Up to 95% of Labour delegates vote to enter into coalition with Fine Gael


LABOUR PARTY SPECIAL CONFERENCE:LABOUR PARTY members have voted overwhelmingly to enter into a coalition government with Fine Gael. Up to 95 per cent of 1,000 delegates who attended a special conference in UCD yesterday voted in favour of the draft programme for government agreed between the two parties.

The decision was taken by a card vote after a 3½-hour meeting which was addressed by more than 35 speakers for and against coalition in equal numbers.

The motion calling for Labour to enter into government with Fine Gael was proposed by party leader Eamon Gilmore, who told the meeting that “much” of Labour’s manifesto was in the draft programme for government and that every section of the document was “driven or moderated” by Labour thinking.

His stance was backed by a large number of party representatives, with the exception of Dublin TD Tommy Broughan, who warned coalition would be disastrous for the party.

Opening the debate, Mr Gilmore said these were no ordinary times for the party to be making a decision. The electorate had “blown away” the parties of the last government who had mismanaged the economy and people wanted Labour to be part of the solution to the country’s problems.

They wanted Labour to be included in government and to work for fairness and balance. The decision delegates had to make was whether the next government would be guided by the draft programme or by the Fine Gael manifesto on its own.

He said the new government would be a partnership administration. It would not be “a coalition in the old sense” and Labour would have parity of esteem.

Mr Gilmore said he understood that people were worried how Labour would emerge from coalition, given the historical experience. “However, this is no ordinary time. We have never been here before.”

Brendan Howlin, who was part of Labour’s negotiating team, said “every single item” on the party’s final checklist in the talks had been checked off. The programme was “as good a document as could be negotiated” and included virtually the entirety of Labour’s health policy.

Many of those who opposed the motion argued Labour should assume the role of main opposition party and hope to win a future election. Others criticised the sale of State assets proposed in the programme, and the privatisation of some services.

Mr Broughan said it would be a “tragic and hopeless error” for Labour to enter government as a junior partner with Fine Gael. “Let there be no doubt about it, any lengthy stay in government with Fine Gael and we will suffer, returning to niche support levels of 10 per cent – if we are lucky. The dream of a Labour-led government will remain a dream, perhaps for ever.”

He said it wasn’t in people’s interest for Labour to become “embroiled” in the failed economic policies supported by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael since 2008, or to replace the “Cowen/ Lenihan/Honohan economic and fiscal straitjacket” with a simpler “Kenny/Noonan/Honohan straitjacket” which Labour would have to support.

The document carried on the failed policies of Fianna Fáil and the Greens “with a few Fine Gael bells and tassles here and there”. For Labour to tie its policies to a failed and failing economic consensus would be a disaster for the people, he said.

Another of the party’s negotiating team, Joan Burton, said for Labour to turn its back on government would be an “act of folly”. By working hard, operating to high standards and living modestly, the government could command respect to see it through hard times.

Rebecca Moynihan, a councillor in Dublin South Central, said going into government would allow Fianna Fáil to regroup and expose the party on the left. However, it wasn’t just about Labour because the survival of the country was at stake. “I deeply want a Labour-led government but that wasn’t the result we got. We can’t change that: that’s democracy,” she said. “Politics is about stepping up to the plate and putting the country before the party when people are in need.”

Responding to the debate, Mr Gilmore rejected claims that the programme represented a continuation of previous failed policies. This was clearly not the case, he said, citing proposals on fiscal and banking policies, privatisation and taxation of the wealthy.

He said families in trouble now couldn’t wait for Labour to come into power in 2016. The “last place” people who voted for the party wanted it to be was in opposition. Mr Gilmore predicted difficulties and admitted he would have to walk through “forests of placards” on occasion. However, Labour couldn’t afford to fail because the stakes were so high. “If we fail, not only will we be punished electorally but the country will fail too.”