Saturday 24 February 2018

'No viable alternative to the existing coalition', say Labour ministers at last party conference before election

Minister Brendan Howlin
Minister Brendan Howlin

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

There is no viable alternative to the existing coalition, Labour ministers have claimed at the start of their party conference.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has said the party is going “to win a number of seats that will confound most pundits”.

And Environment Minister Alan Kelly said there is “really only one combination of government that is feasible”. 

“If you look at all the smaller parties, Sinn Féin and independents, securitise them. At least what we do is we stand up and we have credible policies. We make decisions. We will have responsibility in government unlike other so-called left-wing independents or parties.

“They say they stand for everything but from an analytical point of view if you say you stand for everything, you actually stand for nothing, he said.

Both ministers insisted there is no minimum number of seats that the Labour Party need to win to justify going back into government after the election.

“What  sort of logic is there it that there’s a magic number,” Mr Howlin said.

“We’re coming now into the period where people will decide what government they trust . There is no alternative.

“Fianna Fáil have said they won’t go into government with anybody – perversely only us. Sinn Féin again say they won’t go in with anybody – oh except previously the Labour Party even though they’ve attacked us at every opportunity,” he said.

“Every single candidate we have in the field is worthy of election.”

Mr Kelly said there is still “a huge amount of the electorate to be played for”.

“I believe once they focus in on the choices they have, there really is only one choice.”

However, the Tipperary TD said the Labour Party will be running a very different campaign from Fine Gael and will be fighting with each for seats in some constituencies.

“We’re running this election as two very different parties because we are very different parties. What we’re saying is that this government should be re-elected,” he said.

“We want to get as many seats as possible. They want to get as many seats as possible. In some places we’ll be competing with one another very intensely.

“We’ll be arguing for our policies over theirs. But obviously as a government we’ll be saying to our supporters to vote for government candidates.”

Mr Kelly said the Labour Party took 19pc of the vote during the 2011 election but have exacted a much larger influence on government.

“We were well over 50pc in the influence we had in this government and that’s what I’d ask the people to think about when they are voting,” he said.

In her opening address to the conference in Mullingar Tánaiste Joan Burton hit out at both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.

“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,” Ms Burton said.

“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.”

In response Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald released a statement, saying: “The last five years have shown the Labour Party to be a lapdog rather than a watchdog in government.

“Their record reflects that Labour’s way was Fine Gael’s way. They buckled and betrayed every commitment made to those who trusted them.”

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