Thursday 25 December 2014

Labour 'should walk if it fails to stop cuts'

Party must aim for neutral Budget, says Siptu president

Published 22/06/2014 | 02:30

CALL: Siptu president Jack O'Connor. Photo: Gerry Mooney
CALL: Siptu president Jack O'Connor. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Labour should withdraw from Government if it fails to prevent any more cuts to working families and those dependent on public services in October's Budget, Siptu's general president Jack O'Connor has said.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr O'Connor said the focus of the Labour Party should be to achieve a 'neutral budget' and avoid any further pain on working families and those reliant on public services.

But a week after his key intervention in which he robustly defended the party's time in office, Mr O'Connor said Labour must pull out of Government should Fine Gael seek to hit working families again in the Budget.

"I would think the Labour Party should make it clear if it is placed in the position of being asked to support cuts on working families and people who are reliant on public servants that are not necessary, then the Labour party shouldn't remain in Government," he said.

Mr O'Connor said that the right-wing Fine Gael is not "fit for office" and that Labour must insist on a significantly lower level of cuts and tax increases than the stated €2bn target.

"I'm not sure the centre-right parties are fit for office because Fianna Fail inflicted the bank guarantee on us and FG supported them in doing so," he added.

But he has warned that unless the Labour Party addresses the perception that it made promises and abandoned them, then it doesn't matter what else it does from here on in, he said.

"Unless that issue of narrative is addressed, even if we strike oil and land it all before the next election, then it doesn't really matter, because the public perception is that Labour made promises and broke them," he added.

Mr O'Connor, aged 57, said the new Labour leadership has to immediately challenge the "vile and slanderous lie" that the party had reneged on its election promises.

Mr O'Connor said he expects Joan Burton to defeat Alex White and become the next leader of the Labour party, when the election takes place on July 4.

"Well I have no reason to doubt the prevailing belief that Joan is the one with the higher profile and is also perceived to have done as good a job as she could have in social welfare.

"I have no scientific proof, and I am not canvassing people, but I have no reason to differ with the prevailing thinking," he said.

Asked who he would prefer to see as leader, Mr O'Connor said if one of them came out emphatically and said they will not support any further cuts, then he would probably support that person.

"Both are coming very close to saying that," he said.

"I have no difficulty with either one being leader, but I don't envy whoever takes it on. Being Labour leader in Ireland has always been one of the toughest jobs but it is especially difficult now," he added.

The Siptu leader dismissed suggestions of a Labour/Sinn Fein coalition as "complete nonsense" as the current polls make such a combination impossible.

"The commentary that is developing about would you align yourself with Sinn Fein is in my view a nonsense because based on the current polls, there is no possibility of Labour and Sinn Fein being able to form a Government. So it is a nonsense, the whole thing," he said.

He added that people in the other left parties are deeply committed to an egalitarian society but they have never outlined what it would look like or the roadmap to get there. "They, and indeed Sinn Fein, are defined by what they are against rather than what they are for," he said.

Mr O'Connor also called for a new pay deal for public sector workers to be brought in before the scheduled ending of the Haddington Road deal, which is due to expire in 2016.

"I am arguing, there should be an emphasis on concluding terms which come into effect earlier than the end of the current Haddington Road which is 2016," he said.

On departing Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Mr O'Connor said he made the "unforgivable offence" in putting his country before his party.

"He could have decided not to go into government. He easily could have broken down the negotiations which formed the Government. It was not a good deal for the Labour Party but it was the best deal it could get and I supported it."

However, he was deeply critical of his decision to become Foreign Affairs Minister.

"He made a fatal error in going to Foreign Affairs. I know why he did it, they were preoccupied with restoring the country's reputation and there was a belief that it must be a deputy prime minister to occupy the role," he said.

He said had the party not gone into power it would have benefited enormously electorally. "It would have been able to consolidate its position as lead opposition party and they would be immensely more popular today as a result," he said.

But there would have been a price paid for that and that price would have been paid by the ordinary working people. "No other party would have done that," he said.

Mr O'Connor said Labour's big success in Government had been to prevent more than €2bn of cuts and tax hikes to the poorest and weakest, as well as preventing Fine Gael from selling everything including the 'kitchen sink' in terms of State assets.

He said that Labour has stopped Fine Gael from trying to sell up to €10bn in State assets, which would have seen the country lose control of many of the key drivers of the economy.

He was deeply critical of Fine Gael's blocking of Labour's wish to increase the Universal Social Charge by 3 per cent for those income earners over €100,000.

"That was a tragedy and it had a devastating impact on the credibility of the Labour Party.

"It was also very damaging to the Government in terms of any criteria which measures failures," he said.

Mr O'Connor added that Fine Gael's 'obduracy' was entirely unnecessary as people on those income levels fully expected a much more serious impact.

"It was a very, very bad decision, which highlighted the FG party's blinkered inability to see the value of a relatively small measure in reaffirming the connection with the people," he added.

It has also possibly compromised that party's chances of being in the next government, irrespective of what happens to Labour, he said.

Sunday Independent

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