Leader speech at the annual Labour Party Think In – September 2023 – Maynooth
Comrades and Friends.
My thanks to Councillor Angela Feeney for her warm welcome to Maynooth this afternoon.
It is always a pleasure to attend events like this, to catch up with colleagues and comrades, old and new;
With people who have chosen to join this movement, our movement, the Labour movement.
People like you who share our common Labour values of equality, solidarity and fairness;
Who share our collective vision of a better society.
People like Angela, who later today we will select as our local election candidate for Maynooth.
Colleagues, for the next local elections – just 38 weeks away – we have a fantastic slate of Labour candidates – a team in whom we can all take great pride.
Ours is a party of deep roots, and of green shoots too.
As we see with the range of candidates standing for Labour.
In front of me is a wealth of knowledge and experience –
Those who have represented the best interests of their community for years – Cllrs Pamela Kearns and George Lawlor, to name just two.
Also, we have some of our newer candidates too:
Laura Harmon, Lorna Fitzpatrick, Blessing Oguekwe, Patrick Dempsey, Deborah Byrne, Helen Ogbu and Ali Field.
For some of you – our green shoots – this will be your very first Labour Party Away Day.
A special welcome goes to our newest recruit Evie Nevin, who will be selected to run for us next month in her local ward in Cork South West.
Evie, you are very welcome here today, as are you all – our great team of candidates. We are all hugely appreciative that you have made the time to be here with us.
We will be fighting hard to see each of you elected next year.
Because we know the real and substantial difference that Labour makes and has always made in local government –
From fighting corruption in planning;
To the Dublin Bikes scheme;
To defending housing from profit-hungry private interests;
To campaigning for childcare facilities.
Campaigning for parks and playgrounds, for benches and bins.
More recently, our local representatives have stood strong in the face of hate, welcoming refugees fleeing Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine and welcoming those seeking refuge from around the world.
Our reps – like Michelle Hall in Drogheda and Paul O’Brien in Wicklow – are proud to offer a welcome within our communities – and to advocate for better services for everyone.
Colleagues, as the political wing of the trade union movement, Labour representatives are the shop stewards of our communities – advocating for constituents, speaking up for what is right, and staying the course to secure badly needed infrastructure and civic amenities.
Because that is what Labour does.
We fight, not just for bread, but for roses too.
So that people live in communities they can be proud of;
Where vital infrastructure is in place, yes.
Where the environment is protected and biodiversity thrives.
And, also, where nature, sport, culture and art are enjoyed everywhere.
Not just in our wealthiest neighbourhoods.
The calibre of candidates we will be running in the local elections in 2024 is, frankly, unparalleled.
Senator Mark Wall will be our Director of Elections.
He will be ably assisted by Joe Costello, who despite retiring from electoral politics, has committed to supporting our candidates in the elections.
The Electoral Commission has produced its boundary review.
We now know the playing pitch for the next General Election, whenever that takes place.
And we are ready for it.
We still don’t know the final boundaries for the European elections, but preparations are underway for our Party to elect an MEP to the second largest group in the European parliament.
As the far right reaches for government across the EU, it is critical that we elect an Irish voice to the Party of European Socialists.
I am proud of this movement.
And of my comrades, of all of us.
I am proud of what we are achieving at local level.
And also, of what we are campaigning for nationally.
Despite the ideological policies which hinder the development of our public services, this is a wonderful country.
It deserves to be a great place to grow up in; to raise a family in and to grow old in.
What holds us back is no secret:
The worsening housing disaster;
A patchwork system of care;
Climate policies defined by delay and a lack of delivery;
A cost-of-living crisis hurting so many households.
Colleagues, this is an Ireland which just does not work.
It doesn’t work for workers, for families, or for young people –
And it’s not working for older people either.
Next month, we will find out what the uncomfortable coalition has in store for the country in Budget 2024.
The bad old days are back, it seems.
Cynically throwing money around in an attempt to buy votes, without making the systemic and structural investment necessary for real change.
That’s why we need real change – the Labour vision for change.
It was the Labour Party which contributed so much to lay the foundations of our current economic success in Government.
As a result, we now have a State with record Budget surpluses- but a government that is incapable of addressing the crisis in our public services.
It’s why today we will discuss an economy that works for all.
Over the summer, we commissioned Dr Rory O’Farrell to prepare a paper for us on the Irish economy, examining how our political aims can be achieved.
Because we are ambitious for Ireland –
Even if the Government is not.
Their lack of ambition and of delivery comes at a cost to us all:
To the carers struggling with poor conditions and low pay.
To families forced into homelessness.
To the parents unable to secure childcare.
In June, Minister O’Gorman assured voters of a 25% reduction in childcare costs as part of the government’s commitment to halving fees.
Last month, he confirmed that parents now can’t expect that reduction.
This is very disappointing; but there is still time for the Government to make a positive U-turn on childcare.
I challenge An Taoiseach to cap childcare fees at €200 per month, as we in Labour have proposed – the first step on the path to a universal public system of early years education and care.
In a modern republic, there should be cradle-to-grave care for everyone.
That means dignity through old age and support through youth.
Not a lengthy waiting list for assessments and special education places for children and young people.
Not a hospital trolley in an overcrowded ward with overworked and underpaid nursing staff.
