Sunday, March 29, 2009

Labour Party Conference - a weekend in Mullingar

We have been in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in the Irish Midlands, this weekend for the Irish Labour Party Conference, which was attended by around a thousand delegates from all over the country. It was a lively event, as these occasions generally are, with plenty of debate on the hot topics of the day and an excellent speech from Eamon Gilmore, the Party leader, last night, which gave a realistic message to the country in these straitened economic times. There was a great positive buzz at the conference, and while there is recognition that it might be a thankless job to be in government at this time, with the economy in shreds, house prices crashing thanks to the over-inflated property bubble, and jobs crises, the present government have to do a whole lot better at rebuilding confidence or they might be looking down the barrel of a ballot box in the near future.

This June we will have local and European elections in Ireland, so there was a lot of interest in the various candidates, who have already been selected. As hubby is running for the Lismore Town Council, he had a special interest in that whole area, and he is in campaigning mode with canvassing starting in the coming month or so. He is currently the Mayor of Lismore, and he had to wear the chain at the Leader's address as did all the Councillors who hold such office, either at town or county level, so there was a lot of bling on display among the chain gang! I won't go into the complexities of local government where the various Parties rotate the position of Mayor on an annual basis, but if you are driven by curiosity you could check out the Town Council.

There will be a mini-budget in two weeks which promises to be tough; we have no idea yet what form of cuts or increases it will bring but it will be a hairshirt one. The trade unions called off a national day of strike/protest tomorrow when they agreed to accept a government invitation to recommence talks on a national recovery plan. The current Social Partnership agreement took a hit back in February when pension levies on the public sector workers was unilaterally announced, leading to the massive protest march which I wrote about, and threatening industrial unrest unlike any seen since the 70s. I wasn't looking forward to the day of action which would have been a work-to-rule rather than a work stoppage in the nurses' case, but it would have been inevitable if talks were not resumed.

So this weekend was a chance for the Labour Party who have not been in government in over a decade to lay out their stall for economic recovery and I am not going to go into the detail, as it is all on Eamon Gilmore's Leader's Address here. Suffice to say it was a blend of pragmatism and realistic and workable solutions for the recovery, which would raised taxes for the high earners, without penalising those on lower incomes. It would also see an end to the conflict of interest links between banks and developers and the cronyism that has been exposed in various Tribunals of Enquiry in recent years and particulary the massively inflated salaries and bonuses of the bank chiefs. The capping of salaries of bank CEOs in the wake of various revelations of vulgar excess has led to some candidates rejecting job offers, as they seem to see it as an affront to their dignity and a compromise on the lifestyle to which they became accustomed to have to live on up to €500,000 a year. (Yes, that's half a million Euro, about $665,000 or £465,000 - you try getting by on a pittance like that!)

The diversity of Labour members breaks the stereotypical mould, as they represent every sector and walk of life. Yes, there are a lot of trade unionists and student activists, and public sector workers, and academics, but what strikes me is their integrity and passion, and genuine indignation at the state of the country now, how the boom was wasted by not investing for the rainy day that is now well and truly here! Just so you know it's a party true to its Labour roots, they rounded off the Conference, as usual, with a rousing rendition of The Red Flag - the anthem of the International Labour Movement, which was written in 1889 by an Irish man, Jim Connell, and was the British Labour Party's anthem for years.

I don't want to give the impression that the conference was merely a collective of worthy sandal-wearing, bearded sackcloth-and-ashes types, as there was a lot of enjoyment and socialising (as befits Socialists!). It was unfortunate that the clocks went forward last night, as we were deprived of a much-needed extra hour to either party or sleep. It meant that the dancing to a local band (The Tennessee Breakdown Country Band, in case you're wondering!), which kept us all on our toes with their jiving country sounds, ended at 3a.m. instead of 2a.m. There were a lot of bleary-eyed delegates around at this morning's session! The Leader's Address, broadcast live on national TV and via the web, coincided with Earth Hour, which was just grist for the mill of the anti-Labour media. They were gleeful about the fact that people would miss the speech if they actually did what Labour endorse as ardent supporters of Earth Hour, which would be to turn off the telly and uneccessary lights!

In case you think I spent every waking minute in the conference hall listening to speeches and motions - I didn't! I took time out on Saturday afternoon to visit Belvedere House outside Mullingar, a lovely 18th Century house and gardens, which was given to Westmeath County Council by the last owner in recent years. It is now a major tourist attraction and I took a lot of photos of the house and grounds. It is beautifully situated on the shores of Lough Ennell, and the park has been themed as Narnia, with the follies given a new identity as various Narnia locations and settings. I will either post them separately or return to edit this post tomorrow!


Jeannette StG said...

I cannot believe to discover that the greed of bank CEO's across the globe seems to be the same! For sure, I thought at first that it was only true for the US - Ugh- the upside of the ecnonomic downturn is though the exposure of who is movitated by greed!
So what are your predictions for the upcoming elections in June? (I have learned that people mostly have a pretty good idea what is going to happen in their own country).

Catherine said...

