Brendan Howlin launches stinging attack on Shane Ross and 'shambles' Government
LABOUR Party leader Brendan Howlin has launched a stinging attack on Transport Minister Shane Ross claiming he's an example of why the Government is a “shambles”.
Mr Howlin made the remarks in his speech on the opening night of the Labour Party’s National Conference.
He thanked delegates for travelling from around the country and said: “I know that travelling across Ireland is more difficult now, with Shane Ross as Minister for Transport.”
He added: “At least, I think he’s a Minister. He’s listed at least on the Government’s website as one”.
And he criticised Mr Ross’s involvement in the controversial BusConnects plan for Dublin.
Mr Howlin said: “I do recall his claim that he's not responsible for the BusConnects system.
"Apparently he was planning to make a submission on it - to himself.
“It is just one example of how the current Government is in fact a shambles."
He said the only positive is that Mr Ross is in charge of transport and not housing or health.
Mr Ross last month reportedly told a Dublin-Rathdown constituency meeting that he had nothing to do with the BusConnects plan, prompting criticism from political opponents that he was trying to “duck responsibility”.
The Minister later said he told the residents that he does make Government policy on BusConnects project and transport, but he doesn’t “micro-mange” the details.
Mr Ross declined to respond to political attacks at the time but said “it’s a good project but there are problems for communities that need to be ironed out.”
Mr Howlin also attacked the record of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's Government on housing and health.
He said Fine Gael are in talks with Fianna Fáil on renewing the Confidence and Supply agreement and asked: "Who could have any confidence in this Government?"
Separately, Mr Howlin hit out at presidential election candidate Peter Casey who made controversial remarks about the Travelling Community during the campaign.
Mr Howlin accused Mr Casey of engaging in “Trumpian tactics” seeking to grab headlines by targeting vulnerable groups.
He contrasted this with the approach of President Michael D Higgins – a former Labour minister – who won re-election and has “a genuine concern for the welfare of others, especially the most vulnerable”.
Mr Howlin also said President Michael D Higgins’ victory in the race for Áras an Uachtaráin gives “strong hope” for a revival of his party’s support among the electorate.
However, he ruled out any pact with other political parties ahead of the next general election which he predicted would happen before May next year.
Labour had a disastrous election in 2016, returning just seven TDs to the Dáil.
Mr Howlin said his goal is to return the party to double-digit representation after the next election.
He said the party “obviously rejoice in the election of the pre-eminent candidate in the last Presidential election.”
“The people of Ireland agreed with us. But Michael D not only was the best candidate, he is an intellectual, a socialist, an advocate of Labour values all his life.
Mr Howlin said: “the fact that there’s a constituency for that indicates that there is strong hope for the Labour Party.”
He said that there are “people who think like us” and added: “we need to get them to vote for us in the local, European and the next general election.”
The Labour Party conference will debate a proposal from its Fingal branch that calls on the party leadership to consider a pre-election agreement on some policy objectives with “like-minded parties and individuals”.
The suggestion is made in light of the growth in populism on the right and the extreme left internationally.
However, Mr Howlin has effectively ruled this out saying: “We will be entering into no pre-election pact with anybody. We will be campaigning on a very clear Labour policy platform.”
He said that “if in the event that people want to talk to us subsequent to a general election and we have sufficient strength to advance those policies then we’ll talk on the basis of those policies.”
Mr Howlin said the party will use its 70th national conference to set out the party’s stall ahead of the next general election.
He said: “We’re refining our very clear policy agenda on the critical issues that affect people.
“We have a unique policy platform on housing where we want to build 80,000 affordable homes over the next five years and have set out where we will get €16bn to do that.”
He also said: “The creation of a single-tier health system which is possible in this country.
“In the worst of times we embarked upon that in government, rolling out primary, firstly free GP care to under-6s.
“All of that stopped as soon as we left government because other parties don’t have a commitment to universal healthcare.
“We are facing a general election sometime in the coming months.
“My own judgment on it is that it will be sooner than either the European or Local Elections which we know are scheduled for May of next year.”