Alan Kelly calls for unity in first public address since being ousted as Labour Party leader

Former Labour Party leader Alan Kelly

Philip Ryan

Alan Kelly has called for unity in the Labour Party as he made his first public address since being ousted as leader and replaced by Ivana Bacik.

Speaking at the Labour conference in the Sliver Springs Clayton Hotel in Cork, Mr Kelly sought to draw a line under the heave against him 12 months ago and insisted there is an opportunity for the party to flourish electorally.

In an at times emotional address, the former minister said he “loved” the Labour Party and its members, whom he described as “decent, honest and hardworking people”.

He detailed his family’s long-running relationship with the party and thanked members for electing him as leader before saying it was not a weekend for looking back.

“As a party, we must look forward under what what is now Ivana’s leadership and we must do so united together and with a clear focus on the challenges that face us now and in the near future,” he said.

“There is now a real opportunity for our party, the Labour Party, to flourish,” he added.

Mr Kelly said there has been “too much talk” from people outside of the party about Labour’s future and said they “cannot allow others to write our story”.

“The future of the Labour Party depends on everyone in this room uniting under common purpose and taking that energy to our communities,” he added.

In thinly veiled attack on the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin, Mr Kelly said he has seen “so many competitors come and go down the years”, before adding: “I'm sure we'll see more.”

“Remember we, the Labour Party, we are nationalists too, but we are not populists, and it wasn’t yesterday either that we became social democrats. We’ve worn that jersey for a long time,” he added

He said Labour had to make sure the next election is not a “binary choice” for voters, and said the party had to give people a third choice.

"We have to show people we are the party who will do right by the country in the long term rather than for themselves,” he said.

Mr Kelly called for “radical thinking” on healthcare and said private hospitals should be nationalised to address waiting lists and trolley numbers.

“What does it say about our public health service when private health insurance is now deemed a basic necessity by so many? Why do we have so many private hospitals and more being built, yet we can’t provide a proper service for our citizens? What does that say about the inequality in this country?” he said

He also said the Labour Party will campaign to end the “scandalous situation” of taxpayers subsidising the cost of private school education.