Opposition to Enda Kenny’s visit to Trump chimes with Labour values
Both Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore did not attend St Patrick’s day events in US because of LGBT and women’s rights issues
Does anyone truly believe that Enda Kenny will travel to the White House, and openly make comments which make clear Ireland’s horror at the policies being implemented by President Trump?
Five years ago, Fianna Fáil was struggling. They were attracting less support than they had received even in the 2011 election, and they were riven with internal divisions that resulted in Eamon Ó Cuív being sacked from the Fianna Fáil frontbench.
That a party which so spectacularly mismanaged our economy and oversaw the arrival of the troika has once more gain significant public support is encouraging for those of us in the Labour Party who worked to undo that damage, and who believe the the values of social democracy endure.
Those values - equality, community, democracy and solidarity - are immutable. For 105 years, they have been the bedrock on which Labour policies and campaigns have been built. And they will be our foundations as we once more rebuild our party.
We are a party of doers. We don’t believe in hurling from the ditch. We get stuck in and we try to implement policies that represent our values. We often get things right. We often get things wrong along the way too. The purity of permanent opposition is not something we seek, but neither do we believe in governing just for the sake of it.
We are a party of idealists too. When we said that we could legislate for collective bargaining, or legislate for the X case, or hold a referendum on marriage equality, these were viewed as marginal proposals with little chance of being realised. But they were. We must and we will once more out-line an idealistic programme that can drive Ireland’s continuing progress.
It is the combination of these things - our core values, allied to a pragmatic idealism, that gives us a perspective on Irish politics which I believe can resonate once more.
Last week, I came under fire more than once for suggesting that Enda Kenny should not visit the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.
Those who suggest that Labour would not take such a stance in Government seem to have forgotten Joan Burton’s refusal to attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York while LGBT organisations were banned from that parade, or Eamon Gilmore’s refusal to attend the St. Patrick’s Day dinner in Savannah, Georgia because women were banned from that event.
These events may not be of the same standing as the bowl of shamrock being handed over in the White House, but the values that informed those decisions inform our analysis of this situation too. It is worth recalling that Fianna Fáil objected to both of these decisions.
Sometimes, the right choice is to travel to a country, and to openly criticise the actions being taken by a Government which fly in the face of Irish values. When Jan O’Sullivan travelled to Malawi for St. Patrick’s Day, she was outspoken in her criticism of the homophobic policies being pursued in that country - some change followed in 2012.
I have some sympathy for Enda Kenny in grappling with this question. These are tough calls, but ultimately the decision must be based on which action you think will best represent the values of the Irish people, whom you are supposed to represent on such trips.
While I have some sympathy for his situation, I don’t believe he is making the right choice. Does anyone truly believe that Enda Kenny will travel to the White House, and openly make comments which make clear Ireland’s horror at the policies being implemented by President Trump? Even if he did, it seems clear from the events of the last two weeks that Trump wouldn’t listen. What makes him imagine that he will fare any better than the treatment doled out to the Australian Prime Minister or the Mexican President over the last week?
These are not normal times. As well as his effortrs to effectively ban muslims from seven states, and his cold-hearted closing of the door on refugees from Syria, President Trump is endorsing the use of torture, implementing climate change denying policies, assaulting the traditional separation of powers in American society, cheerleading Brexit and the dismantling of the European Union, and standing opposed in almost every way to the values of the Irish people. A normal diplomatic re-sponse in these circumstances is nowhere near good enough.
As we rebuild the Labour Party, we know that we have a tough journey ahead. A slogan or soundbite won’t do the job. A genuine commitment to giving new voice to our values, no matter how unpopular or how much we invoke the ire of official Ireland, is how we will do it.
In an insightful piece by Lara Marlowe in this newspaper last Saturday, she set out the challenges facing social democratic parties across Europe. These parties, who between them created the modern welfare state, are uniformly seeking to redefine a vision of the future that remains rooted in our historic values. The challenge for Labour Party in Ireland is no different.
Brendan Howlin, T.D. is the leader of the Labour Party