Labour chairman Keaveney resigns from party

Galway East TD has been in conflict with leadership since he voted against Government on budget


Labour rebel Colm Keaveney resigned from the party this afternoon.

He said “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was his inability to communicate with Labour Cabinet Ministers during the controversy surrounding the provision of resource teachers for children with special needs.

He said he could see no point in continuing as Labour chairman.

He added he was sure “champagne corks were being popped in Iveagh House”, in reference to his strained relationship with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore.

The Galway East TD had previously defied calls from the party leadership to relinquish his position as Labour chairman since he voted against the Government over contentious budget measures and lost the party whip in December.

His move follows Patrick Nulty’s resignation from the party last week.

He said he was opposed to some of the reforms in the new abortion legislation.

“I have found that the more I articulate the views of members, or try to facilitate a discussion of real Labour policy, I am seen as a problem, a difficulty, an inconvenience to those who believe they know more and understand more than the people they represent,” he said in a statement today.

“Unfortunately I can no longer go along with what is increasingly like a political charade. We promise one thing, then do another, and blame it on someone else. The members must accept what they are given and the leadership will tolerate no dissent,” he said.

“Too many at the Cabinet table are willing to trade what they held dear for one more hour in the sun,” Mr Keaveney said. “Politics can change but only if we have the desire to make it happen. Politicians must be brave and must genuinely believe in something more than their own career.”

Labour returned a record 37 TDs in the February 2011 general election, but those who subsequently lost the whip are Mr Keaveney, Mr Nulty, Róisín Shortall, Tommy Broughan and Willie Penrose, who is expected to return to the fold in the autumn. Senator James Heffernan and MEP Nessa Childers have also defected.

Mr Keaveney has been at odds with his party on the issue of abortion. At the weekend he suggested attempting to force a referendum on the planned legislation under Article 27 of the Constitution, a move which was strongly criticised by party Senator Ivana Bacik.

Last December, Mr Keaveney voted against the Social Welfare Bill that cut child benefit, reduced the respite care grant and abolished the PRSI exemption. He said he had “deep misgivings” about these aspects of the budget.

He also said he was “appalled” that Labour’s budgetary proposal for a 3 per cent increase in the universal social charge for those earning €100,000 was rejected by Fine Gael.

Labour’s Coalition partner was seeking “to become an Irish Tory party”, he claimed.

After Mr Keaveney voted against the Government, Mr Gilmore released a statement sending out a strong signal that there would be no easy way back into the parliamentary party.

Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg said since resigning the whip Mr Keaveney has consistently attacked the party “ thereby betraying the Party members who elected him as chair”.

“Labour Party public representatives around the country with the support of loyal party members will continue with the job that we were elected to do to fix our broken economy, create employment, and improve the livelihoods of those we represent.”

Vice chairman Lorraine Mulligan has been appointed chairman.

Full text of Colm Keaveney’s resignation statement:

It has become popular in recent times to talk of ‘hard decisions’. In my experience there are few decisions worth taking that are not reached without considerable difficulty. Politics is about decisions and taking them is just doing our job. Politics is equally about trust and convictions. It is the trust people place in us, and the courage of our convictions, that should enable us to make decisions.

I have been honoured to serve as Chair of the Labour Party. It is a role that was entrusted to me by the members who make up the organisation. I have always promised to question and debate decisions and to avoid the groupthink that destroyed our country.

I know in recent weeks many members may have been disappointed with my objections to certain provisions in the Protection of Life during Pregnancy bill. I apologise to anyone that feels that way but I hope that all can understand that my concerns are genuine. Labour is a pro-choice party and I never had a difficulty with that until it came to considering the recent legislation. However, I believe it is right to question all legislation in order to ensure that what we deliver is just and workable. I hope that all can appreciate that my approach is honest and made with the best of intentions even if they disagree.

Economic issues and the creation of a just society were the reasons I joined the Labour Party and entered politics. These go to the core of my beliefs. While we can all agree and disagree on approaches or particular policies this should remain the central theme and aim of any Labour movement worthy of that name.

I have endeavoured at all times to listen to members views and to articulate their beliefs on such issues, sadly this has often meant that I must come into conflict with those who currently lead the party. I have found that the more I articulate the views of members, or try to facilitate a discussion of real Labour policy, I am seen as a problem, a difficulty, an inconvenience to those who believe they know more and understand more than the people they represent.

Unfortunately I can no longer go along with what is increasingly like a political charade. We promise one thing then do another and blame it on someone else. The members must accept what they are given and the leadership will tolerate no dissent.

