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Labour Democratic Programmes - on the Centenary of the 1st Dáil

21 January 2019

Speech by Brendan Howlin TD
Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brexit, Northern Ireland and Justice

Remarks at the Centenary of the First Dáil, Mansion House, Dublin

21st January 2019. Brendan Howlin TD, Leader of the Labour Party

Ireland is one of only a handful of countries that has sustained a democratically-elected Parliament, uninterrupted, for a century.

I’m proud of the role that the Labour Party has played to improve the lives of working people, from the very outset of the First Dáil, through to the present day.

The majority of socialists and trade unionists who founded the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party in 1912 believed that Irish independence was necessary to bring about a people’s government that would address the extreme poverty and squalor of early 20th century Ireland.

But Labour’s support for independence was not agreement with the myths of ethnic nationalism.

It was a pragmatic recognition that a government in Dublin would be more responsive to the people’s needs than one in London.

The 1918 election used the first-past-the-post voting system.

Labour did not stand candidates, despite winning 43% of the vote in a 1915 Dublin by-election, because it would have split the vote.

Labour’s decision opened up a pathway for the pro-independence national movement to compete head-to-head with the old Irish Parliamentary Party, resulting in a sweeping and unambiguous public endorsement of Irish independence.

After the election, the Leader of the Labour Party, Thomas Johnson, was asked to write the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

The socialism of Tom Johnson’s Democratic Programme is evident in its vision of the State’s role in the economy, designed to bring all wealth-producing processes to serve the whole people.

It proposed an end to hunger and the lack of shelter, and the development of what became our social welfare system.

Labour’s Democratic Programme was the plan to combat poverty and to share wealth more equally in the new Ireland.

In the First Dáil, women were finally emancipated to the extent of standing as candidates and some women being given the vote. Although it was not until 1922 that women got the vote on the same terms as men.

That advance for women’s political rights was testament to the struggle of socialist suffragettes, including Tom Johnson’s wife Marie, who actively campaigned for recognition of the rights of women, including their full political rights as candidates as well as voters.

That campaign continues today as political equality for women remains incomplete.

Labour’s Democratic Programme underlined our commitment to the pursuit of progressive, socialist policies through democratic means.

With the achievement of a democratic and independent Irish parliament, Labour rejected the path of violent nationalism.

In later years, Labour provided the official Opposition in the 1920s Dáil, and so strengthened Ireland’s fledgling democracy.

And in the 1930s, Labour facilitated the peaceful transfer of power between the parties split by the Civil War.

Throughout the twentieth century, Labour’s Democratic Programme, written by the socialist Englishman Tom Johnson, has provided a vision of decency, justice and equality that continues to inspire to this day.

This weekend, after a year of public meetings and consultations, Labour unveiled a New Democratic Programme, which renews and continues the original work of Tom Johnson, and sets out how Labour will continue to seek to achieve his and Connolly’s vision of democratic socialism in Ireland.