Realising the vision of a better, fairer and more caring Ireland requires both immediate support measures and a long-term plan.
In reality, the current system is failing both those who provide care, and those for whom they provide care.
So we are calling for a New Fair Deal:
- Constitutional recognition of the role carers play in society, as part of the long overdue referendum on equality and family;
- And radical reform of the Fair Deal scheme to ensure that more older people and those with disabilities can live comfortably in their own homes and communities.
As I’ve said, the housing disaster blights all aspects of life.
It is shameful that 12,847 people are homeless; failed by the State.
In March, I launched Labour’s proposal to provide one million homes over the next decade.
The proposal is ambitious – but necessary.
It is based on the Government’s own figures, the minimum needed to provide for our population.
Yet the Government scoffed at it.
What kind of message does it send to people at the sharp end of the crisis, that Cabinet Ministers would laugh at plans to take people out of homelessness?
Well, I don’t find it funny at all.
That said, if it weren’t so serious, I might have laughed at comments made in recent weeks about the law on renting;
It seems not all government TDs even understand their own eviction ban;
And that some even think that the protection of renters is tantamount to Stalinism. Extraordinary.
Enough is enough.
It’s five years since the Dáil declared a housing emergency.
The time is now for the Government to start acting like it recognises this emergency..
When the Dáil resumes, we in Labour will be pushing for the passage of our Renters Rights Bill –
For an end to no-fault evictions and better protections for tenants and families in homelessness.
For stronger measures to tackle vacancy and dereliction.
And we will be proposing a clear financial plan to provide 50,000 new builds per year; and 50,000 refurbishments.
With the necessary ambition and urgency, this plan is achievable.
So, let’s increase housing supply, tackle homelessness and end the rental lottery.
Let’s abolish vacancy and dereliction, reinvigorate our urban centres; and meet our emissions targets.
Speaking of climate targets, I have some exciting news.
You will note the presence of our great friend, Senator Rebecca Moynihan.
Rebecca has been spending time this year with her new arrival Margot – on maternity leave.
Some of you may know Margot as winner of the bonniest baby in Chapelizod 2023 – and a close personal friend of President Joe Biden.
It is great to see Rebecca – and Margot – back in Leinster House.
As she resumes her work in the Seanad, Rebecca will be assuming the vital brief of Spokesperson for Climate.
I am delighted that she has accepted the new role and I know that she is already making plans for new campaigns.
Because we need to start thinking big on climate.
Just last week, a panel of experts criticised the lack of ambition from Government on transport emissions.
It is the latest in a litany of similar reports, all with the same overarching message: the Government keeps doing too little, too late, and without the necessary just transition supports.
We have to start taking this personally.
The climate and biodiversity disaster threaten everything that we hold dear.
We can and must reduce emissions, while making the country a better place to live.
Our housing plan will provide for cutting emissions through refurbishment, deep retrofitting and sustainable construction methods.
While our Labour climate ticket initiative would grant people unlimited public transport journeys across Ireland for just €9 per month.
Those carbon emissions savings would be equivalent to removing 23,000 cars from our roads.
They’ve introduced similar measures elsewhere – in Germany and parts of Italy.
In Luxembourg, they made public transport free altogether.
Away with the arguments as to why we can’t do it –the potential of this policy is enormous.
As is the potential for a really comprehensive rollout of cycling infrastructure; and the adoption of measures to limit the spread of fossil fuel SUVs on our roads.
There’s still time for the Government to introduce a climate ticket in Budget 2024, and to take radical steps to curb our emissions.
That is our call.
Also taking on an additional brief this year is the formidable Senator Annie Hoey.
Annie will be assuming a new role as Dublin Spokesperson for our Party.
Unfortunately, Dublin has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons recently.
Dirty Old Town, indeed!
Our capital city wears on its sleeve the consequences of weak local government, a failure of policy on housing, mental health and addiction, and a lack of vision for what the Capital should be.
I have heard from parents, aghast at seeing used syringes in local playgrounds.
I have heard from local residents and business owners in the inner city, desperately frustrated at the petty and not so petty crime persisting right on their doorsteps.
And it’s not just about crime and anti-social behaviour.
My sympathies are with young people now who must navigate the lack of fun out there in our city centre.
The lack of investment in the so-called ‘night-time economy’ has meant that much of our city centre is a cultural desert – fun is in short supply.
I can think of no one better placed to chart a future for Dublin than Annie, a former USI President with a strong background in theatre and the arts.
She will help us to chart a future that tackles the serious issues of crime, regeneration, sustainable communities and of cultural diversity too.
This country is at a decisive point.
Not just because next year is an election year.
But because of the choices we face about the very nature of the State itself.
We can be a real republic –
In which no child is condemned to a life of poverty.
In which homelessness is consigned to history.
Where the worker has bread, yes.
But roses too.
Much has changed in Irish society since the Labour Party was founded 111 years ago.
We now have high Budget surpluses and low unemployment.
So, we have the resources to provide decent housing for all; to develop strong care structures.
To grow a sustainable, green economy.
And to construct an Ireland which is not just tolerable –
But enviable to grow up – and grow old – in.
An Ireland that works – for all.
We will make that case together.
Comrades, ní neart go cur le chéile.
Go raibh maith agaibh.