We want to break the cosy consensus of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and enable people to work to live and not live to work, says Alan Kelly ahead of the Labour party’s national conference.
Saturday, the Labour Party gathers in Mullingar for our national conference.
There will be much debate about the state of the party. Those who desperately wanted to see our demise have been proven wrong over the last three years, but we are still at the early stages of rebuilding.
As a party, we must regain the trust of people who have traditionally voted for progressive politics and for work, and who believe in a strong labour movement.
In the upcoming by-elections, and whenever the slow bicycle race of a general election is called, Labour will stand on a platform of building an equal society.
We want change when it comes to the issues that matter to people: ending the hospital trolley crisis, making education truly free, sorting out the rental crisis, providing lasting, sustainable transport and spatial planning, and creating a real work-life balance, so that people are no longer living to work.
The policies that we put forward will be plans that we want implemented in government, but not at any price.
The function of the Labour Party is not to provide voting fodder in the Dáil lobby for parties of the economic right. We should be open to government, but only from a position of strength.
We need to regain a strong electoral base before we contemplate entering into government. We are not the only party that aspires to transforming our country, especially considering the challenges of Brexit and the climate emergency.
However, no party in Ireland has a monopoly on proposing solutions and, on the climate crisis, Labour has been the only party to deliver meaningful climate change legislation, despite others making it their raison d’être.
If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil think they can engage in auction politics in exchange for Labour’s support, then they are wrong.
While others may be quick to forget the untold damage that Fianna Fáil have done to this country, my generation will never forget and it continues to pay the price.
Fine Gael can’t be trusted to manage state finances; just look at the messes they have made with the National Children’s Hospital, the Public Services Card, and the National Broadband Plan.
As the Labour Party’s health spokesperson, I am frightened about what winter holds for our health service. We need only look at the disgraceful trolley numbers at Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Limerick this week to know that the situation is going to be unbearable for patients, their families, and frontline staff.
Health Minister Simon Harris and the Government don’t have the capacity or vision to deal with it.
As the trolley crisis escalates and as the numbers of homeless people rise, it is little wonder that both the health minister Harris and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy were begging to have a pre-Christmas election. They know that they are not doing enough to resolve the crises they preside over and they know that things are going to be even worse in the new year.
Far too many people are living to work rather than working to live. Work-life balance is an idea rather than a lived experience.
Fine Gael has failed to invest in a better quality of life for the people of our country. Renting becomes more difficult and more expensive year on year, while home ownership is more of a pipe dream for an increasing number of people.
Too many jobs are precarious, and people are starting and ending their days on overcrowded and inadequate public transport on mind numbing, long commutes.
Young families are struggling to pay childcare costs that are equal to that of a mortgage. We need to see real change in Ireland, but between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, there is a cosy consensus that prevents radical action being taken, or indeed any action.
Labour cannot be part of a cosy consensus within Ireland. We are not in government. We have returned to our roots and our priority, above all else, must be economic justice and equality.
We must be a true champion of a progressive Ireland. Politics of protest will never deliver a real improvement in quality of life or the equal society that we yearn. Just ask the 600,000 people in Dublin, Kildare, and Meath who have been left on a boiled water notice this week.
People want real solutions and long-term strategic investment in health and housing, education, and public transport and infrastructure, rather than packs of wolves running across the countryside.
Labour is the party of work with a progressive outlook for Ireland. We have worked hard over recent years, but we must redouble our efforts to regain the trust of the people for whom our party was formed to represent.
Alan Kelly is Labour TD for Tipperary and vice-chair of the Public Accounts Committee.