Party Leader address to 72nd Labour Party National Conference
Friends and Comrades; I stand here this evening in Cork to share my vision,
a Labour vision, for Ireland’s future.
I do so as Leader of a Party that has delivered real change;
Change that has transformed people’s lives.
Tackled inequalities, made Ireland a better place.
But we can do more, we must do more.
And now, more than ever, we need that Labour Ambition for Change.
To do more, to deliver an Ireland that works – for all.
We are a party of the Left – ambitious to achieve a left led green red government.
But what does that mean today?
For me, it’s about transforming our communities, our shared lives.
It’s a belief that together we are stronger.
Ní neart go cur le chéile.
It’s a conviction that our Labour values – equality, solidarity and fairness – must be at the heart of political change.
And that Government – the elected will of the people – must be a constructive force for progressive change.
And friends – we need change and we need progress.
The current conservative coalition is just not working.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are perpetuating an unequal Ireland.
This government is lurching from crisis to crisis. Cobbling together half-hearted fixes; All spin and no substance.
They are failing the people of Ireland.
Let me start with this government’s biggest failure. The Housing Disaster.
Under this government – we have seen a catastrophic failure to deliver on housing.
And let me be clear.
Only ideology – not the economy – has held back the massive public investment in housing that is so badly needed.
Again and again, this Government has turned to the private market to solve its own mess.
And again and again, developers, speculators, and land hoarders – have shown that they can’t and won’t deliver the homes our communities need.
This failure is causing record homelessness – over 11,700 people.
Each one with an individual story of hardship.
Like the young mother who contacted me in despair – facing the cliff edge of eviction next week, with no prospect of finding another home anywhere in her community.
And she is just one of thousands.
Every day I talk with young adults still in childhood bedrooms or emigrating to escape the rental rip-off.
I hear from parents petrified about having to uproot children from school.
And I meet older people stuck in a rent trap with no prospect of security in retirement.
Having a safe and secure home is essential to our well-being.
It is vital to the start we create for our children.
A home is a basic human right.
And the Government should be vindicating that right.
First and most urgently; they must extend the eviction ban.
That’s why we have tabled a motion of no confidence in this Government.
A government that is out of ideas, and out of time.
A temporary extension of the ban would provide breathing space to increase housing supply.
Not just to ramp up the tenant in-situ scheme,
But also, to tackle vacancy and to undertake a massive rapid build housing programme on public land.
And to introduce a new ‘Use it or Lose it’ rule – to stop speculators from sitting on inactive residential planning permissions in rent pressure zones.
We have a crisis. We need urgent action.
If they really wanted to, in a few months government could increase the number of affordable homes.
But these are emergency measures.
The real goal, my priority, is for a structural revolution in the provision of housing in Ireland.
The government has abandoned an entire generation to the private rental casino game. A game they can only lose.
Because, under this conservative coalition, the odds are stacked against them.
By contrast, Labour would create a housing model – public homes on public land – where the State takes a central role, and the common good comes first.
Where, for the first time, a right to housing is enshrined in our Constitution.
Where the vulture funds and bankers are told to back off.
And where we see a clear deliverable ambition to build the social and affordable homes needed for our young and future generations.
Our ambition is for one million homes in ten years – starting now.
The State can – and we must – deliver 50,000 new builds and 50,000 refurbished homes a year for the next decade.
In a strong economy with financial surpluses, we can do this.
With new thinking and new ideas, we can do this.
With a national housing emergency causing suffering for thousands – we have to do this.
That’s our ambition for housing.
And as I said earlier, I want to focus on ambition. On what this country can become.
Ireland can become a leader on climate action.
We are now on the cusp of what could be enormous, positive change.
This change will take courage, it will take honesty and it will take vision.
But, as our great international climate champion Mary Robinson says, it will be transformative for Ireland.
Our current Government does not get this.
Sure, there has been some progress. But they lack the necessary ambition and
political unity to deliver for the environment.
Struggling with internal dissent, they are driven by compromise, not conviction. And we have seen far too many delayed and missed targets on climate.