It is now apparent that cuts to SNAs, resource hours and to the mobility allowance are not decisions taken in isolation to one another. They are a part of a consistent approach that this Government has taken, whereby those groups least able to defend themselves are targeted for decisive action, while powerful vested interests are left untouched.

The partial reverse of some of those cuts is welcome. However, this is no way to run a country - proposing cuts, distressing people and forcing them to engage in protest to secure the reversal of measures that should never have been decided on in the first place. Why not simply engage in consultation first and try to understand the issue rather than acting arrogantly in believing that you know best?

I have tried to seek change. My aim has always been to see the Labour Party hold true to the proud values on which it was established. I find, however, that I can no longer perform this task. The more I wish to represent even the most basic of Labour values the more alienated I become from those at the top. I am in no doubt that my presence is no longer welcome by them. A party cannot function on that basis. It is with a heavy heart that I am forced to reach the only decision I believe is honourable and resign as Chair of the Labour party and from the Labour party itself.

I entered politics to try and make a genuine difference. None of us expects to change the world but we do hope to have a positive impact. The only barometer we can have is if we retain the trust of those who elect us. Honesty is not a cheap commodity to be traded at the steps of government; it is something we should value. If anyone is to have self-respect and dignity then surely it is in being able to say that they stood by their beliefs and did what they thought was right.

I will continue to represent the people of my constituency and people from anywhere in this country on the same basis that they elected me. I will not breach the contract that they made with me just for the sake of staying in a position. Too many at the cabinet table are willing to trade what they held dear for one more hour in the sun.

Politics can change but only if we have the desire to make it happen. Politicians must be brave and must genuinely believe in something more than their own career. The people decide our fate and all we can do is be happy with our actions and be true to our beliefs. I will stand by the people and I will continue to question and lead when necessary until they decide otherwise.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Deirdre, my parents, family and friends for all their support throughout the years. No one can sustain themselves in a political career without the support and advice of those closest to them.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank all of those in Labour that I have worked and debated with during my time in the party. It has been rewarding and I have always been touched by the basic decency of the party’s grassroots membership and their commitment to improving our country and society. I wish them ever success and good fortune in their endeavours.

Full text of Colm Keaveney’s letter to Labour Party members:

Dear Colleague,

It is with deep regret that I write to you to inform you of my decision to resign my membership of the Labour Party. Please find below the statement that I have just delivered in Leinster House laying out the reasons for my decision.

It was with a heavy heart that delivered that statement and have thought long and hard about it. I can no longer reconcile my political beliefs with the current economic policies being implemented by the Government and in many cases by Labour Party ministers. I believe that Labour is now heading towards disaster. I am not referring to electoral disaster here but rather to one whereby the party’s elected representatives effectively abandon the policies of economic justice that have been at the heart of the party since 1912 and do immense damage to the social infrastructure of the country. The evidence for this lies all around us.

Many senior members of the party seem to believe that inequality is something that must wait to be addressed until after the current crisis has passed rather than seeing that addressing such is an absolute necessity in repairing the damage inflicted during the so-called ‘Tiger’ years. This current crisis is not simply economic but social and political too and all three need to be addressed. Failure in this regard is a failure of vision. I can no longer partake in any way in what has become a political charade.

It may be claimed that I am doing this in response to the interference in my constituency by certain elements within the party or in efforts to undermine me on a national basis, including having two staff members of the party threatening to sue me; I am not. I view these things as the normal rough and tumble of politics, albeit with a hint of old fashioned democratic centralism. The public have little patience for the internal wrangling of political parties, seeing them rightly as a distraction from what we ought to be engaged in.

Labour was elected, as was Fine Gael, on a promise of political reform. This included not just reform to political systems but also to the practice of politics. The Programme for Government promised a democratic revolution. The changes in political systems that have been offered are of little substance and little challenge neither the highly centralised nature of the Irish state nor the dominance of the Executive over the legislature. Changes in the practice of politics are non-existent and Labour has singularly failed to lead the way in this area, preferring to sacrifice principled members of the PLP such as Roisín Shortall, to the political expediency of not challenging the political practices of their Government partners.

The current scandal of the Anglo tapes, which is truly outrageous, has also been misjudged by both Government parties. The public do not want ad hominem attacks in the Dáil in response to reasoned contributions by the opposition. They do want the Government seeking to turn this issue into a political football. They want justice, court cases and convictions. Instead there has been a fall in convictions for white collar crime and in the funding of the different bodies charged with investigating such crimes.

It could all have been so different if only for a little political courage and conviction.

I wish you all the very best in the future and thank you for the privilege and honour of having served as Party Chair.

Yours Sincerely,

Colm Keaveney

PS Apologies for not getting back to you sooner.

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