Founding of Labour Party in Clonmel 100 years ago a revolutionary act - Gilmore
2 December 2012
Comrades and Friends,
We are gathered here today, in Clonmel, to celebrate the centenary of the Labour Party.
In the century that has past, our country and our world have changed almost beyond recognition. Yet Labour's core principles of democracy, equality, social progress - and an enduring commitment to human rights - are every bit as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago.
Our party was founded in Clonmel in 1912 when a resolution supported by James Connolly, James Larkin, William O'Brien and Tom Johnson was adopted by the then Irish Trade Union Congress.
It was, by its very existence, a revolutionary party because it sought nothing less than a full transformation of Ireland, and a new world order.
Let us reflect, for a moment, on the world of our party's founders. Where the right to rule was given by God, not parliament. Where women were the property of their husbands or fathers. A world where destitution, hunger, poor health were an unquestioned part of the natural order. Labour's stated commitment to work for the eradication of "injustice and poverty", was a direct challenge not only to powerful elites, but to the very idea of what it meant to be a civilised society.
It was a world run by, and largely designed for, wealthy men, who dominated access to education, to healthcare, to decent housing, and to promising careers.
And yet, in Clonmel a hundred years ago, men and women from the Irish Labour movement, from tenements and thatched cottages, came together to challenge that elitist vision of human society.
Armed with nothing but the courage of their convictions, and their faith in each other, they proclaimed that a different, a fairer, a better world was possible. And they dedicated themselves to working towards that world, by founding our Labour Party.
They were all too quickly confronted with the dilemmas which the First World War posed for labour movements across Europe. Some believed that their national duty took precedence, others argued for peace, and for separatism.
Labour in Ireland would face a particular challenge, caught between an Empire at war, and the independence struggle at home:
It's founder, James Connolly, executed after the 1916 Rising.
The decision, in 1918 and 1921 not to contest elections that would split the independence vote, putting national unity ahead of party.
It is easy to forget today, that Ireland's transition to democracy was not inevitable. But it was Labour, in 1922, that led the first Opposition in the Free State, and made multi-party democracy a reality. And ten years later, Labour facilitated the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government, paving the way for a democratic transfer of power, less than a decade after the guns of the Civil War had fallen silent.
Labour was pivotal to the establishment of this State, and Labour was pivotal, too, to the shaping of modern Ireland. In Government, or in opposition, Labour, and Labour people, have always been at the forefront of progressive thinking, and social change.
From the groundbreaking health reforms of Noel Browne and Brendan Corish, to the campaign to rid our country of the shame of tenement slums.
From the pioneering work by Barry Desmond and Catherine McGuinness, that paved the way for the education reforms of the 1960s. To the building up of a progressive social welfare system under Frank Cluskey and Prionsias de Rossa.
The fight to gain equality for women, led by pioneers like Mary Robinson and Eileen Desmond.
The struggle for decent labour laws.
The battle to take the State out of people's bedrooms, for contraception, and for divorce.
Opposing sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Working for peace, at Sunningdale in the 1970s, and paving the way for the peace process with Dick Spring.
Laying the foundations for Ireland's economic transformation, under Ruairi Quinn as Minister for Finance.
None of this has been easy. Nor was it necessarily popular. Every single progressive step was met by fierce resistance; denounced from the pulpit; derided by those who, only when the tide of public opinion changed, changed with it.
But Labour has always been honest with people about what it believes. In 1982, Labour opposed the so-called "pro-life" Constitutional amendment, that put the lives of pregnant women in contest with that of their unborn baby. We are the only party that has had a policy, since the mid-1990s, of legislating for the ‘X Case'. A policy that has often caused our members, and our elected representatives, to be subjected to vile abuse. Our homes picketed. Our children targeted.
Labour's is the position of the people, in two referendums. And as we have seen with the outpouring of sympathy and anger at the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway a month ago, it is beyond time to give expression to the will of the people, by legislating to give clear protection to pregnant women, and guidance to their doctors. This Government is acting promptly, with a decision on how to proceed later this month. And we will act democratically, with a solution that commands a majority in our Dáil.
We have never been afraid to speak out. To champion inconvenient truths.
Like in the early years of the last decade, when Labour alone put forward policies to rein in a property market that was rapidly going off the rails. But Fianna Fáil, and other cheerleaders for the property boom, told us there would be a soft landing, and shovelled more fuel on the fire.
We were the only party in the Dáil to vote against the disastrous bank guarantee, that fateful night in September 2008.
We were the first to say that the EU-IMF deal had to be and could be renegotiated. And were proved right.
That proud record is what gives us the confidence, and the courage, to face the task that confronts us today. Confident, that when we hold true to our convictions, that we can be on the right side of history.
February of last year was one of those moments. After the General Election, our party faced a choice. Accept the mandate given to us by the people to deal with the crisis facing our country, or to walk away from it.
Labour chose to participate in Government because, frankly, it would not have been in our DNA to walk away from our responsibility.
The Deputies, Senators and MEPs of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the members of this party, are people of courage and determination, who knew that we were facing into a long and difficult task.
We have accepted that task, because we know that their challenge is nothing compared to the problems faced by thousands of families up and down this country whose lives have been shattered by the greed of the few.
This Government did not create the financial crisis.
We did not saddle our country with the enormous debts of the banks.
That was the problem we inherited.
We would all love to go back in time, and be able to start in Government from a different and more favourable place. Yet we all know that isn't possible. What we can do, what we must do, is repair the damage, pursue the guilty, and then wipe our feet on the mat and move on.
