Ivana Bacik has denied the Labour Party’s decision to issue preemptive legal letters to media organisations inquiring about anonymous poison pen letters had a “chilling” effect on their reporting of the issue.
Last weekend, the party issued legal letters to The Irish Times and The Sunday Independent warning against the notes which referred to the position and role of Dermot Ryan, an adviser to Ms Bacik. Mr Ryan spearheaded Ms Bacik’s by-election campaign in 2021 and has since worked as a part-time adviser to the party leader.
Speaking to the media on Friday evening, as the Labour National Conference began in Co Cork, Ms Bacik defended the issuing of the legal letters. She also disagreed with suggestions the stance contradicted the party’s own criticism of Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for issuing similar legal threats.
Asked if she thought such letters posed a chilling effect, Ms Bacik said: “It didn’t seem to chill, let’s put it that way. There’s a balance clearly to be struck.”
Ms Bacik said the letter circulated to party members and to some journalists had no basis in truth. “We don’t engage in anonymous, untrue and libellous or defamatory correspondence. We’ve made that very clear.
“And I think it’s perfectly valid for any political party to take issue with journalists who seek to rely entirely on an anonymous alleged letter that is also untrue and that is defamatory. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a political party to take that action.”
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Ms Bacik said that the housing and homelessness crisis would be the overarching theme of the conference. The first session of the conference focused on housing with the panel debating a total of 25 motions.
Ms Bacik said that she had written to the Taoiseach seeking an extension to the housing ban until such time as the data showed that the level of homelessness was beginning to fall. She told the media that that period would not need to be prolonged but said that the decision to end the ban on March 31st would leave many families facing a cliff edge of eviction.
Turning to the party’s decision to table its first motion of no confidence in a Government in 23 years, Ms Bacik said it was prompted by the Coalition’s decision.
“They (ended the eviction ban) without any modelling, without any evidence basis, and apparently without any sense as to the real impact it’s going to have.
“We believe that it is incumbent on all of those in opposition to back the motion of no confidence at all, and particularly on the Independent TDs, some of whom supported the Government this week.”
She said the ban should only be lifted when there are consistent drops in homelessness figures over four months.
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In her opening speech, Ms Bacik recalled the past achievements of the party and said what distinguished it from other parties was the it was not afraid to serve in Government.
“We are the only party now in opposition that has ever served in Government.
“We are the only party on the left ever to have served in Government. That has to change. We want to see a left-led Government.
“Others might be content to remain in a state of permanent opposition; but we are serious about delivering change,” she said.
General secretary Billie Sparks also paid tribute to former leader Alan Kelly and said it was a measure of his stature of the politician that he had continued to contribute to the party, despite difficult months he experienced following his resignation.
Mr Kelly also addressed the conference and said that being the leader remained the “special honour of my life.”
The Tipperary TD said he deeply appreciated the members who had elected him as leader and had “shown me such support and solidarity in the past 12 months. Old friends are best. I can attest to that,” he said.