AN American author once said timing was the longest distance between two places and this certainly rings true for the weekend’s Labour Party Conference in Killarney.
he decision not to bring the 900-plus delegates to Co Kerry in y October made a huge difference to the atmosphere, which was a lot better than it would have been.
Eight weeks ago was a very dark time for the party. Labour was heading for political armageddon, showing just 6% in one poll. There were obvious leadership tensions and Budget 2014’s third year of austerity was looming as local councillors continued to walk out of the party on a monthly basis.
Now the triple bounce of 58,000 jobs being created in the year, Labour flying relatively high at 12%, and the clean exit from the bailout, have completely changed the outlook in just a few weeks.
And while most were upbeat, it was left to a Dublin North West delegate to remind everyone of conferences past.
Gerry Kerr launched a strong attack on Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, calling on him to resign over “the damage done by broken trust” and Mr Gilmore’s failure to deliver on services for the disabled.
Mr Kerr, who is visually impaired, was speaking on a motion to ensure there are no further cuts to services for the disabled: “Words like fair but tough, decent, protection of the vulnerable, no longer have currency or a credibility when spoken by Eamon Gilmore.
“I believe the requirement of this motion will not be fulfilled unless there is a change of leadership.
“I want to call on Eamon Gilmore to resign and I would also like to call for a rebuilding... of the damage caused by the broken trust.”
The call was greeted with near silence by the 250 delegates present. However, there was widespread agreement that the Labour Party had to do more for the poorer sections of society.
Tony Carroll, from Listowel, said that because Labour comprised just one third of the Coalition, it was Fine Gael which made two thirds of the choices: “The problem is the Government is letting the better off people in society off the hook. Yet every week we are hearing stories of medical cards being taken from deserving people and it’s having a detrimental effect.”
Mr Carroll suggested putting another 0.5% tax on the wealthy to pay for medical cards.
He feared the perception among voters that while the well off were being looked after, Labour was struggling against its Fine Gael coalition partners to provide care for those at the other end of the spectrum: “When people see that struggle, it looks like we are trying to project a double negative — you would have been worse off if we hadn’t have implemented this cut.”
He thought next May’s European elections would be “troublesome” for the party and it would have to fight to retain its two remaining seats held by Emer Costello and Phil Prendergast.
Chairman of Labour Youth Ciarán Garrett said he’s been worried about the local elections which will be held on the same day. The party won 231 seats in 2009, although around 26 have defected since.
“I’d worry about the local elections, we’ve been doing some canvassing and are receiving abuse on the doorsteps.”
He said the youth candidates had been let down by the party hierarchy over issues such as college fees, child benefit cuts, special needs assistants (SNAs), and the lack of any meaningful wealth tax.
Cllr Anne Breen from Co Kildare considered leaving the party but now said she’s glad she stayed.
She was a member for 15 years and while she believed the party has a tough task in the upcoming Euros, she said it will do well.
“We fight for what we believe in. Always remember we were broke and Labour helped put it back together,” she said.
Likewise, Paul Brophy, 26. from Carlow/Kilkenny said while Labour had performed well over the past two-and-a-half years, the party should do more on medical cards and a lot of work was still needed if it was to fulfil its promise of free GP care for everybody by 2016.
But the party hadn’t fulfilled any of its promises in government, according to student Neil Warner of the Trinity branch, who stood up with several delegates on Friday night and disrupted proceedings.
Yesterday, he led a walkout of a handful of disgruntled party members to attend a fringe meeting at a nearby venue.
“We’re unhappy with the leadership and the complete lack of democracy in the party. Labour has implemented a series of budgets that were more aggressive than Fianna Fáil’s and they’ve allowed Fine Gael dominate this current government.”
So was he going to ask for Mr Gilmore to resign or would he leave the party himself? “My plan is to stay in the party. I don’t see any other way to change things. The Labour Party is worth saving... I don’t see how a change in leadership would improve things.”
Yet even the young rebels were in agreement with the general upbeat mood.
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