“If Labour in Government cannot protect the most vulnerable in our society, then what point is there being in Government.”
That was the challenge set down by David Whelan, Chairperson of the Laois-Offaly Labour Constituency Council to a party policy forum in Portlaoise last week.
While Niall Kavanagh, providing workshop feedback, called on the Party management to be more supportive of local branches.
He said there was a feeling in some quarters that Labour Ministers were aloof, remote and inaccessible to the membership, ‘not something you would expect from Labour’. There were issues around how the Party communicated its message, policies and strategy.
Concerns surrounding home help services, supports for those with disabilities and care of the elderly in community nursing homes were among the core values highlighted which Labour needed to protect in Government.
The Portlaoise forum was the third in a series of nationwide policy consultation with the grassroots, chaired by Deputy Gerald Nash and also attended by Minister for State, Alan Kelly, Deputy Anne Phelan, Senator John Whelan and Cllr Pat Bowe.
Minister Kelly engaged with a delegation of local taxi drivers who raised concerns about proposed reforms in their sector.
The forum discussed and facilitated workshops on the topics of social and health issues; jobs, taxation and the economy; the EU and party organisation.
Phil Duggan raised the issue of the Party’s relationship with small businesses and the perception that Labour was not pro-business. He acknowledged that sick pay currently cost the taxpayer €890 million per annum, but suggested that the culprits were not small businesses and any extra cost burden on them in relation to sick pay would be seriously detrimental to this sector and actually cost jobs.
Cllr Pat Bowe said that he had just come from Mountmellick which had badly depleted Garda resources.
He said people felt unsafe in their homes and on the street. There was a lot of anti-social behaviour and the public were even being accosted as they drove through the town in their cars.
Sen John Whelan told the forum that extraordinary times required exceptional leadership and responses to big problems.
“Unemployment is the biggest problem and challenge of our time. It requires creative solutions. When I lost my job in 2008, there were 230,000 out of work; the number has since rocketed to over 450,000, just fewer than 15% and far higher than what all the experts predicted back in 2008. We must be bold and brave in our response and stimulate and support the indigenous Irish small business sector.”
Senator Whelan believed there were solutions.
“There are 220,000 small businesses and employers in the country. If they all took on just one person with the aid of Government support, we would cut the dole queues in half virtually overnight. This is the kind of action required, the rest is just tinkering around the edges,” he said.