Labour conference voices: ‘We could be doing much better, to be honest’

Delegates at the Wexford gathering are opinionated on how the party should proceed

The Labour Party, which held its annual conference in Wexford town at the weekend, is in the process of rebuilding after last year returning 30 fewer TDs than it did in the previous general election following a term in coalition government with Fine Gael.

Irish Times political correspondent Fiach Kelly spoke to some of the delegates who attended the conference to test the mood among the party membership.

Evin Ryan from Wexford

“We could be doing much better, to be honest. We were on 6 per cent in the last poll and that is, I suppose, below what we even got in the general election.


"It is worrying. My personal belief in improving poll numbers is that we need to get out and shout what we stand for from the rooftops and dispel any notions that we are all for bandwagoning with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil or whatever comes up.

“We need to promote a strong brand that says ‘Yes, we are Labour; Yes, we stand for these policies’. We are for repealing the Eighth. We are for introducing a living wage and we are for putting proper investment into social services, infrastructure and things which have been failed in recent governance.

“The new policies and the new things we are looking at, such as the universal basic income, is a positive step, I suppose. I would like to see Labour take a more radical stance.”

Bernice Barrington from Dalkey

"I've always supported their principles and what they stand for. They did do good work in government and unfortunately they weren't rewarded for it. The middle-ground parties which aren't either side of the extremes are taking a drubbing all over Europe so I suppose Labour has to regroup.

“I have confidence. They seem very, very focused on getting things back on track. I think they need to focus on the people who aren’t benefitting from the country going back into non-recessionary times. They need to go back to the people who Labour have always appealed to, which is working people – supporting worker’s rights, preventing the erosion of worker’s rights by large corporations or anybody really.

“[Brendan Howlin] is a very smart man, he is a very impressive man and I think they are trying to encourage new blood and encourage younger people to get involved. That’s the way they should be going.”

Marie O’Rourke from Bray

“I’m encouraged by the fact that they are producing papers on really important things like the gig economy and the environment, especially the work-related one, the future of work. People are in precarious positions and they are on zero hours or fixed hour contracts.

“We’re the Labour Party. We have been around since 1912. It is unfortunate we are in the position we are, but I think the roots go deep and we can recover.

“This is a time for rebuilding. My focus would be that we are rebuilding the party and that is really the main focus. There is no point in talking about government if you are not involved in rebuilding the party.”

Finbar Geaney from Dublin Bay North

“There is the very beginning of a new thinking, the very first steps of a recognition that the party did abandon its working class roots, its trade union roots and it was drawn more towards a different class in society.

“They did abandon the working-class vote – they gave it up. It’s a socialist party. And using words like ‘progressive’ and ‘environmentalist’, dropping the word ‘socialist’.

“You never get any of them saying they made mistakes. They are all still in the mindset that the people were wrong. The TDs think that everything they did was perfect and the people didn’t appreciate it. They are the ones who brought us from 37 seats to seven seats. It didn’t happen on the ground – that was based on decisions taken at a Dáil level.

"And there still has been no TD who has said in public 'We were wrong'. They went into the last election campaigning for Enda Kenny to be kept as Taoiseach. For a socialist party to be campaigning for the return of an unpopular, capitalist right-wing Taoiseach is a disaster."