Opening remarks by Alan Kelly at Labour Party away day
13 September 2021
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Northern Ireland
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Welcome everyone to the Labour Party Parliamentary Party away day here in Athy. I hope you all had a nice sos.
This is the first time in nearly a year that we have been able to all gather in the same room and discuss our political ambitions.
It is a relief to see you all happy and healthy in person, rather than looking at each other across a Zoom meeting and having to gently remind each other to turn our microphones off mute.
This is also our first think-in since I became leader and I am thrilled that we could gather here in Athy.
An area that is steeped in Labour values and Labour history and more importantly the hometown of Mark Wall.
Ensuring that Mark is elected a TD for Kildare South after the next General Election is a key target for us.
As we have learned from the Dublin Bay South by-election, people want to elect Labour reps that are hard-working, put forward ideas and solutions, live by their values and that love their area, all attributes that Mark and indeed all of us here represent.
We will discuss the lessons of the bye-election later today but one thing I already know is that Ivana’s incredible victory and the positive way in which we won, has energised our grassroots, and opened up new conversations with people across the country.
More and more people are joining our party as they seek a positive, progressive vision for our country.
Voters want to see us succeed, our message and our policies are resonating, and it is up to us to build on that work.
In recent weeks I’ve taken the time to travel across the country meeting with our Councillors and members, from the peninsulas of Cork and Kerry right up to the furthest reaches of Donegal and our party is energised and engaging with communities.
In the run up to our National Conference in November where we will debate our ideas for a new deal for a fairer Ireland I will continue to engage with our grassroots and candidates and I am asking you to do the same.
We have a busy few weeks ahead.
Thankfully the success of our vaccinations programme has made it possible for us to gather here today.
Covid has had a profound impact.
It has made many people evaluate the way we live our lives, taking stock of what they can do differently, and now that we have had a small taste of flexibility and a slower pace of life, many will want to make changes.
We will hear a lot from the Government over the next few weeks about building back better and going back to the way we lived before Covid.
But the way the country was being run before Covid was not working for so many of our citizens.
We don’t need to just build back better, we need to build a better, fairer society that ensures that every person is getting the most from the State.
The Labour Party will offer people a programme for real change based in hope and grounded in our social democratic values.
A new Deal for a fairer Ireland.
A New Deal
I’ve spoken a lot in the last year about a new social contract and I want to break down what that means.
We’ve been told a lot over the last eighteen months that we are all in this together but now as we come out of restrictions, it will be put to the test.
The bonds that tie us together have never been stronger but the main problems that exist within our society have never been more magnified: our housing system is fundamentally broken, young people believe they will never follow in their parents’ footsteps and have their own forever homes, the cost of rent in our cities and large towns is more often than not completely obnoxious;
We have a health system that is in a perpetual state of winter crisis with no sign of conditions easing; so many people are just about getting by and while we have all loved the Irish summer, it has not been a normal weather event, it is a product of the climate crisis.
We need a new deal for our citizens for a fairer Ireland, that makes everyone feel like we are all on the same playing field and that the State will be there when we need it the most.
The government finally published their Housing for All programme but nearly all experts are united that it won’t be enough.
It’s more of the same tired efforts to incentivise the private market rather than the state led action needed to address the last five wasted years.
Labour is putting forward solutions. In June we proposed a law to finally implement the Kenny Report to make a real effort to tackle land speculation and reduce the price of new homes.
Later today, Rebecca and Ivana will launch our campaign for renter’s rights and ensure people can no longer be evicted from their homes for no reason. Next week the Dáil will vote on our bill and the Minister for Housing has an important decision to make if he will finally act.
Tomorrow Aodhan and Mark will publish our plans to revitalise our towns and villages.
As we come out of the other side of Covid, we are faced with a completely broken healthcare system. Trolley numbers are continuing to rise.
Never before in the history of the State has there been so many people on waiting lists and the answer to this problem from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is privatisation of our health services through the back door by pumping millions into the National Treatment Purchase Fund.
Sláintecare has become an afterthought of the Government with it being completely ignored by Donnelly and the Taoiseach.
Healthcare workers who were our heroes during the pandemic have received no compensation, and while soothing words and applause are nice to get, it doesn’t put food on the table or give additional time for a much needed mental health break.
There is still a crisis in care for young and old. As Ivana has said we need an O’Malley moment in childcare, and the costs of sending a child to school are far too high.
The summer has also given the world a wake-up call about the climate crisis. Over five years ago I signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of Ireland but since then the parties of government have squandered the chance to make the changes Ireland must now rapidly implement.
If we are to have a just transition, we need to see practical proposals in the revised National Development Plan that finally deliver retrofitting, mitigation, and adaptation. The warnings about strains on our electricity network must be addressed by government. And as we wait on the detail of carbon budgets, the financial Budget in October must tackle rising fuel poverty that will be worsened by rising gas and electricity prices.
Lifting Up Workers
Covid has been a disruptor, and over the next few weeks many people will be gearing up to step foot in their workplaces for the first time in over a year.
The way we work has been turned on its head.
The vast majority of people are just about getting by, and poor working protections is a large part of the reason why.
For many, the weekly wage or monthly salary barely meets the cost of a mortgage or rent, childcare and living expenses.
Any extra cost, an unexpected medical bill, back to school expenses, extra fuel costs, brings worry and concern to people. Rising prices this winter will push families to their limits.
When people are working all week but barely getting by, then we must realise that as a country we are failing our citizens. Working families should be able to afford a modest holiday, a takeaway pizza every few weeks and to be able to change the car every five years. Work must pay.
Labour must, by our very name, represent this and take on our political opponents uncompromisingly. We must ensure that people who work or want to work are not struggling to get by and see Labour as their political home.
It's a year since we published our Sick Pay proposals. A year later the government still hasn’t acted.
Despite all the talk of working from home the government’s own bill to provide a right to flexible work still hasn’t been published while they refuse to act on our proposals.
There is an epidemic of low pay in Ireland, and the pandemic showed us who the workers are that really matter in a crisis. Those low paid hero’s across care and retail, cleaners, delivery drivers, supermarket cashiers deserve more than an applause.
An applause doesn’t pay the bills.
What they need, and what they deserve is a living wage and improved job security.
They deserve public services that reduces the burden rather than forcing extra costs on them.
Whether it’s the cost of school books, or paying to go private because the waiting list is too long, spending more on rent that they would on a mortgage, and even more on unreliable private childcare. This is the reality of Ireland today and the government is doing little to help them.
They need a new deal for a fairer Ireland.
That’s our message to the people – Working together we can come up with solutions to create a new deal for our constituents to suit their needs in a post-pandemic Ireland.
And that’s why we have a busy few months ahead where we will be presenting our own alternative budget, putting forward legislation in the Dáil and Seanad and hosting our first Party conference since 2019, and that is just in the next 8 weeks.
Let’s get to work.