Saturday morning address at Labour Party Conference
Colleagues and friends,
It’s a great pleasure to be here in Mullingar, and I’d like to thank Willie Penrose for his warm welcome.
Nobody needs reminding of the unique blend of political wisdom, legal skill and passion for people that Willie brings to the Dail.
But just in case, there was a timely such reminder yesterday.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald signed the order commencing the legislation Willie
championed to make our system of bankruptcy a more humane one.
Willie fought fiercely for those changes because he knew that, despite the strong recovery, many people are still struggling with unsustainable debt.
His contribution will reduce the ordeal for people facing bankruptcy and allow them to start over sooner, which is a good thing for individuals, for the economy and for society.
I’m delighted Willie is putting himself forward once again.
When we leave here this weekend, Willie will take his case to the people of Longford-Westmeath.
And we in the party will take our case to the country as a whole.
Asking the people to return Labour to government.
The past five years have been turbulent, to say the least.
But they have also proven to be transformative.
And the priority for progressive voters should be to protect, consolidate, and extend those gains by returning Labour back to Government with a sizeable block of TDs.
Because that’s the only way to ensure stable, balanced government.
I want to say a word about stability first.
This election comes at a time when the global outlook is uncertain.
Further economic shocks are a possibility.
Europe is confronted by significant challenges, and not just on the economic front.
So here in Ireland, we need stability, not uncertainty.
That’s why I believe it’s essential that the current Government be re-elected – Labour and Fine Gael together.
As a government, we haven’t got everything right – I’d be the first to admit that.
But working together with the people, we have embarked on a major programme of economic and social care and repair.
By any assessment, I think it’s fair to say we’ve put the country firmly on the road to recovery.
And we are absolutely determined not to put the recovery at risk.
That is why I want this government returned – we will provide the stability that Ireland needs right now.
But there’s another important element to this government that is often overlooked.
And it is this: balance.
I want to tell you what I mean by balance.
Labour and Fine Gael have proven beyond doubt that we can work together in the interest of the Irish people.
We are parties with different traditions, different values, different priorities.
But the Taoiseach and I share a vision for sustainable public finances, for jobs and growth, for a better society.
We have different ideas about how to achieve that vision, so each party fights its corner.
We have a battle of ideas.
We negotiate, we compromise.
The centre-left and the centre-right find centre ground.
And we reach agreed solutions in the best interests of our people.
In that regard, I believe the Labour stamp on this Government has been clear.
We’ve raised the minimum wage, cut USC for low and middle-income workers, and strengthened workers’ rights.
We protected core welfare payments in the worst of times and are now increasing them in a targeted way as resources become available.
We legislated for the X case and delivered the marriage equality referendum.
Fine Gael too could point to the gains they’ve achieved – and that’s the point.
The battle of ideas these past five years has, in my view, been entirely between the Government parties – and it’s been a productive one for this country.
The Opposition, by stark contrast, having nothing to offer in the way of substantive policies.
Fianna Fail nearly bankrupted the country – and they’re totally bankrupt of ideas.
Sinn Fein are more concerned about protecting their “good republican” friends than actually building a good republic.
They don’t represent an alternative.
They represent renewed incompetence on one hand and, frankly, something more sinister on the other.
Labour, by contrast, see the opportunity ahead of us.
To build on the recovery and use a strong economy to build a decent society.
So the priority for progressive voters should be to return Labour to government to protect our hard-earned recovery and use the gains from it to make life better for our people.
So my message to people is this:
If you want this Government to continue with the job, if you want stable Government, and if you
want balanced Government:
Then you’ve got to vote Labour and vote Labour Number 1.
Labour will stand up for working people, families and communities.
We’ll stand up for equality and the open, modern Ireland that all of us in this room believe in.
We’ll stand up for the progressive politics essential to achieving those goals.
Colleagues, we have a fight on our hands for the next few weeks.
And I’m relishing it, because I know our cause is just.
All of us joined the Labour Party because we believe in creating a fairer and more decent society.
It’s time for us to stand up and fight for what we believe in.
It’s time for us to stand up and fight for that fairer and more decent society.
It’s time for us to stand up and take our case to the people.
With conviction, with confidence and with determination.
Because we know we are the party that will stand up for the Irish people.