Irish Republican News · December 14, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Labour party in crisis
Labour party in crisis

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The chairman of the 26-County Labour Party Colm Keaveney has called for a special party conference amid upheaval within the organisation, founded by Irish socialist heroes James Connolly and Jim Larkin, over its support for a swingeing right-wing Fine Gael budget.

Mr Keaveney voted against the coalition government on the Social Welfare Bill last night, including a range of cuts to child benefit and respite care, and was immediately expelled from the Labour Parliamentary Party.

Despite intense public anger at austerity measures directed against the poorest and weakest members of society, Keaveney was the only government TD to vote against the Budget. But there have been reports of secret disquiet among government back benche.

Meanwhile, there has been a furious response by the left-wing opposition parties Sinn Fein and the United Left Alliance, and the independents.

The Dublin parliament has been suspended twice amid rancourous exchanges between Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. In one extraordinary scene on Thursday, the Sinn Fein TD Padraic Mac Lochlainn was refused entry to the Dail to cast his vote on the Budget, his path blocked by Leinster House staff. On Wednesday, the Dail was suspended for 45 minutes because the Donegal Deputy refused to obey an order to leave the chamber by the Dail speaker, the Ceann Comhairle.

Keaveney’s decision to oppose his party in Thursday night’s Budget vote took many pundits by surprise. Others said he had little choice but to jump ship after coming under intense pressure from supporters in his rural constituency of Galway East TD, where he has campaigned on social justice issues.

Joining a sizable group of former members of Labour parliamentary party now on opposition benches, he defended his desire to stay on as Labour chairperson.

“The graceful thing to do is to honour the mandate I was given by the grassroots of the Labour Party and I said I would honour Labour values. It is a gift of the members of the Labour Party and not of the leader,” he said.

“I will put myself in front of a conference if Eamon Gilmore believes that we need an early conference to talk about the chair. I think we need an early conference on the direction of the Labour Party.”

As he ordered references to Mr Keaveney to be removed from the party’s website, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore declared his position as party chair was “untenable”.

Labour’s Minister for Communication Pat Rabbitte accused Mr Keaveney of “political narcissism” and “selfish acts of departure when the going gets tough”. And he insisted Labour TDs who voted for the budget had been “courageous”.

But Mr Keaveney said he had “deep misgivings” about the social aspects of the budget. Labour’s Fine Gael Coalition partner was seeking “to become an Irish Tory party”, he said. He was strongly critical of the cabinet ‘gang of four’ -- Kenny, Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin -- who together control economic policy under the so-called ‘Economic Management Council’.

“They sprung an odious budget on people like me who are new to the Dail, new to budgets,” he said. “I wasn’t elected for this and it isn’t what I promised.”

Mr Keaveney becomes the fifth of the 37 TDs returned for Labour in the general election to lose the party whip since the government was formed just 21 months ago, joining Roisin Shortall, Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty, all of whom have been similarly expelled.

‘ECONOMIC SELL-OUTS’

Republican Sinn Fein’s Des Dalton this week described the Labour Party as “willing collaborators in the political and economic sell-out of the Irish people”. He called on the trade union movement to drop its traditional strong links with the party to salvage its own credibility.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said the only surprise in Keaveney’s move was the fact that “bar one” the Labour and Fine Gael deputies were “prepared stand over this budget”.

She accused Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore of making liars of his TDs because of the budget measures.

She said the government intended rushing through cuts which, in real terms and real time, would cause real hardship to families, children and women.

“They are the very sections of society that you solemnly promised protection to,” she told him in Dail exchanges.

Mr Gilmore, she said, had comprehensively made liars of his TDs, Ministers, senators and himself.

When Leas [Deputy] Cheann Comhairle Michael Kitt said the word “lie” would have to be withdrawn, Ms McDonald said she would substitute “untruth” and “porky pie”.

PROPERTY TAX

During a debate on the new property tax later, she warned the coalition government “intends to tax people from the womb to the tomb”.

She pointed to new figures which show that one in four residential homeowners in the 26 Counties are unable to make their monthly mortgage repayments, and said there were tens of thousands of additional homeowners who are making the monthly payments but were doing so “at huge personal cost”.

“We cannot even begin to imagine their stress at this time of the year as they try to make sure their kids have a half way decent Christmas,” she said.

“So what’s Fine Gael and Labour’s response to this crisis? The introduction of a property tax! You actually couldn’t make this stuff up.

“Of course it’s no skin off any Minister’s nose - on a salary of 169 grand a year they are well able to pay up.

“But for the average family trying to keep their head above water this is an absolutely devastating blow.”

© 2012 Irish Republican News