labour Leader Ivana Bacik’s Think In address – Building an Ireland that works for all
Friends and Comrades,
I speak today at a time when we are in the midst of both a cost of living crisis and a housing crisis that taken together, if not urgently addressed, will:
- see our poorest households forced to take impossible decisions between heating or eating;
- drive thousands of working families into poverty and debt;
- and see another generation of young adults unable to afford homes yet again forced into emigration.
Many of us feel like we have been here before.
I’m a child of the 1980s.
Looking back I can recall a time of penury, of protest, of rocketing unemployment and emigration figures – a grim time to be young in Ireland.
The 80s and early 90s were tough.
Poverty and inequality were rampant.
Hope was a scarce commodity,
For many it involved a boat train to London or further afield.
I have spoken before of my early involvement in social campaigns around that time – notably the right to safe and legal abortion.
However, I have always believed that social and economic rights – social and economic equality – are two sides of the same coin.
That is why I joined the Labour Party
Campaigning for economic justice and standing up for those struggling to make ends meet is core to the vision and values of our Party.
From the reforming zeal of Tom Johnson, Frank Cluskey, Eileen Desmond and Mary Robinson – over many decades we have achieved real change, both social and economic, for working people.
And my own campaigning covered both social and economic equality issues.
In the early 1990s I was proud to be involved in tackling educational disadvantage at third level by playing a founding role in establishing a scheme to provide a pathway into studying law for students from disadvantaged backgrounds – a scheme which has developed massively through the Trinity Access Programme.
From modest beginnings, that programme now provides huge opportunities for hundreds of talented young people who previously would not have aspired to third-level education.
And Trinity College is far richer and stronger for their immense contribution.
So we know that even in the dark days of the 1980s and early 1990s, people struggled and succeeded in delivering hope.
We are no longer in the 1980s.
But hope is needed now today as much as ever.
Thousands of families across the country are at their wits’ ends.
Empty heating oil tanks, spiralling food prices, unaffordable rent.
Some things are different to the 80s.
Now we have a successful macro economy and nearly full employment – the ‘paradox of plenty’ – but our social contract is broken.
On the fundamental issues facing families, young people and our elderly –
– a secure home, a decent standard of living, not having to scrimp and save for everything.
On these issues, the State, and more importantly this Government, is failing.
What is more, the Government appears incapable of showing a way out of this crisis.
At a time when citizens want certainty, want to know where their bills will be in 12, 18 months’ time there is silence, a lack of urgency.
If you’re a family looking for hope, looking for competence, looking for certainty – it appears that in Government Buildings, the blinds are down and the shutters up.
Like all of my Labour colleagues, I talk to individuals and families in my constituency everyday.
As Party leader, I speak with those in communities from every corner of Ireland.
What is striking to me is how many people – even those with ‘good jobs’, people who by anyone’s definition would be considered ‘successful’ – are struggling now.
Things are simply not working – Ireland is not working for them:
- For families who pay more than 1,200 Euros monthly for childcare costs.
- For people who have to think twice about bringing a child over six years of age to the family doctor.
- For households whose electricity bills have shot up – on average faced with paying 2,000 more Euro per year on heating and electricity.
So many in our community are forking out thousands of Euro per month between mortgage or rent, costs of child care, electricity, gas and transport.
And that is before they even think about food, clothing, schoolbooks, and yes, the holiday and treats that every family deserve.
Because we need Bread, but Roses too.
Is it any wonder people are at their wits’ end?
We need to change this.
We need to build an Ireland that works for everyone – and that is core to Labour’s mission.
Our mission for care, climate, housing, jobs and communities.
And we recognise that with the terrible cost of living crisis, communities now urgently need a number of measures in the forthcoming Budget that will give immediate relief from the huge pressures faced by so many.
First, we believe that, as a starting point, a three pronged approach should be adopted by government to address the soaring costs of energy for households.
We have called for the immediate introduction of a windfall tax on excessive profits from energy companies, an immediate maximum price cap on energy bills – and the extension of eligibility for the fuel allowance for low and middle income households.
These represent significant measures which will help to get people through this winter and beyond.
And to get us through future winters, we need vastly enhanced environmental initiatives – to incentivise a rapid switch nationwide to renewables – a move that will both help meet our climate targets and greatly reduce household energy bills.
We have also argued that in the face of this chronic cost of living crisis, Ireland needs a pay rise – as a starting point, we need to see an immediate increase in the minimum wage.
