Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Why I'm staying and fighting!

Today we learned that another colleague and person I will continue to call comrade, Cllr. Dermot Looney, has resigned form the Labour Party. Like a number of others who have decided to leave our party, it is hardly a shock, particularly to those of us who have been listening to Dermot for a while now. Dermot's decision is disappointing but it also raises a number of serious questions which I believe he needs to answer.

I was one of the first people on the phone to congratulate Dermot on his election as Mayor of South Dublin. Having just completed my year-long term as Mayor of Kilkenny I appreciated the huge honour it is and the thrill it would be for Dermot. My grandfather had served as a member of the old Dublin County Council representing the Tallaght area. Like Dermot and I he was also a primary teacher and also gave the odd blast of a song. 'The Red Flag' wouldn't have been his thing however, given that he was a Fine Gael councillor. I'd like to think however that he would have respected his grandson singing the Jim Connell song with gusto.

One thing he would have been very strong on however was loyalty. Whether Dermot likes it or not, the people of his area elected him in 2009 as a LABOUR councillor. All of us as party candidates benefited from a considerable support for the party and regardless of our view of how wonderful we were as candidates, people were choosing to vote for our party as well as for us as individuals.

Prior to his election, Dermot was selected by the members of the party in South Dublin as their candidate. On the night of that selection convention he signed a pledge to contest the election as a Labour candidate and if elected, to sit and act with the Labour group on the council as a Labour member, abiding by the majority decisions of the group. One of the major benefits of this decision of course came after the election of 2009 when it was decided who would chair South Dublin County Council over the next five years. This is a difficult period of negotiation for all councillors, particularly newly elected members who often get pushed aside by long-serving members who can insist on keeping all the important positions for themselves. It would also not be unknown for local sitting TD's to ensure that young, ambitious councillors are kept at bay. As one older party member said to me years ago- always remember a weak parish priest hates a strong curate!! Yet that didn't happen. The young, articulate and ambitious councillor was granted the right to be the last Mayor of South Dublin before this year's election. That decision was made by Dermot's fellow Labour councillors. I can only imagine how they feel today.

Let me also state clearly that I see ambition as a GOOD thing. The old notion that we should all hide our candle under a bushel is often a great way of putting us down. I do feel however that a trust that was freely entered into with Dermot has been broken. Elected as a Labour member and then chosen as a Labour Mayor by his Labour colleagues, the timing of Dermot's resignation is puzzling to say the least. Did his reservations only start now, just over half way through his term of office? Why did Dermot decide to continue to be elected Mayor in June when those reservations were clearly already in place?

I am not going to resort to bad-mouthing Dermot or any of my other former colleagues. I won't use the phrase traitors or any other insults in relation to people whom I consider to be friends but I am disappointed. I do feel let down and I am staying to fight for what I believe in.

And here are the reasons why:
I am Labour!
Like Dermot I began my political life as a student activist. Having briefly followed the liberal and slightly socially democratic path of Garret Fitzgerald in my early teens, I discovered student politics in college. I quickly saw the left and socialist politics as the way to achieve real and substantial change in society. I still believe that today. I also believe, as articulated by Jack O' Connor that Ireland should, like most civilised countries, have one strong and united left and that the people of Ireland should be represented by at least a left-led Government in order to have the fair and equal society which all of us on the left should aspire to.

Unfortunately the people of Ireland in their wisdom have yet to choose that path. In the last General election, whether we like it or not, the people chose a centre-right led Government. They also, in my view, chose to have a major section of that Government made up by the leading party of the left in Ireland. Unlike Dermot I accepted the decision of the people of Ireland and believed that Labour had a responsibility to play its part in turning our country around in a way that protected the most vulnerable in our society. Let's remember the alternative governments on offer after that election. We could have had a minority FG govt supported by a rag-tag of independents, the majority of those likely to support FG would have been deeply right-wing. Alternatively we could have had a FF/FG combination which was simply not going to happen. Finally, we could have gone back to another election and those who would argue that Labour would have come back stronger in that event would be optimistic in the extreme. In my view and in the view of most observers inside and outside of Labour, we accepted the will of the Irish people. That is why I and the vast majority of Labour members voted in favour of the programme for Government. It is also the reason why I believe a majority would do so again if we had the choice, despite all the difficulties involved.

We are doing the right things, hard and all as they are.
Ironically on the day that Dermot resigned, unemployment fell for the eighteenth month in a row. On the day that another former colleague, Colm Keaveney joined Fianna Fáil a month ago, the unemployment figures fell for the seventeenth month in a row. Both Colm and Dermot railed against austerity and pain for what they like to call Labour's traditional constituency. The reality is that the most crushing austerity for working people is to be without a job. The basket-case economy we inherited is slowly being turned around, people are slowly beginning to find work, the retailers I know had a hopeful run-in to Christmas and are slightly more optimistic for the future. I don't support everything this Government has done. I have spoken out clearly against the decision to abolish our local council and campaigned against this move. I oppose many of the public service cuts, particularly those in education and the health service, despite knowing that huge reform is needed. But my opposition will be within the Labour Party. I will fight in my branch, constituency and at national level for those cuts to be reversed as soon as they can be. I will also fight for a Labour-led government as I always have.

I don't believe that there is an Irish left alternative
The Trotskyist left succeeded in having five TD's elected in the last election and SF, who are portraying themselves as socialist have a nonsensical economic policy, which like that of the Trotskyist left is based on utterly rejecting the international economic world, that of Ireland as an intrinsic part of the European Union and one in which we borrow money from international agencies when we need to to pay for Dermot's, mine and indeed Colm's salaries as well as our other vital public services.

As a democratic socialist I believe that we will have to build the fair and equitable society which Connolly and Larkin fought for here and now in the real world. Hoping that international capitalism will collapse and that we can build the international socialist nirvana will do nothing for our neighbours, family, friends and supporters who need real-world services and jobs now. Telling the Troika to take a hike and rejecting austerity are really populist and attractive slogans which may win us short-term support but in my view are deeply irresponsible. Finally, I and the majority of Labour councillors will fight for the party of Connolly and Larkin, even in the tough times.

As I said at our party conference in Killarney, my inspiration comes from people like the late Michaal Moynihan who fought five general elections and a bye-election over 27 years before finally being elected to Dáil Éireann. That is the Labour way, to roll up your sleeves and to fight for your beliefs. In that tradition I will hope that the citizens of Kilkenny City West will elect me to Kilkenny County Council in May. The choice is theirs but they will have no doubts about what I stand for.

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