Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Historic Day Out in Dublin - the Labour Special Delegate Conference

Labour Women - Ciara, me and Kirsi Hanafin
Kirsi, Jan and Ciara at the Conference
I felt very proud yesterday to share a part of the history of our beloved albeit beleaguered country when hubby Jan and me set off to Dublin (with me knitting all the way) for the Labour Party's Special Delegate Conference - the conference being special, not necessarily the delegates! Around a thousand delegates from all over the country gathered in the O'Reilly Hall in UCD in Belfield to listen to the proposal of the party leadership to go into government in partnership with Fine Gael, the largest party with 76 seats, with Labour being the second largest party with 37 seats. We were equally proud to see among the new TDs Waterford's own Ciara Conway, up there on the stage with the biggest parliamentary party Labour's ever had. We cheered as each new TD was introduced to the delegates, and especially loudly when Ciara's name was called.

Ciara Conway TD speaking to the motion

Fianna Fail have been reduced to a fraction of their former seats - losing 58 they are down to 20, which is a huge humiliation and a vindication of the anger of the people of Ireland at the mess they left us in after 14 years in government - a time marked by a Celtic Tiger boom and vulgar conspicuous consumption that was all built on the sand of a building and property development bubble, that when it burst two years ago left us high and dry.

I have already mentioned in previous posts about the ghost estates littering every county of Ireland, where apartment blocks and ticky-tacky housing estates sprung up overnight in remote villages where there was no sustainability in terms of schools, jobs or infrastructure. Even water and sewage supplies weren't able to cope with the size of some of the developments, which have left so many families living in negative equity in the middle of a building site morass of unfinished roads, footpaths and half-finished houses.

The developers have long since fled the scene while the banks who lent them money are now being bailed out by us, the taxpayers and citizens, and to enable that we have been bailed out by the IMF and the ECB. It's a tale of GUBU proportions (Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented - the acronym famously attributed to Charlie Haughey's reaction to the double murderer Malcolm McArthur hiding out in the apartment of the Attorney General while he was on holidays).
Programme for National Government 2011-16

Yesterday's conference was called for the party membership to debate and vote on the revised Programme for Government that was drafted after 5 days of tortuous negotiations between Fine Gael and Labour's negotiating teams. The Labour Team was headed by veteran TD and deputy Speaker/Ceann Comhairle Brendan Howlin, with Joan Burton TD, Finance spokesperson and Deputy Party Leader, and Pat Rabbitte TD and Justice spokesperson with the razor-sharp wit.

That same sardonic wit and rhetoric entertained us during dull days of the 30th Dáil, as when Pat famously excoriated the Greens for a full 10 minutes - without interruption, which was probably due to the timely presence of Brendan Howlin in the Chair that day. It became known as the day Rabbitte ate his Greens - and with good reason. You can have a look back at the YouTube clip here and it's also on my blog sidebar. The funniest part is seeing Conor "Kebabs" Lenihan (who just lost his seat as Fianna Fail TD) in stitches over beside the Taoiseach Brian "Biffo" Cowen (soon-to-be-ex as the 31st Dáil meets on Wednesday).

Rabbitte eats his Greens - Budget speech 2009

The buzz at the Conference was palpable, as there was a charge in the air that change was afoot; that we were about to vote for the motion that would give the green light to Labour's leadership to follow through on the mandate given them by the voters and the people the canvassers and candidates met on the campaign trail. There was an overwhelming sense that Labour had to take the reins and go into government if invited to join a coalition with Fine Gael as to not do so would be letting down the people who voted for the most Labour TDs ever seen in Ireland's history.

Eamon Gilmore, Ciara, Brian O'Shea, Ita McAuliffe
 Many speakers against the motion had strong arguments for staying out of coalition, but the sense I got was they were arguing for the possibility of providing a robust opposition (true, they would and could) and be returned as a party with a popular majority to lead government in 2016. But Joan Burton summed up the feeling of the majority of delegates and TDs by saying that "Power postponed is not an option". That is very true, as most of us canvassers found that people were wary of Fine Gael going into single party government, that untrammeled they could wreak havoc on the public sector, being a party of the right with vested interests in the private sector, and they would need to be marked and kept in check by Labour.

The document "Towards Recovery: Programme for a National Government 2011-2016" contains a lot of the Labour Party's Election Manifesto, and while there are compromises, there is a lot to be positive about, as this provides a framework for working out the finer detail of the various plans. Labour are in a much stronger position than that of the Greens at the start of the last government when they went into coalition with Fianna Fail with six seats, and they were totally out of their depth with the cunning ploys of the party that wrote the handbook for cute hoorism and cunning plans Irish-style. Not for nothing did Charlie Haughey call Bertie Ahern "the most cunning, the most devious and the most ruthless of them all".

After three hours of pro-con debaters on the podium, we were all ready for the vote, which was overwhelmingly carried by a show of cards. It was a powerful moment and a proud one, to see the reality of a change of regime in Leinster House so imminent, and the hope that will shadow this government will give them the momentum to carry through their programme committments, and deliver a new and improved economy over the course of the 31st Dáil.

The best chipper in Dublin - Perki Chick on Dorset Street.
We went home following the conference after visiting son Martin over in Drumcondra where we had a delicious fast-food supper from the best Chipper in Dublin - in my humble opinion - from the Perki Chick on Dorset Street, beloved of punters to Croke Park at many an All-Ireland Sunday Game. I enjoyed a large curry chips and fresh battered cod from that august establishment that's been around since my student days in the 1970s  - and probably long beforehand.


laurie said...

i've been following what's going on in your country through the irish times online and podcasts from RTE. here's hoping the new government and the new coalition can bring some stability to your wonderful country.

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, I hope the new government can get us out of this mire without taking any more from the social welfare recipients to pay our way.
No government will be trusted or succed unless the bankers & their allies, whether in government or out are seen to be called to justice and pay for their crimes of greed.
Loved the video clip, had seen it when it first came out but as they say revenge is a dish best served cold!The Greens are gone AND forgotten!

Rita said...

What great and interesting post Catherine. Love the name of that restaurant!