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Keaveney’s principled stand recalls that of Michael Bell in 1982

As the ITGWU/SIPTU Head of Research from 1971 to 2010, future Labour TDs among my work colleagues included, successively, Michael Bell, Eamon Gilmore and Colm Keaveney.

Why mention Michael Bell at this critical juncture? Because, barely four months after being elected TD for the first time in November 1982, Bell had been prepared to take a principled stand against the disastrous economic and social policies being pursued by the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government of that era.

In March 1983 he resigned the Labour Party whip and voted against that year’s inequitable Social Welfare Bill, while in May he was willing to propose amendments to the Finance Bill which we in the ITGWU had drafted with the objective of redistributing the tax burden from lower and middle incomes to those top income earners and possessors of wealth who were best positioned to bear it.

The 1983 Delegate Conference of the ITGWU concluded: “The basic weakness of Labour’s position in Government has encouraged the more hardline elements in Fine Gael to push for even more extreme monetarist policies and has undermined any possible Labour resistance in the Dáil. Fine Gael obviously believes it has the whip-hand and that the Labour deputies must follow where they will lead, even if it means through the lobbies for the Social Welfare Bill or the Finance Bill, which together represent the most savage attack any Government has inflicted on the workers of this country for decades. Thankfully, the honour of the party has been salvaged by the courageous stand of Deputy Michael Bell in opposition to both these measures.”

In due course, the principled stand Michael Bell had taken for Labour’s soul saw him being elected chairman of that very same Parliamentary Labour Party whose whip he had resigned in 1983.

On his death in May of last year, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore paid the following handsome tribute: “I first came across Michael when as a young official in the Transport Union he took me under his wing. His advice and guidance, coming from somebody who had some years experience under his belt, were invaluable to me. But Michael Bell was not just a mentor. He was also a colleague and a friend.”

Colm Keaveney cannot claim Michael Bell as a mentor. But he is a worthy successor.

And if the soul of Labour is ever to be salvaged in the current crisis, it will be thanks to the principled stand first taken by Shortall, and now joined by Keaveney

Manus O’Riordan

Workers’ Group Member European Economic and Social Committee



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