Our mission in this Government is simple – to fix the economy so that it works for the people. So that it delivers for the needs of the many, not the greed of a few.
And our means of doing that, is not by shouting at the problem, but by hard work and patient negotiation. That is our objective, that is our strategy, and we are making progress.
We have stabilised the banks. Taken action to get credit moving to small businesses and start-ups, using new and innovative funds. Established a Strategic Infrastructure Fund for larger projects. And in July, Brendan Howlin introduced a stimulus package, to get construction going again on schools, healthcare centres, roads and public transport.
Step by step, piece by piece, we are laying the foundations for a different Ireland.
Joan Burton in Social Protection, undertaking the most far-reaching transformation in social protection in the history of the state. Making it easier for people to get personalised support, to get back into work or training.
Ruairi Quinn, who in less than two years has instigated more radical reforms in education than we have seen for the past decade.
Pat Rabbitte, setting out the plans for broadband and for energy that will define the years to come.
Jan O'Sullivan setting out a new approach to housing, after the disaster of the boom.
Joe Costello, bringing his long commitment to social justice to our aid programme. Alan Kelly, bringing the thinking of a new generation to transport. Sean Sherlock's focus on Innovation, shaping the economy of the future. Kathleen Lynch working for older people and people with disabilities. Alex White, steering through the first reforms on the path to a single tier health service.
We are not going to solve our country's problems over night. We never said we would.
There is no instant fix to this crisis. No one solution, like defaulting on our debts, which anyway would only rebound on our children, and their children. No one tax, that someone else always pays, that will make our problems all go away.
And anyone who says otherwise, is not being honest with people.
Because it's not honest to tell fairy tales about what it will take to fix this crisis, in the real world.
There is nothing honest in throwing stones from the sidelines, and pretending that we can get out from under this mess without taking a single hard decision.
The Labour Party exists to create a better Ireland. A fairer, more equal Ireland. But to do that, Ireland must be in control of its own destiny. The Troika are only interested in one thing: an Ireland that can pay its way. So let's finish with them, and send them home. And that's exactly what we will do in 2013 – the first year of Labour's second century.
Yes, the Budget next week will be tough. There is only one way out of this bailout, and it's a road paved with tough choices. But after this budget, 85 per cent of the adjustment we have to do will be behind us. The end is in sight, just twelve months away, if we have the grit and determination to see it through.
Because this is the only Government that will see it through. Not Fine Gael, supported by a ragbag of right-wing Independents. Not Fianna Fáil, now tripping over themselves to disown policies they signed up to in Government. Not Sinn Féin and their fantasy economics. Left to them, it would be back to chaos, and another bailout – this time with even harsher terms. Just ask the people of Greece.
We are getting our country back on its feet. We are fixing our economy, and our public finances. And we are doing it for the people that we represent. The people that we have always represented. People who want a roof over their heads, schools for their children, affordable healthcare, and above all, jobs. Good secure jobs, a decent income and a secure future. The issues which have always been the core concerns of our movement.
Because you can't build a secure future, without a functioning economy and a solvent state.
One hundred years ago, and against much harsher odds than ours, our founders started a party for the future. A future where all of the things that I have just described, were out of reach for people of modest means. But they succeeded. And so will we. Labour has always been a forward-looking movement. Always a movement with a vision. A vision of a better tomorrow. And that is what we are doing today.
Reforming government. Reforming our public services. Turning our economy from one based on property, to one based on our strengths, and on innovation. Moving towards a health service based on need and not income.
Building a different future for our country. For our children. And this time, building it on solid foundations.
I don't expect to achieve all of our objectives in one term of Government. And neither do the people who voted for us. They know what it takes. They've looked at the alternative – the people who told us we could vote down the European Stability Fund and borrow money from the tooth fairy – and they didn't buy it.
I know it is difficult. People have already lived through four years of recession; and five tough budgets. I know, sometimes we come in for criticism and some of it is deserved, because politics is a human business. But I am proud that, when the hard questions are asked, this party has the courage to stand up and be counted.
Because the decisions we are making now are to secure the future. To ensure that there is investment and jobs. To ensure that resources will continue to be available to provide schools and hospitals and that we will have the wherewithal to pull people out of poverty.
We face our second century, from a position of historic strength. The second largest party in the State. Our largest ever parliamentary party – a group of talent and of conviction. And, lest we forget, a Labour candidate, Michael D Higgins, as Uachtarán na hÉireann.
Our founders would, I believe, be proud of what the movement they launched, from such inauspicious beginnings, has achieved. They would also be rightly critical of where we have failed or fallen short.
Have we sometimes hesitated when we could have been bolder? Certainly. Have we sometimes pushed ahead too quickly, leaving our fellow citizens behind? Unfortunately yes.
But we have always been guided by a single principle: to create a better future for the many, not the few.
The founding of the Labour Party in Clonmel one hundred years ago was a revolutionary act. It launched a real revolution in Ireland. Not an illusion of total transformation overnight, but a constant effort by committed individuals and their organisations. To effect change the only way anyone ever has: by sheer determination.
Labour understands that transformation is slow. Often frustrating. Always requiring hard work; perseverance, day by day, victory by victory, to add to the building blocks of change; and, above all it requires courage.
Our founders demonstrated enormous political courage here in Tipperary a hundred years ago.
We rededicate ourselves today to continuing the work they so bravely began.
They would ask for nothing more.
They deserve nothing less.
Go Raibh Míle Maith Agaibh.