Labour must lead
27 June 2017
Spokesperson on Education and Skills, Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht
It is one of the greatest honours of my life to be trusted to fly the Labour banner by members of this great party. Having fought successful local elections in 2004, 2009 and a General Election in 2011, it was by the narrowest of margins that we lost out on a seat in Dublin Bay North after a marathon count in 2016.
We were devastated that day. But when I was interviewed straight afterwards on RTE news I said that politics was still the art of the noble, and that Ireland still needed the Labour Party.
I want to thank our party leader Brendan Howlin for being here tonight and for taking on the mammoth task of rebuilding our party. Brendan has travelled throughout the country, listening to members, engaging with the public and reaffirming our values. After helping rescue our country from the economic ineptitude of Fianna Fáil, Brendan we know will return our party to greatness.
Yes we achieved much in government and that must be acknowledged. We halved unemployment, enhanced workers pay and conditions, protected public assets and delivered on areas of the social agenda ignored by others.
In this constituency we can see the fruits of what we achieved. Tomorrow I'm visiting Scoil Ide in Raheny whose permanent building was only possible because of what we prioritised in government. A new Educate Together school opened last September in Drumcondra thanks to Jan O'Sullivan who joins us here tonight. And we rescued the future of the Preparing for Life Project in Darndale with a multi-million euro investment.
However we cannot pretend that we didn't make mistakes. We lost heavily in last year's election. And we must understand why. In my view we failed to grasp the depth of the wound that the crash inflicted on our people. We fixed the balance sheet, and implanted a baseline of decency under the economy, but perhaps needed to listen to our hearts more, rather than our heads. We have taken the blows. We are back on our feet. And we are ready to serve the Irish people again.
Labour values are needed now more than ever. The area of Priorswood B in Dublin Bay North is one of the top ten unemployment blackspots in the country. Our housing crisis is scarring the lives of children. Beaumont Hospital A&E continues to be a national disgrace. If only the government would head Labour's call to invest the sale of AIB bank shares into much needed infrastructure ,it could help to house our people and also attend to their medical needs with dignity.
It is the heart of the people that is much more important at this time in our history than paying down debt.
Labour values. Equality. Decency. Community. Equality not as a fashion item but as a passion. The party of bread and roses. The bread we need to survive. Honest pay for honest work. Roses as a promise of a life worth living. Poetry, music, literature, sport and dance.
Labour must lead into the future with ambition. But never make the mistake of putting our belief system on the bargaining table when it comes to the formation of government. We must enter the election with key commitments in education, health, welfare, housing, the 8th amendment and employment. And we must draw red lines all over them. And if they are not written word for word into the Programme for Government then we do not enter government.
Labour must lead and in time it would be my ambition to lead Labour. But only in time Brendan! But we must be brave to challenge the status quo of Irish politics. Why is it that the sacred cow in British politics is equality in Heath? Why is it that the is sacred cow in Finnish politics is equality in Education? But the only sacred cow in Irish politics is 12.5% corporation tax?
Let us be honest that the position of the Labour Party in relation to the Apple Tax ruling made a number of people in this room very uncomfortable. Let us let Labour be Labour and demand that if corporations are to access our labour market and the highly educated workforce of the soon to be only English-speaking country in the EU, then a baseline rate of 12.5% is the least they should be paying.
We can eradicate illiteracy, we can end homelessness, we can united our people. We can lead this country if we have the courage of our convictions, but also the courage to listen to those who may disagree and the integrity to underpin our arguments with compassion.
It is with that sense of purpose and pride, with an understanding of our successes and failures, but much especially with the inspiration of working with the members of Dublin Bay North Labour Party, that I pledge to work as hard as I can to win for us and for our values.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh uilig.