Let me be honest with you this evening.
Ireland has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 51% over the next seven years – by 2030.
But no one believes the government can meet its climate targets.
They talk a good game, but they cannot deliver.
Don’t just take my word for it, look at what they say themselves.
In December the government published their latest glossy climate action plan.
The plan identified six key target areas.
One of these is Land Use – critical in a biodiversity crisis.
We know we need significant increase in forestry cover, rapid movement on rewetting bogland and creating carbon sinks.
But the government have no emissions reduction target for changing land use. The plan is blank. Nothing.
That’s because this government won’t be honest with people about the scale of the challenge.
I will be.
On agriculture, we have to change the way we farm – working with farming families and food producers to achieve sustainable rural communities.
And we must be honest about radical change in transport too.
Communities should not be built around cars.
We must transform our cities and towns by prioritising walkers and cyclists over motorists.
A bike to school scheme for children; a national greenway network of cycle lanes.
And the transformation of public transport.
Our Labour plan for a climate ticket can do this – by providing unlimited bus and train journeys anywhere in Ireland for just 9 Euro per month.
It worked in Germany. It can work here.
Other transport measures are also needed, like the new tax on fossil fuel
guzzling SUVs already introduced in France.
We all know the future of the planet hangs in the balance.
Just this week we got a final warning from the UN.
We need leadership and we need honesty. We in Labour can provide both.
Too many other parties are full of promise but empty on policy.
We know what they’re against – but not what they’re for.
Offering no constructive solutions, it’s dishonest. I prefer to tell the truth.
There are difficult decisions on climate. But there are also fantastic opportunities for this country. And we need to grasp these.
Developing offshore wind capacity and exploring alternative fuels like green hydrogen.
Travelling around the country in the last year, I’ve seen incredible new businesses,
creating employment in every county.
We have the drive to support creative and ethical enterprises; to generate
well-paid jobs for our changing world.
Jobs for Good.
That is our goal in a Just Transition.
I want us to be brave enough to lead that change – sustainable jobs for a fairer, greener future.
This is Labour’s ambition for our economy.
Our Party is the party of jobs and of work, rooted in the trade union movement.
I am proud to be a life-long trade unionist.
Our Labour movement has delivered real benefits for working people. And that task is far from over.
Just look at the bravery of workers in the tech sector and the gig economy who are beginning to unionise, often against significant resistance from employers.
No worker should have to face the might of a multinational corporation alone.
No worker should have to face unfair hours of work, low wages or abuse while at work.
That’s why my ambition, working with the trade union movement, is to chart the next phase of workers’ rights in Ireland.
That work has already begun.
Labour has led the campaign for the right to sick leave and to flexible work.
We have led the campaign to end the scourge of low pay.
We have led on the right to paid leave for women experiencing early miscarriage.
But we must do more.
Labour would end the situation where apprentices are not covered by the minimum wage.
And ensure that community and voluntary sector workers get the pay and conditions they deserve.
We would go further – by ensuring workers and unions have the right to organise.
Because we know that the best way to improve pay and conditions is through union representation.
And in this cost of living crisis, we know Ireland needs a pay rise.
Just as we would deliver for workers, so too would Labour deliver on Care.
Because tonight, our country is utterly reliant on the unpaid care work carried out by thousands nationally.
People struggling to balance caring for an elderly parent, child or other relative,
often alongside the demands of paid work.
Our workplaces need to recognise this reality.
Labour would introduce a legal right to reduce working hours for a period of up to two years for those taking on a caring role at home;
And on childcare, Labour has the ambition to deliver a guaranteed pre-school place for every child.
We have a plan for Equal Early Years.
Just as our dear friend Niamh Bhreathnach delivered free third-level education for all, we would deliver a public childcare scheme.
This would transform the lives of parents, childcare and early years staff – but most of all, it would transform the lives of our children.
Because we know the immense benefits of a universal education system – from preschool to primary, right through to third-level and beyond.
And we would deliver on the vision of a universal healthcare system.
We would commit massive investment to primary care and the training of new nurses and doctors.
