Wednesday 7 December 2016

Brendan Howlin on Labour's disastrous election and why it happened

Published 22/09/2016 | 20:40

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin

BRENDAN Howlin said his party’s disastrous election happened in part because “many Irish people had stopped listening to Labour.”

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Mr Howlin said Labour’s contribution to the recovery of the economy was “a significant achievement” and highlighted a halving of the unemployment rate during its time in power.

However, in a speech to party members at their Dublin think-in he said: “when it came to the election, none of these achievements of which we are so proud mattered very much”.

The party returned with just seven seats in the Dáil – down form more than 30 – in February’s poll.

He said that Labour needs to be “honest enough to recognise why” this happened, conceding the party “didn’t always deliver”  and “didn’t get everything right”.

Mr Howlin said his job now is a simple one, “to rebuild the Labour Party”.

He said “it won’t be easy” but that through progressive policies and grassroots campaigning they can rebuild what he described as “this historic party of ours”.

He said there is currently "chaos" in the political system and that that the country has a “do-nothing Dáil”. He added that if the “government survives at all, these will be known as the lost years”.

Earlier Mr Howlin spoke to reporters and was asked if he believes Labour will be forgiven by voters, similar to how Fianna Fáil saw a resurgence in support at the election.

He said: “If Fianna Fáil’s sin was destroying the country, Labour’s sin is recovering it.

“I think it’s a lesser sin.

“We do need to talk to people. We need to hear people. We need to hear their fears, their concerns [about] what the future will hold for them.”

He said “anything can happen” when asked if he would consider merging the party with the Social Democrats.

Mr Howlin said that while he’s not looking for people to join simple to add to the party’s numbers, there is an “open invitation” for those who share Labour’s values to join.

During his speech Mr Howlin spoke of his optimism for the country saying Irish people should “not undersell our achievements in the centenary year of 1916”.

He said Ireland is ranked 12th out of 133 countries in terms of social progress.

“Why not aspire to make the top three in the next ten years?,” he asked.

He said he wants to see better living standards and an expansion of individual freedoms and highlihgted the housing crisis, saying it is "not outside our capacity to address".

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