Tuesday 20 March 2018

Labour leadership candidates distance themselves from notorious 2011 FG attack ad

Minister Joan Burton and Minister Alex White at the Labour Party Leadership Hustings at the Mansion House, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron
Minister Joan Burton and Minister Alex White at the Labour Party Leadership Hustings at the Mansion House, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron
The ad from 2011

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

JOAN Burton and Alex White have distanced themselves from a pre-election campaign advertisement which attacked Fine Gael over policies which Labour later subscribed to.

The infamous Labour advertisement, published in the media just days before the 2011 general, has continuously come back to haunt the party.

The advertisement, which had the slogan 'Fine Gael - Every little hurts', told the public that a vote for Fine Gael represented a vote for water charges, hikes in VAT and DIRT tax and cuts in child benefit.

Labour later went on to agree to the austerity measures after going into coalition with Fine Gael.

Ms Burton told the party's final hustings that she was in "Donegal in the snow" when she learned of the advertisement, adding: "It took me by surprise".

Mr White told delegates in Dublin's Mansion House that the product was "annoying and embarrassing" but called on party to move on.

"Can we stop obsessing just about that ad? Can we just get on to moving onto the future?"

The advertisement was raised during a questions and answers session at the final hustings of the Labour Party leadership battle in Dublin last night.

While 250 delegates attended the final hustings of the internal election campaign, a substantial number left the Dublin City venue as both leadership candidates answered questions from members.

Issues such as fathers' rights, housing, the economy and Ireland's bank debt were among the issues debated.

On the issue of medical cards, Mr White said the fiasco was caused by "poor decision making".

"I accept my share of the blame for that decision, it was a bad decision...we should have exempted people who had discretionary medical cards," he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Burton said the government needs to implement political reforms to “regain the initiative”.

“’Reform’ has become a dirty word in recent years, often because the fiscal hawks use it as code for slashing public services. We on the left need to reclaim the word "reform", and restore its proper meaning and purpose," she said.

“I understand how frustrated many of you feel that the promise of new politics in 2011 has come to look hollow, even though Brendan Howlin has done superb work on lobbyists and whistle-blowers to name just two areas," she added.

On the issue of Eamon Gilmore's resignation, Ms Burton said it came as a surprise but added: "It was kind of anticipated in some way".

The four deputy leadership candidates also took part in the final stage of the hustings.

A former Labour councillor, Gerry Ashe, heaped pressure on candidate Ciara Conway over her role in the plot to remove Mr Gilmore.

Ms Conway insisted that she did not "frog-march" outgoing leader Eamon Gilmore into making his decision to stand down.

The Waterford TD was a member of the gang-of-eight, backed by junior minister Alex White, who devised a motion of no confidence in Mr Gilmore last month.

It was never debated because Mr Gilmore quit before it was tabled at the parliamentary party meeting.

She insisted that she did not "frogmarch anybody" into resigning, adding: "I'm sorry for the way it happened, but I stand over what I did," she said.

Speaking before the hustings, Mr White said he is "confident" of beating Ms Burton in the leadership battle.

But he refused to say which cabinet position he would seek if he was elected leader.

Meanwhile, the party's four candidates for the deputy leadership position - Alan Kelly, Michael McCarthy, Sean Sherlock and Ciara Conway - laid out their stalls ahead of next week's result.

Michael McCarthy said Mr Gilmore "made the right decision because he made it on his terms".

Meanwhile, Alan Kelly warned that the party is "drifting anyway from being seen as the party of workers".

"We have to reprioritise what we do as a government. It has to be the first thing on the agenda when the leader is elected," he said.

Sean Sherlock was subject to heckling by the crowd after claiming that he does not have an issue about US military planes stopping over in Shannon airport.

Last night's debate represented the fifth and final hustings of the leadership campaign.

The hustings, which was held in the Dublin's Mansion House, was attended by approximately 250 party members.

The new leader and and deputy leader will be formally announced by the party on July 4.

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