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Labour: dynamic role for State, climate action and genuine equality

Sinn Féin is the only party in Europe claiming left and Green credentials that opposes both a property tax and carbon tax.

By Brendan Howlin.

According to Irish Times’  focus-group research, undecided voters are overwhelmingly in favour of change, but they’re struggling to decide which party represents the change they want to see. However, according to the opinion polls, a possible outcome of this election is no change at all.

With Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael refusing to coalesce with each other, and with both of them ruling out coalition with Sinn Féin, the polls throw up figures where it may be that neither party can form any sort of government except another arms-length, noses-pinched, ‘confidence and supply’ agreement.

The breakup of old-style politics, based on divisions from the Civil War, means a gradual reorientation towards the politics of ideology. But the change isn’t smooth or straightforward. For all the traditional and personal animosity between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, even their supporters are finding it harder to tell them apart, as can be seen in recent vote-transfer patterns. In the longer term this is a good thing but, in the short term, their mutual antagonism is delaying the inevitable and is still presenting a bogus choice to the electorate – which threatens to paralyse future government formation.

I don’t yet trust Sinn Féin as a progressive alternative. It is still a party of protest and opportunism, fomenting crises for its own advantage. It protests against Brexit now, but it did not campaign at all in Northern Ireland during the Brexit referendum. In reality, Sinn Féin could not bring itself to defend the European Union. It has campaigned for No in every single one of our EU referendums. It is as Euro-sceptic as the Tories – not a policy Ireland needs in government right now.

Sinn Féin’s interest in Brexit is to ramp up concerns about the border and demand a poll on Irish unity. The party with a history of doing more than any other to sustain bitterness and division on our island now wants to pour more fuel on the fire.

And Sinn Féin is in thrall to populism. Comically, it presents itself as both left-wing and eco-aware but it is the only party in Europe claiming left and Green credentials that opposes both a property tax and carbon tax.

Labour is a European political party. We have a vision of how Ireland can become more like other European countries – countries that have built enough homes for their people and have provided good-quality, universal healthcare. Countries that have reliable public transport, excellent schools and strong rights for people at decent, well-paid work.

The children of Reagan and Thatcher put their faith in the market. Whether it is Fine Gael’s conviction – in the teeth of all the evidence – that the market can resolve our housing crisis or Fianna Fáil’s recourse to the Treatment Purchase Fund to cut down hospital waiting lists, our two centre-right parties have conspired together to strip our State of its capacity to provide decent services for our citizens.

And they have wasted the public’s money, hand over fist. This Government’s aversion to decent public services provided by a well-run public service means that we have an HSE recruitment embargo, with almost €1 million every day spent on agency staff instead. Fine Gael’s love affair with business means that it will give away ownership of our national broadband network and that we’ll end up with the most expensive hospital ever built in the world.

Labour stands for a dynamic role for the State, working responsively and accountably. We believe that Ireland should aim to be in the top 10 countries for quality public services, climate action and genuine equality. There is a lot to be done.

  • Nearly a quarter of workers are on low pay, and many jobs are insecure.
  • Around 10,500 people are homeless, including nearly 4,000 children, and housing is too expensive for those on ordinary wages.
  • People are not getting the medical care they need due to waiting lists and overcrowding.
  • We produce too much pollution, waste and greenhouse gases.
  • One in every 10 children is brought up in consistent poverty.

Labour wants to build homes, fix health and provide better pay and job security. We’re committed to a fair start for every child, better work-life balance and socially just climate policies. Building an Equal Society, our manifesto, available on sets out our vision – and our core redline commitments.

But our ability to do this depends on our level of support in this election. That is why it is so important for you to vote Labour on Saturday. And, because it will fall to Labour and other progressive, constructive parties to work together towards a better future for our people, I’m also asking you to give your preferences to the other progressive parties and candidates in your area.

Let’s end the waste of public money, build homes and fix health.

Brendan Howlin, TD for Wexford, is leader of the Labour Party