Jeanette thanks for commenting on this and my other recent posts! I have been very busy lately as you see and I haven't really had time to read other blogs and updated this one last night, while the mood of the weekend was still fresh.
Yes the greed is good mantra wasn't left behind in the 80s with Gordon Gekko, it seems to have found a retirement home with Irish CEOs as well as those in the USA and elsewhere, only our govt. has been slow to rein them in and has been way too deferential. understandable when they have been cosy bedfellows for so long - as Gilmore the Labour leader said in his speech about "crony capitalism" - that has been the byword for the way developers, bankers and politicians worked hand in glove over recent decades. Lots of vested interests and cosy cartels. I laugh when I see that in the USA many of these perps do the walk of shame in handcuffs when they are brought to book. very few get jailtime here as our legislation is so lax and loopholed like swiss cheese. We have this crazy tax law whereby you can be classed as non-resident for tax purposes if you spend 6 months outside the state. hence the number of multi-millionaires who flit in and out on their private jets to and from their tax havens - there was even a Cinderella rule where they didn't have to include any day they spent here as long as they left the country by midnight so they had their jets and choppers on standby to get them out of the country by the witching hour! That loophole has only just been closed. I noticed that any American has to pay tax on earnings in America regardless of where they are domiciled, which is pretty fair, unlike here.
My predictions for the June elections??? I hope that there will be a general election as well as a local and European one, as the present govt. party are messing up bigtime. A strong coalition of the opposition would be worth having, a new broom approach without the corruption that the incumbents have been embroiled in over the past decade. (Planning corruption, jobs for the boys etc.) The govt. candidates running are getting mauled on the doorsteps and find it hard to defend the indefensible, so there are a lot of them defecting to become Independents. There is a lot of local disarray as morale is so low, and Gilmore is the most popular party leader by a long shot. His personality helps, as the Taoiseach (prime minister) comes across dour and sullen and aggressive in the chamber and doesn't handle the media well. I know there has to be more substance than just spin and style, but perception is often what leads swing voters.
SO I hope that Labour do well, they are getting good reception on the stump, and they are running good European candidates also. They stand a good chance of doing very well. Fianna Fáil the present govt. party have been over a decade in power and have become complacent and comfortable with it. Time for a change! Local govt. is a good place to begin.
Sorry for the soapbox rant! Hope you are well, and I will comment on your other posts eventually, not tonight as it's late!

Reader Wil said...

I am afraid that my comment is very "meagre", for I haven't got the time to read your post properly, and listen at the same time to the radio about the economical crisis. We heard about the new computer virus this morning.. Well we'll see!. Anyway today I am having my new solarpanels.
Thanks for your visit and comment. Difficult to have a child abroad, isn't it?!

Elizabeth said...

Came to you via lovely Reader Wil.
The sign below was wonderful.
Just watching TV and seeing the protests at the economic summit in London.
We have just got back from Rajasthan.....which was amazing.
Such contrasts in this world and such difficulty and corruption.
We must all just do our best.
Greetings from New York

Catherine said...

Thanks for the comments, it is nice to get feedback!
WIL - don't apologise for not reading it properly, it's a bit of a polemic on Labour though I don't really do very political posts. I don't think this virus will get past our security protection, so touch wood!

I had fun today identifying the April Fool headlines on the broadsheet media - the Irish Times had a good one on tagging tax fugitives - the ones I referred to in the reply to Kristin above who used the Cinderella ruling to avoid tax legally! That prank idea would actually be jolly good in reality! Another one was about the sinking of Achill Island from the weight of the new bridge linking to the mainland of Co. Mayou in the west of Ireland!

Good to hear of your solarpanels, where are they? In Holland? I hope they are good for your environment!

ELIZABETH - welcome to my blog and feel free to follow if you wish - I will see yours, just glanced at the Morocco one and it looks gorgeous, I will look at the NY one soon and post a comment so you know I am here if you aren't notified.

And lucky you just back from Rajasthan, I was there in a previous life in 1980 on a great railway journey around India with a girlfriend,at the end of a 2 yr soujourn as an aid worker in Bangladesh - we visited Fatehpur Sikri the abandoned city near Agra, they the Pink City - Jaipur. That left some memories, the Hawa Mahal (wind palace) Amber Palace, some maharajah's observatory - as surreal as Dali!
Hope you have photos posted somewhere! Drop by again!

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, I am not normally political but the present economic climate makes us all sit up and take notice of the politicians we allowed to run this country into the dirt.We get the politicians we deserve and voted them back time and time again even after they were proven to be feathering their own nests at the expense of the country.
The Bev Flynn affair sticks in my throat each time I see her smug face on TV, she orchestrated some of the tax havens for well heeled clients and even though she was put out of the party the last cynical act of Bertie was to bring her back into the fold obviously for favours ( monetary) received! Sorry for ranting you can delete this comment if you like! Your husband is taking on a huge commitment to go into politics at the moment but best of luck to him.

Catherine said...

Hi PEGGY, why wouldn't I post your comment! We still have a modicum of free speech in this country, though after the ham-fisted attempts to censor the arts in recent days I doubt if Conor Casby would think so, it smacked of Killinaskully how quickly the pols got the gardai in to harass Today FM and take action while the criminals roam free!!
I agree it sticks in my craw too about Bev, she is some class act. In fact someone on Facebook posted the YouTube clip of Pee Flynn doing his thing on that infamous Late Late Show which undid him, the bragging of the three houses - he is still as arrogant as ever, as is she, brass necks were invented by them.
And yes there was a letter to the Irish Times today saying the FF voters should be held responsible for the state of the economy as by voting the same shower in they contributed to the economic ruin of the country! It was irony but true!
Jan started leafletting today and got a very positive feedback, I think it's probably ABFF (anyone but FF) at this stage, Labour are getting good response, partly Gilmore's strength as leader and also they are seen to have some ethics.
There are horrendous cuts at work and the public sector morale is very low, we are taking a hammering from the public perception of us as a bunch of freeloading gravy train spongers. I am fielding a lot of flak over the health cuts from the frontline. Not an easy task as it is pretty indefensible. Thank god for the union, it keeps us a bit grounded. Talk again, busy this week and little time to visit other blogs. Just answering my own.