Howlin's team of candidates is on election footing
Labour Party leader and Wexford TD Brendan Howlin has said that his team of candidates is on election footing, whether the next outing is the local elections or a snap general election before then.
In a wide ranging keynote address at his party's conference in the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin, Deputy Howlin acknowledged the many serious problems that people faced, saying that the next generation was the first in 100 years to inherit a world in worse condition than it was for their parents and grandparents.
He touched on social issues affecting Ireland such as housing shortage, poverty, mental health concerns, drug addiction, and illness, but also drew attention to the bigger picture of climate change and the distribution of the world's wealth.
'We have only 12 years left to prevent extreme climate change according to the world's greatest experts. It is the moral imperative of our age.'
He accepted that with so many 'overwhelming' issues, people felt a sense of powerlessness and the idea of working collectively for change had diminished but, he pointed out, it was key to progress.
'All the great achievements in our State's history have been collective efforts.'
He believed that democratic politics was not working the way it should and acknowledged that only one-in-five people say they trust politicians. Many, he said, had voted for anti-politics candidates who gave voice to their frustrations but offered no solutions.
He said his party was committed to building a 'truly responsive system of government' with restored town councils, properly financed local government, and a well functioning Dáil and Seanad, with stronger democracy in the European Union. Labour, he said, had consistently championed decency, justice and equality - workers rights, women's rights, gay rights, reduced poverty, free education, public ethics.
The party, he said, had always been outnumbered but had lead on the issues, making arguments that the others eventually caught up to.
'We were outvoted by every other member of Dáil Éireann on the Bank Guarantee. But we were still right. Labour and other progressives were outnumbered two-to-one when the Eighth Amendment was put into the Constitution 35 years ago. This year, at last, that was reversed.'
He expressed his thanks to all those at the conference for their dedication to the party, and attacked the current government saying they were failing in housing, health and on climate change.
'They were gifted an economy well on the way to recovery, but they are squandering this opportunity to achieve real progress.'
The confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wasn't working, he said, pointing out that the opposition party 'goes through the motions of opposing the government' but then abstained on crucial votes.
'What would they do differently in office? Their only economic goal is to persuade people to forget that they ruined this country.'
Labour, he said, was a broad family of progressive thinkers. He felt that Labour would emerge from the next local, European and Dáil elections in a stronger position but accepted that they might not win every seat they targeted.
He said he would call on Labour voters to give their next preferences to other progressive candidates in order to have progressive voices in constituencies, saying: 'We know that only a progressive platform, for economic equality and climate justice, will deliver a New Republic for all our people.'
He believed that people needed to 'take back the State' as an instrument of social progress, saying a stronger State was needed to address the issues that people were facing.
Labour, he said, had a team of excellent candidates lined up for the future, adding that in advance of the next general election the party would have a core list of 'red line' demands, and would not support any government that did not meet all of them.
Earlier, on the way to the conference, the Labour leader and Wexford councillor George Lawlor made an unexpected stop-off, at the Hedgehog Rescue Centre in Rush, after Cllr Lawlor's wife Yvonne found a confused prickly visitor in their garden.
Cllr Lawlor explained: 'He came into our garden but at this time of year he should be hibernating so Yvonne took him in, looked after him, and fed him. When we were going up to the conference we said we'd drop him off on the way!'