Ireland Deserves Better: Address by Brendan Howlin at the Labour Party Executive Board
30 November 2017
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland
Address by Brendan Howlin
Leader of the Labour Party
At the Labour Party Executive Board, 30th November 2017 Dublin
‘Ireland Deserves Better’
Good evening to you all,
Thank you for being here to discuss the forthcoming election.
I had wanted to talk to you about the need for a new Democratic Programme for the 21st Century.
This is a project I have been developing with our Party Chair and others.
And I think it will give us an exciting and ambitious focus for the coming year.
But, as ever, events have changed our plans somewhat.
And by necessity we have focussed over the last fortnight on getting ready for an immediate general election.
While the prospect of an immediate election has receded, I want to bring you up to speed on our preparations, and to tell you clearly why I think things will change during the election campaign, whenever it comes.
We’ve done a lot of work over the last fortnight.
A draft manifesto was discussed by the Policy Unit last night, and I think is in good shape.
Our posters are designed; corriboard has been stocked; leaflets are ready to go;
And we have a strong sense of our key messages; our policy priorities; and the constituencies where we are best placed to win back seats.
As ever for Labour, the strength of our people is our greatest asset.
By tomorrow night, we will have 18 general election candidates selected – almost two-thirds of our candidates in the field.
They are exactly the type of candidates we need.
A balance of youth and experience; energy and determination.
And above all, to a man and woman, Labour to the core.
So, we’re ready – whenever it comes.
And we need to be.
Because Ireland deserves better than the current Government.
Since his election as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has been full of talk about a Republic of Opportunity.
It is evolving from a soundbite to his vision for Ireland.
The one thing that we can say straight away is that it is not a vision for a Republic of Equal Opportunity.
The Taoiseach says that he would like to see each child enjoy the same opportunities as he did.
But the Taoiseach enjoyed the kind of private school education enjoyed by less than one in ten pupils in our state.
And, let’s be frank, its attraction is that exclusivity.
The Taoiseach is not alone either.
40% of his cabinet were similarly educated.
His focus is on removing people’s barriers to progress, not using the power of the state to enhance their life chances.
In this speech to the Ard Fheis the Taoiseach stated that his party is not the party of privilege.
In reality it is nothing else.
Inevitably in a document prepared by a Taoiseach obsessed by ‘strategic communications’ – there is a lot of spin.
I heard Simon Harris referring at once stage to FG’s legislating for the x Case.
The truth is that Labour dragged it out of them kicking and screaming.
It was the same with the policing authority;
Paid parental leave;
Mental health support that the Taoiseach frustrated when Kathleen Lynch was his junior Minister;
And much more besides.
As Minister for Health, the Taoiseach was lukewarm on free GP care, now it’s listed as his achievement.
His so-called ‘rolling manifesto’ conveys the lack of urgency on housing and homelessness that are becoming the hallmark of this Government.
There is attention paid to tax cuts for middle income earners – the way to introduce tax cuts for the better off by the back door.
Ireland may currently have the most progressive income taxation system in the OECD but there is no commitment to maintain it.
Indeed, the same Thatcherite attitude to tax remains.
And it’s not just Leo.
At the Finance committee recently Paschal Donohoe indicated that FG style tax cuts were required to stimulate employment.
Yet we reduced employment by half with our existing tax rates.
The notion that reduced taxation leads to higher employment is the greatest canard spread by neoliberalism.
In fact there is much about this document that would put you in mind of Charlie McCreevey’s greatest hits.
What the document doesn’t contain is any vision about equality at all.
Nor does it tackle the issues thrown up by globalisation.
We in Labour know that growing wages, and falling income inequality are crucial.
To achieve these, we need to tackle big issues.
The gig economy.
The living wage.
Fine words from the Taoiseach on all of these, but zero action.
Labour’s strategy is clear.
Protect the progressive nature of the tax system.
Reverse cuts and improve the minimum wage.
Set targets to deliver a living wage.
Enhance trade union rights.
And just last week tackling bogus self-employment.
The paucity of ambition in relation to education is particularly obvious.
And one thing this party knows is that there are few things Fine Gael fight more for in Government than privilege in education.
From private schooling to a grants system that favours the better off.
A republic of opportunity?
For some, perhaps, but certainly not for all.
There are two areas where I think this Fine Gael government is totally bankrupt.
They have held the health portfolio now for 7 years.
We stopped their multi-payer US health insurance model.
Now they are bereft.
Handed with a roadmap for a publicly funded system - Slaintecare - they are refusing to fund it.
In Justice they are not the solution, they are the problem.
Too deferential to those in command.
Too accepting of the status quo.
There is nothing new about the republic of opportunity.
It is a rallying call of the European Right – no more, and no less.
The new Fine Gael is the old Fine Gael.
Just another reason why Ireland needs Labour.