Wednesday 24 July 2019

Burton pledges two years free pre-school to win votes

Niall O'Connor

Labour leader Joan Burton has launched a major bid to shore up the support of working mothers and fathers as her party braces itself for the election.

The Tanaiste last night pledged to increase Child Benefit and introduce two weeks' paid paternity leave in an attempt to woo voters.

Providing two years free pre-school will form a major plank of Labour's General Election manifesto, Ms Burton told her party's national conference in Killarney.

But the suite of election pledges was overshadowed by a row over whether Labour should do business with Sinn Fein.

SIPTU President Jack O'Connor delivered a rallying cry at a fringe event located half-a-mile away from where the official conference was taking place.

He told a group of delegates that Labour should cut ties with Fine Gael and join forces with Sinn Fein and far left-wing groups.

And Mr O'Connor criticised the jailing of the five anti-water charge protesters earlier this month in a move that has unnerved senior party figures.

Meanwhile, there was a ring of steel in place around the conference venue as around 600 anti-water charge protesters staged a demonstration. While the events were mostly peaceful, a small group of protesters were stopped in their attempts to enter the venue.

The second day of the Labour conference was dominated by the issues of rent and education.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly vowed to tackle the "absolutely scandalous" rent hikes by landlords.

In his strongest comments on the rental market to date, Labour's deputy leader said legislation aimed at introducing "rent certainty" is near completion.

Mr Kelly said he will put an end to the practice of consistently increasing rent prices which he says is causing great difficulty for tenants.

But Mr Kelly's Cabinet colleague Jan O'Sullivan came under pressure over her failure to persuade teachers' unions to accept her Junior Cert reform proposals.

In a major blow to the Government, the two main teachers' unions yesterday refused to support revised plans after over 40 hours of talks.

Ms O'Sullivan vowed to forge ahead with the plans, but was unable to say if teachers will be sanctioned for refusing to comply.

During her televised speech last night, Ms Burton said the Opposition would create a "coalition of chaos".

And in what was a poignant moment, the Dublin West TD recounted a meeting she had with a woman whose son is gay.

"She wanted what every Irish mammy wants for their child. We were both a bit emotional. Tears welled up as I realised we're fighting for more than just two people in a loving relationship. We're fighting for everybody who loves them in turn."

John Drennan's Guide to Politics - Spring 2015

The next election will change your life. In a special supplement with the Sunday Independent, John Drennan presents his guide to Irish politics.

Sunday Independent

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