SIPTU President Jack O'Connor criticises jailing of anti-water charge demonstrators at a Labour fringe event
AUSTERITY measures introduced since 2011 are a trademark of the "Troika's agenda" and "Fine Gael's dominance in government", SIPTU President O'Connor has claimed.
Mr O'Connor described some of cuts imposed by the Coalition as "grossly unfair" but said families would have suffered even greater budget misery if the Labour Party did not get into power.
The union leader took several swipes at Fine Gael which he said at one point was prepared to introduce €7.9bn worth of cuts had it not been for Labour's intervention.
Although he called on Labour to approach the General Election as an independent party, Mr O'Connor heaped praise on Sinn Fein over its housing policy.
"We should look at what they have to say about off balance sheet investment for housing. I'm sure they wouldn't mind us sharing those ideas," Mr O'Connor said.
Mr O'Connor made the remarks during at a speech he delivered at a fringe event, organised by an internal faction called 'Labour Values'.
About 40 delegates were in attendance at the event, which was staged just half a mile away from the official national conference in Killarney.
Senior party figures have played down the significance of the event but admitted that Mr O'Connor's interventions surrounding Sinn Fein have proven "unhelpful".
Addressing the meeting, Mr O'Connor said Labour needs to radically change its approach in the run up to the General Election.
"We should assert what we stand for as democratic socialists or social democrats," he said.
He was critical of the party for "allowing people to think that the austerity agenda imposed by this government since 2011 was fair."
On the water charges issue, Mr O'Connor said the party should campaign for an increase in the €100 conservation grant.
He also criticised the jailing of anti-water charge protesters earlier this month and called on the Government to open up a line on dialogue on the issue.
Mr O'Connor said the party should strive to be part of a "centre-left government" and should stop ruling out other parties such as Sinn Fein.
"It won't be achieved if we all go on berating each other and condemning each other and saying we are all purer socialists than the next one," he said.
Also addressing the event, Dublin Mid West TD Joanna Tuffy said she does not feel she could enter coalition with some of the left wing groups.
"I feel I have very little in common with them. I dont feel they want to go into government. I think some of their tactics are totally unacceptable," she said.