Friday 13 December 2019

It's hard to see Labour's successes but you just have to look at this poster to see its failures

The 'Every Little Hurts' campaign poster
The 'Every Little Hurts' campaign poster

Colette Brown

EAMON Gilmore is a convenient fall guy, but the entire Labour parliamentary party is to blame for the party's demise and it will take a miracle, not a mere change of leader, to rescue the party from the abyss.

Labour did not just break its pledges to the electorate when it joined Fine Gael in Government; it doused them in petrol and set them alight.

Ostensibly in existence to protect the weak and the vulnerable, Labour in Government has largely been committed to protecting just one thing – its own grip on power.

Fond of extolling their own virtue and commitment to break with the past while in opposition, senior party members didn't show the same mettle when James Reilly amended a list of primary care centres to include two from his own constituency.

When Roisin Shortall dared to query the addition, and call it stroke politics, she was left utterly bereft of support and forced to resign.

Not one single member of the parliamentary party came to her defence, while Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton publicly announced their full confidence in Reilly.

Given a choice between defending concerns of cute-hoor clientelism or the transparent allocation of resources based on need, the party chose the former and happily stabbed Shortall in the back.

Embarrassingly, it was left to two Fine Gael ministers, Leo Varadkar and Lucinda Creighton, to raise concerns about Reilly's behaviour.

Similarly, when Nessa Childers dared to query the wisdom of rewarding former Secretary General of the Department of Finance Kevin Cardiff with a plum €180,000-a-year post in Europe, despite the many catastrophes he had overseen in office, she was attacked.

Childers resigned a couple of months later, claiming she had been the victim of an "overt bullying" campaign.

At the time, she warned that Labour was pursuing "never-ending, pointless austerity for austerity's sake" and said the leadership had drifted away from "a progressive policy approach".

She was right but nobody listened. What was the point of Labour joining Government when all it was doing was overseeing the implementation of a fiscal arrangement that had been agreed by Fianna Fail and the troika?

Can party members really look back on the last three years and point to any huge divergence in the troika's budgetary plans and its own? Ministers will tell you that they protected headline rates of social welfare but this is just self-serving spin.

Children's allowance was cut, fuel allowance was decreased, rent allowance was slashed – contributing to the homeless crisis – and young people saw their dole payments decimated.

These may not seem like core welfare payments to politicians on ministerial salaries, but they're pretty important if you're living in poverty.

Once elected, it took Ruairi Quinn about 30 seconds to abandon his pledge to students not to increase student fees and he also slashed grants for good measure – and €35m that was supposed to be ring-fenced for mental health services every year was inexplicably reduced to €20m without a murmur of complaint.

Meanwhile, the JobBridge scheme was made compulsory in an effort to massage the numbers on the Live Register. Bizarrely, Labour prides itself on restoring the minimum wage, yet doesn't have a problem with people working in car washes or deli counters for €1.30 an hour.

The problem for Labour is that while it is hard to point to anything it has achieved in office, all one has to do is look at the infamous Every Little Hurts campaign poster to itemise the many ways it has failed.

Even when money was not an issue, and a principle was at stake, supine Labour ministers were loath to rock the boat.

When the garda whistleblowers' reputations were being dragged through the mud, Labour ministers refused to call on the then Garda Commissioner to withdraw his derogatory "disgusting" description of them.

Instead, it was again left to Leo Varadkar to break ranks and demand that the Commissioner do the honourable thing. Once again, the Labour watchdog was found to have no teeth.

Speaking after the weekend's bloodbath election, Pat Rabbitte claimed that the cumulative effect of years of austerity had resulted in the party's drubbing.

However, it was more likely the cumulative effect of all of the lies, broken promises and prevarication that prompted their defeat.

The Labour party has broken the trust of the Irish people and it will be very hard to get it back.

Certainly, appointing a new leader from the ranks of TDs who happily stood over all of Labour's many U-turns in office will have absolutely no effect unless the change is accompanied by a meaningful renegotiation of the programme for government.

However, the chances of success in this regard are slim when Fine Gael will likely call Labour's bluff, knowing that it won't collapse the Government and risk annihilation in a general election.

Irish Independent

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