Labour values have endured 100 years and will endure 100 more says Howlin

By David Tucker

Published 25/05/2016 | 00:00

Deputy Brendan Howlin.
Deputy Brendan Howlin.

shaped and moulded in a solid Labour town and steeped in its politics, Brendan Howlin's personal popularity was never in doubt.

Even when Labour's support base was crumbling as quickly as the storm-swept sand dunes on Curracloe Beach, Brendan shrugged off the political tsunami reshaping the political landscape and proved he still had what it takes to be an advocate for the people, even those who had abandoned Labour during five years of hard times and coalition government.

The 10,500 votes he won in his constituency underpinned his future as a deputy and laid the groundwork for his election as leader of the party to which he has been devoted for all of his adult life, and earlier!

No other Labour politician came near him, so it's perhaps no surprise that he is Labour's new leader, albeit leader of a much smaller parliamentary party than when he became Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the 31st Dail.

The reaction on social media in Wexford to his election was effusive.

Fellow teacher and Labour Party man, Joe Ryan said: 'Can't think of any better than BrendanHowlin to lead Labour back. Proven when tested.'

And Marion Walsh said: 'I remember in 1987, Brendan said he wouldn't stop till he was leader of the party. Well done Brendan.'

Wishing Brendan 'all the best', said Wexford Independent councillor Davy Hynes who defected from Labour because of its austerity policies and what he saw as a diminution of its values. He said the new Labour leader would have been his choice if he were still a member of the party.

'From what I can see from the outside, he is the best choice to lead the party and to try to re-invigorate it, but he has a major task on his hands. Labour needs to go back to its origins. It was set up to look after the working class - that's where it went wrong,' said Cllr Hynes.

Certainly during Brendan Howlin's speech looking forward to the future Labour, he invoked the memories of two men of the left who inspired him.

'The former leader of this party, Brendan Corish, and my own Dad, John. Each, in his own way, taught me simple and powerful truths about what is right and what is wrong. And about what politics is for,' he said.

'Today I am immensely proud and deeply humbled to become the leader of the Labour Party - their party. I have seen great election victories and also, sadly, some major defeats. We must learn from those defeats, but there is one obvious lesson:

It's hard to show that you stand for Labour's values when you have to go into Government to rescue the country from the vandalism inflicted upon it by those who do not share our values.

'Cleaning up the mess left by others may not have proven electorally popular, but it had to be done. It had to be done to ensure this country's future. Now, Labour and Ireland are in a strong position to grow.

'I am confident about this party's future, because we have values that are immutable. They're not going away any time soon.

'They have endured 100 years and will endure another 100.

'And they are needed today more than ever. Labour politics is about working to improve people's quality of life. And because of the economic crisis those improvements have been in short supply in recent years worldwide.'

Criticising vociferous fringe groups, Brendan said there was talk of a global crisis in democracy.

'Fringe groups variously describing themselves as right or left wing have gained ground in many countries. In this country those fringe groups sometimes use Labour's language of fairness and equality, but that's where the similarities stop. Their's is a critique without a solution.

'They won't go into Government to deliver change. They won't compromise on some issues in order to win important victories on other issues. Victories for working people, victories based on the concepts of fairness, inclusion and equality. Instead they do slogans. They want to "reflect people's anger".

'Well if all you want to do is reflect people's anger you should seek a career on the stage, not in the national parliament. They trade in false hope.'

He said Labour doesn't offer theatrics.

'We offer real change. This is uniquely Labour's space. Democracy is predicated on a contract with the people. And that contract is based on improving people's standard of living and quality of life.

'So for Labour, getting the economy back on track is not an end in itself. It is merely a means to a more significant goal. Getting people back to work. Providing services that will improve their quality of life. Improving the opportunities available to our children.

'If economic growth doesn't bring these things about, then it serves no worthwhile purpose. It's as simple as that. That is what we've started over the last two years and that will always be Labour's role.

'Today, despite the additional mandate won by Sinn Fein and the Trotskyists at the last election, we have practically a single party Fine Gael Government. Even the independents are gene pool Fine Gael.

'And we can see what they're doing already. Given a clear choice, they're planning a major tax break for unearned wealth, rather than easing the tax burden on ordinary workers. Simple choice: Simple Fine Gael answer. That is what a Government without Labour in it does.

'Of course being a party aspiring to Government involves compromise. And compromise gets a poor press in modern politics. But, by being open to compromise, to working with others of like and differing minds, think of what we have achieved.'

He said that for over 40 years Labour has been to the fore in the transformation of Ireland from a confessional state to the modern pluralist state.

'No other political party has impacted on modern Ireland like Labour. From the Right to Remarry to decriminalisation and now marriage equality. From political accountability to access to contraception.

'From campaigning against the '83 referendum and legislating for the X-case decision during the course of the last Government.

'While others prefer to shout at the more conservative forces in our society, Labour believes in taking our argument to them.

'The next decade marks one of huge opportunity for this country based on our improved public finances.

'Of course we have to be careful. But we can't be too cautious either. We cannot let fear of the recent past stymie our future.'

Wexford People

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