We would rollout free GP care to all under 18, because no parent should have to
think twice before bringing a sick child to the doctor.
Labour has ambition for radical change in healthcare – and that change must include the decriminalisation of drug use – because addiction is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.
That Labour ambition for healthcare and childcare is essential for a more equal Ireland.
As a feminist and a socialist, I have campaigned for equality all my adult life.
For the rights of those who have suffered due to state neglect; institutional abuse survivors, those in mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries, those affected by the Thalidomide scandal.
For LGBT rights, for Traveller rights; for the rights of disabled persons and of children with autism desperately seeking decent services.
For women denied abortion rights for far too long.
For me, that passion for equality is stronger now than ever before.
By having the courage to take on conservative Ireland, Labour has changed people’s lives for the better. And women’s lives for the better.
Now the Government have conceded our call to hold a referendum on gender equality this year.
To finally jettison De Valera’s delusions about women.
To recognise the immense contribution made by carers.
And to expand our definition of family – beyond that based just on marriage.
This is change worth winning – and I know that Labour will be leading that campaign for progressive change.
Just as we have always campaigned for a more secular state – an end to the enduring influence of Church doctrine in our schools and state institutions.
Just as we – members of a party founded by James Connolly – have always campaigned for a more equal island.
Working with our sister Party, the SDLP, we want to deliver on our shared ambition to achieve a social democratic vision – across 32 counties.
That’s why we support calls for a unity referendum.
Not for the empty nationalist idea of a fourth green field for its own sake –
but because we believe in building a consent-based movement for change –
through the citizens assembly model – in keeping with the core principles of the Good Friday Agreement.
Friends, it is now 13 months since Putin launched his murderous, brutal assault on Ukraine.
The Irish people have opened their hearts and homes to Ukrainian families. We need to step up further now.
I want to see Ukraine fast-tracked to join the EU.
I want Government to pass the Labour Bill to root Russian oligarchs out of the IFSC.
And I want the immediate expulsion of the Russian ambassador.
While international attention has rightly focused on Ukraine, we cannot ignore gross human rights abuses across the world – in Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.
And of course in Palestine; made worse by the apartheid policies pursued by Netanyahu’s far-right government.
The expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territory has made peace more distant.
So Ireland must now pass law banning the import of goods from illegal settlements.
As a Party with a proud international tradition, we stand in solidarity with those who come to our shores seeking refuge.
This is personal for me. I had a grandfather from Bohemia, a grandmother in County Clare.
My grandfather Karel Bacik was imprisoned by the Nazis, and fled what was then Communist Czechoslovakia.
He and his young family arrived in Ireland, with little. But he had ambition and a will to succeed. And succeed he did.
I am proud of my Irish and my Czech roots.
My story is just one example of how immigration is positive for Ireland.
We are a better, more prosperous society – thanks to those who have migrated here.
The positive immigration story is found in the kindness and solidarity we see in every community across the country. Every classroom, hospital, sports club, workplace.
It is a story of friendship, not fear. It is a story of hospitality, not hatred.
And it is a story that will shape our island positively for decades to come.
So we in Labour stand firmly against those on the far right who seek to tell a different story; to exploit fear and spread lies.
Seasann Páirtí an Lucht Oibre i gconaí ar son na fírinne, ar son cearta daonna, ar son cothrom na Féinne agus ar son na hÉireann.
Building on our proud tradition and our Labour values.
Because that’s what makes Labour different.
We have the ambition, the energy and the commitment to deliver real change.
Labour has the ambition to deliver:
• One million homes in ten years – to tackle the housing crisis.
• A 9 Euro climate ticket – to reduce travel costs and carbon emissions.
• A pay rise for workers – essential in a cost of living crisis.
• Free GP care and a guaranteed preschool place for every child.
Comrades, our Labour Ambition for Change would deliver on Housing; on Climate;
on Work; and on Care.
It would deliver on our core values of equality, solidarity and fairness.
Because together, Le Chéile, we can build an Equal Republic.
So join us now to deliver an Ireland that works – for All.