Labour’s role in Government

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 01:12

Sir, – Brendan Howlin writes that Labour in Government has acted as a brake on Fine Gael’s desire for more cuts to health spending and social welfare (“Labour role in restoring State worthy of respect”, Opinion & Analysis, July 4th). This is a rather strange statement from Mr Howlin, given his own recent role in the medical cards fiasco, where it was widely reported that he demanded huge additional cuts from the Department of Health from the medical card budget. Fine Gael, and Dr James Reilly in particular, seemed to get all the blame for that controversy.

How convenient for Mr Howlin that he has a bogeyman in Fine Gael to blame for the cuts which he himself has overseen. – Yours, etc,


Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harolds Cross, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Brendan Howlin is correct to say that if the Labour Party is to recover it must defend, and not apologise for, its role in Government. However, it seems strange for him to kick off this strategy with a series of broadsides against his Coalition partners. He deliberately mentions that budget cuts have been “far less than Fine Gael advocated”, that Fine Gael “came looking for cuts in core social welfare rates”, and that one of the reasons Labour entered Government was to temper Fine Gael’s “conservative instincts”.

Defending your role in Government by attacking your colleagues in Government is certainly a curious political strategy. However his article is certainly a fitting prelude to the ascent of Joan Burton to the leadership of his party, since this each-way bet of supporting the Government programme in private and implicitly attacking it in public has been a hallmark of Ms Burton’s time in office.

A chorus of Labour TDs have danced to this tune in recent months by calling for the cuts in the budget to be reduced from the target, with Ms Burton’s erstwhile rival for the leadership, Alex White, even escalating this to the point where he suggested the Government should consider missing the deficit target which has been at the bedrock of the Government’s fiscal plan since it came to office.

How do any of them think that Labour can recover support among the electorate by continuing to imply that the difficult decisions which they have made over the last three years were somehow wrong?

The Labour narrative in recent months, of which Mr Howlin’s article is the latest evidence, has been to portray themselves as the caring, social democratic face of the Coalition, with Fine Gael painted as uncaring quasi-Thatcherites who are hostile to the unemployed and to ordinary workers. There has been virtually no attempt by Fine Gael Ministers to counter these falsehoods.

The current Government can only hope to serve a second term if the new Cabinet to be appointed this week stands unapologetically behind the programme that it has adopted, and relentlessly communicates the achievements of both parties in Government (not just one wing of it) to the electorate. Mr Howlin has given precious little indication that he grasps the scale of this challenge. – Yours, etc,



Clontarf, Dublin 3.