Sunday 22 April 2018

Labour rebels want party to abandon links with Fine Gael

Joanna Tuffy
Joanna Tuffy
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The Labour Party is playing down the decision by an internal "fringe group" to hold a breakaway meeting to discuss policy during this weekend's national conference.

The so-called 'Labour Values' group is calling for the party to completely abandon any aspirations of going into Government next time with Fine Gael.

The group, which is made up of mostly rank-and-file members, has organised a "breakaway" conference in Killarney which is scheduled to be addressed by union leader Jack O'Connor and Dublin Mid-West TD Joanna Tuffy.

Mr O'Connor is expected to call for Labour to become part of a government of the left, if it decides to enter a coalition next time round.

The presence of Mr O'Connor and Ms Tuffy at the fringe event could prove embarrassing for party leader Joan Burton, particularly if it attracts members away from the official party conference - which is located just half a mile away.

The group has been trying to shore up support for the event, but has so far only secured the attendance of one parliamentary party member.

It's understood that other TDs, including Galway deputy Derek Nolan, rejected an offer to take part in the event, based on the theme 'Labour's next manifesto'.

According to documentation circulated by the group, it aims to put pressure on the party leader to "stand alone" in the next election.

The group also campaigns for the reversal of cuts to social services, the restoration of public sector pay to pre-Haddington Road levels and an end to privatisation.

Event organiser and party member Richard Barrett said the group wants the party to "put water" between Labour and Fine Gael.

"This is not an attack on the leadership," he said.

"But we do need to give members a chance to come together discuss real alternatives for the Labour Party," he added.

Ms Tuffy rejected suggestions that the staging of the fringe event would be frowned upon by the party.

"I think the main thing is that members get to air their views and have an input into policy, for example, what kind of health service we would like to have," she said

"This is a group of members who believe in discussing social democratic policies and coming up with ideas. Anyone is entitled to attend the meeting," she added.

Party sources last night admitted that the separate meeting is "unhelpful" but said they do not expect a large turnout.

Nonetheless, there is concern that the presence of Siptu president Jack O'Connor will attract significant media attention that otherwise would have remained focussed on the official conference.

Labour General Secretary David Leach recently rejected suggestions by Sinn Féin that it would lose the support of Siptu ahead of the upcoming general election.

While the main conference is taking place in the INEC arena in Killarney, the separate will be held in the nearby Dromhall hotel.

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A party spokesman said that all members are entitled to meet as they see fit.

"Freedom of expression is essential in our party so I do not view this as a big deal," he said.

Unlike Fine Gael, a range of motions are due to be debated at this weekend's conference, which kicks off on Friday.

Irish Independent

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