And in the face of a chronic lack of housing, we need to kickstart a massive building programme to deliver affordable homes for all.
But in addition we need a number of other creative and radical measures to tackle this unprecedented crisis.
Emergency measures like those introduced to get us through the Covid-19 Pandemic.
In particular, we are calling for:
- A cap on childcare costs to 200 Euro per month for every family.
What is more important than the early education years of our children, and ensuring parents can have a career without being penalised just for being parents?
- Unlimited public transport journeys anywhere in Ireland for 9 euros a month for everyone.
This would have the added value of being ‘a climate ticket’, that will not only help out working people, but help us to begin making real impact on our vital climate targets.
- And the immediate extension of free GP care to everyone under 18. Because no parent should have to think twice about bringing a child to the family doctor to seek help.
And before our opponents say ‘it can’t be done, we can’t afford it’, we should recall that:
- Department of Finance figures show a surplus of over 6 billion Euro this year so far.
- We cannot justify a society in which exorbitant energy company profits take precedence over families in energy poverty, all because Mr Putin embarked upon a brutal and murderous invasion of Ukraine.
- And as a committed European, the last time I checked, many of our EU partners are already taking radical action on energy bills and other cost of living measures. Spain and Portugal have recently capped energy prices and we saw a 9 Euro per month public transport cap introduced in Germany.
People deserve better. Ireland deserves better.
Our communities deserve An Ireland that Works for All.
And before the naysayers say it – this is not ‘auction politics’ as practised by others.
These are achievable targets that would have a real impact on people’s lives, while we work towards achieving fundamental change in how Ireland works – for working people.
We still believe in building a universal public childcare system that supports children and families in their early years – but right now people need to know that they can afford decent care for their children.
They need help TODAY.
When Labour was founded over a century ago, it was to make life better for working people.
Back then, people often literally died going to work. We have made much progress since then.
Progress due in no small part to Labour parties and trade unions worldwide fighting for working people everyday.
And while workplaces are undoubtably safer these days, we still have huge challenges:
We are building an economy where even those with what we would all agree are ‘good jobs’ cannot afford to live with a real sense of security for their families.
Good earners, people with ‘good jobs’ are unable to afford to live get by.
Our failed ‘market knows all’ economic, housing, childcare and other policies have made the cost of living unbearable.
And this is why Labour – and Labour values – are needed more than ever.
Our challenge is to put real meaning to the phrase ‘Labour values’, so that people know what that means when we say it.
And for me it means – ‘An Ireland that works’ – for everyone.
I still believe in the power of politics, and the ability of the Labour Party to make sure that Ireland works for everyone.
But Politics has changed. No more do people wait for the ‘sermon from the mount’ from political leaders.
The Marriage Equality and Repeal referendums showed the importance of people power when campaigning for real change.
Just as the climate movement is showing us now as we gain momentum to a net zero future.
We have always been an activist party and I want us always to be one – on climate, on care, on housing, on jobs and on building sustainable communities.
Because of our tradition as a campaigning party, and our track record of legislative change and getting stuck in and stepping up, we are best placed to work with communities to build an Ireland that works.
We have always been a radical party, but radical not just for the sake of it, radical because we believe in fundamental real change that is meaningful.
We have never taken the easy option of shouting from the sidelines; we have stepped up at times of huge challenge to serve our country, sometimes to the detriment of our Party.
For this, we should stand proud as we look to the future.
In the coming months, I will be visiting communities around the country to hear directly about local concerns and frustrations, but as importantly, to hear ideas about how to deliver positive changes that will make Ireland work for everyone.
We know that Labour values can bring about change for the better in the lives of every community and every household.
And in applying Labour values, we want to build a culture of really good jobs – jobs that are secure, decent, flexible and well paying.
But also good in that they help us to achieve our targets in tackling the existential climate emergency.
We will be talking to people about their ideas for how we can ensure that childcare and early years education are truly valued and supported.
How we can build a society where having a place to call home is not a luxury.
How we can deliver a state-building programme to meet the demand for housing, and a properly regulated rental market that allows people security of tenure.
That means our young people will no longer have to emigrate, as they did in the 1980s, if they want security.
We can offer hope and security here in an Ireland that works for all.
The people and communities that we are proud to represent deserve nothing less than our commitment to be ambitious for them, and ambitious for Ireland.
Let’s build an Ireland that works – for us all.
Thank you. Go raibh maith agaibh.