'What is the point of the Irish Labour Party?'

Yesterday in the Dáil, Socialist Party and ULA TD for Dublin West Joe Higgins asked Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to "explain the point of the Irish Labour Party given that it brings to the debate on the current crisis absolutely nothing different in the slightest from Merkel, Sarkozy and all the high priests and hawks of right wing, neoliberal capitalism?" Read an edited transcript of the bad-tempered exchange which followed below. 

Joe Higgins: Will it ever dawn on the Tánaiste that the Government’s programme of savage austerity, far from creating jobs and recovery, will plunge our society into ever deeper economic crisis? Is this not clear to the Tánaiste given the shortfall of €383 million in VAT to date reflecting a stagnation in retail sales and services and as a result of the savage austerity that the Government continues to impose on ordinary people while, at the same time continuing to transfer billions of euro in resources to banks, bondholders and assorted speculators? Is it not clear to the Tánaiste that the baleful social effects of austerity, with almost half a million people on the live register, are evident?

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is expecting an unprecedented level of demand for its services from desperate individuals and families this Christmas. Should the disaster that is the Greek economy not make the Tánaiste re-think his blind adherence to this policy? Three years ago, the Greek people were promised that if they accepted the savage programme of cuts they would be on the way to recovery by now. Instead, they have been plunged into greater misery and more crises. Will the Tánaiste explain the point of the Irish Labour Party given that it brings to the debate on the current crisis absolutely nothing different in the slightest from Merkel, Sarkozy and all the high priests and hawks of right wing, neoliberal capitalism?

The Tánaiste slavishly submits to the diktats of the financial markets and those faceless institutions that hold the lives of tens and hundreds of millions of Europeans in their grip. The Tánaiste has no word of opposition to say or an alternative to put.

Will it ever dawn on the Tánaiste that capitalism is in a systemic crisis at this time and it will not find a way out? Major private conglomerates are on a strike of capital. Only by a complete change of policy and particularly by major public investment in infrastructure and services can we recreate and rebuild our economy, recreate the tens of thousands of jobs needed and put people back to work.

If the Labour Party does not bring such an alternative, should it not merge into the grey mass that surrounds it on the Government benches rather than pretend there is something distinct anymore called the Irish Labour Party?

The Tánaiste: The Deputy asked me when a number of things will dawn on me. It appears that one thing has dawned on the Deputy and, presumably, other Members opposite during the course of the past two weeks, that is, we should not go the way Greece has gone.

The last time I was here answering questions I was asked why we had not done what Greece has done. I notice no one is asking me that today.

As far as Deputy Higgins is concerned, when will it dawn on him that one cannot spend what one does not have?

This country is in a serious deficit. Let us suppose one wishes to borrow to bridge the gap between what one is spending and getting in. One cannot borrow from people if one tells them one will not pay their money back, which seems to be what Deputy Higgins is advancing. He asked me the purpose of the Labour Party so let me tell him the purpose. The purpose is to solve the economic mess we have inherited, to get the country out of the economic hole in which we found it last March, to get people back to work and to build a better and fairer society.

This will require difficult decisions and difficult times but we will do this in order to bring about the recovery that people in the country seek rather than have people continue in unemployment and continue in the difficult situation they are in. It would be welcome if, occasionally, Deputy Higgins and other Deputies who criticise so frequently would come in here with the odd constructive proposal about how we might do this.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Obviously since they are being denied any impact whatsoever on Government policy, the only way the Labour Party backbenchers can find their voice is by clamour in the Parliament.


In case the Tánaiste did not hear me, I stated precisely that the country should not take the road Greece has taken. That is the point I made.

This is because the road the Tánaiste’s colleague, Mr. Papandreou, has taken, and New Democracy before him, during the past two years has been a disaster. That is clear and the suffering of the Greek people is testament to it. The policy of austerity is ruining Greece and its people. The Tánaiste says one cannot spend what one does not have. But apparently the Labour Party and Fine Gael can give billions of euro that we do not have to bankers, bondholders and speculators.

Almost 100 years ago the great socialist James Connolly, who co-founded the Labour Party, and would reject with contempt its current role…

What did Connolly do, having found the European people confronted with the looming catastrophe of the First World War and abandoned by virtually all, even the social democratic parties which slavishly followed their imperialist masters supporting the war? He stood boldly out and called for mass resistance and an alternative. He said we should resist until the last capitalist bond and debenture will be shrivelled on the funeral pyre of the last warlord.

Today the Irish Labour Party believes that the last bond and debenture should be repaid to the European speculators and bondholders at enormous cost to the Irish people and to the further deterioration of our economy. Even if Deputies do not listen to the man who founded the party and would revile what it is doing today there are non-socialist economists who carry great authority in economic circles such as Nourieal Roubini, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and others. They all now say categorically that continuing the programme of austerity is a disaster.

Will the Government learn the lessons from Greece and fundamentally abandon the disastrous policy of salvaging the living standards of working class people, pensioners and the poor and embark on an alternative policy of public investment, massive job creation and the re-creation of our economy?

The Tánaiste: I share the interest of Deputy Higgins in the history of the early part of the 20th century, such as 1911 and 1912. Unfortunately, I do not get as much time these days to read about that as Deputy Higgins clearly does because my focus and that of my party is what happens in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and getting people back to work. We have to deal effectively with the economic crisis, reduce the budget deficit and deal effectively, as we are doing, with the banking situation.

Deputy Higgins will have noticed the approach the Government took earlier this year on the banking situation is working. Private investment is now going into Irish banks, including the recent private investment in Irish Life & Permanent. We are pursuing a strategy which is about investment and getting people back to work. That is the focus of the Government.

It would be helpful if, instead of using 100 year old rhetoric, Deputy Higgins would make some modern proposals for today’s world to deal with the problems of those experiencing unemployment, mortgage and other difficulties. We want to deal with those issues. That is what the Government is focused on and what we will deal with successfully. {jathumbnailoff}


Image top: The Labour Party.