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LEADER'S ADDRESS BY Pat Rabbitte TD

Leader of the Labour Party

Saturday, 10 February, 2007

Fellow Delegates

It was U.S. President Lyndon Johnson who said 'The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation '.

Having enjoyed a decade and a half of economic boom -something we should never take for granted 每 I want tonight to put the Johnson test of success to each of you and to the people at home.

Yes, we have seen great economic progress but, are you happy?

Are you happy to live in a wealthy economy, but in a society under strain?

All over the country, I continually meet people who get up at six in the morning to go to work and mind children. People who work so much, cope with so much, contribute so much - just to get through the week. Caught on a never ending treadmill of work, traffic and responsibility. Weighed down by a day that never has enough hours in it, by rising bills and by a Government that doesn't listen.

You are working harder, longer, faster, smarter. But are you happy that for all your effort, you have less time for yourself and less time for your family?

Are you happy to live in a society that regards as inevitable, dirty hospitals, endless traffic jams, wanton violence and run-down schools?

Are you happy with the state of our health services - a health service where operations are cancelled because breast cancer beds are occupied by A&E patients, so the Government can manipulate the numbers on trolleys? A hospital service where so many patients are terrified of contracting MRSA?

Are you happy about the level of crime, where the number of offences is rising, and detection rates are falling; where people feel reporting crime is a waste of time and where so many communities are plagued by anti-social behaviour and where the drugs gangs feud openly on the streets?

Are you happy to live in a country where there are still pockets of deep disadvantage, where one in nine children live in poverty and where that same poverty is the near certain fate of their children?

Are you happy to live in a country where we are driving skilled jobs abroad, because workers can no longer afford housing in Ireland and nurses are driven to strike partly for the same reason? All because Fianna Fail puts the interests of big Builders, Developers and Landowners before the housing needs of nurses and so many other workers?

Our people know that over a decade and a half, we have made great progress, but they also know, deep down, that Ireland can do better. How is it that it is the things for which Government is directly responsible that don't work? The people work; it's their Government that doesn't work! Ireland can do better. But to do better, we need to make a change:

These past few weeks, I have been outlining five ' Commitments for Change' that Labour in Government will implement:

♂ More hospital beds in clean hospitals

♂ Pre-school education for all our children

♂ More Garda赤 on the beat in neighbourhoods

♂ Abolish the means test for carers

♂ Enable more people to begin to buy a home.

That's my personal commitment to you. They are not the totality of what we will do, but they are five commitments for change that will make a difference.

That is why we so badly need a change of Government.

We need a new and different and better Government that will maintain a strong economy, but one that will also address the crucial issues neglected by the present Government: health, education and childcare, carers, affordable housing and better policing.

In recent weeks, I have been asked not about policy or programmes or reforms, but whether, on electoral strategy, I have left the door even slightly ajar. The answer is no. We have a settled strategy since Tralee and it is designed to offer the people at the next election a choice of Government. When real people cast real votes, I am convinced we will have a new Government for change.

The task for Labour is not to engage in speculation about possible scenarios that may never arise after the people have voted. The task for Labour is to be the force for real change, driving that Alternative Government with Fine Gael.

From equality for women at work, to divorce, to anti-discrimination legislation, Labour has stood for a more tolerant, more open, more equal Ireland. If returned to Government, we will do so again, passing into law our Civil-Union Bill because gay and lesbian people are not second-class citizens.

We, today, in this our country, in these our times - we have the opportunity to build the Fair Society.

A society, where there is more to life than a gilded treadmill.

A place where you can catch your breath, and have time for your family and your community. A country with values, where there is prosperity, but where we embrace more than the singular pursuit of a narrow commercialism. A place where there is the space, the freedom, the protection - to simply be a child. And an elderly person need not fear losing their house for nursing home care. A society with a sense of purpose, about how we conduct ourselves, how we relate to each other, and how our country conducts itself in the world.

The Fair Society is built on prosperity, on environmental sustainability, on a flourishing public realm and on social solidarity. It gives expression to the ideal that has always inspired our movement 每 that working together, we can build a community where every individual can achieve their full human potential.

That is why, for the Labour Party, education is not a matter of policy, it is a passion.

As a country, we are rightly proud of our achievements in education. But we need to do better.

Too many kids are in classes that are too big.

Too many , 100,000 children in the last ten years, leave school without a Leaving Cert.

Too many 每 as many as one in three in some areas - have reading problems.

Too few are doing well enough in maths and science in a world where science and technology are the driving force of economic growth.

Schools don't have enough money to pay their bills, and the physical fabric of our schools is well below the standard that our children deserve.

In the next decade, some 100,000 extra children will come into a primary school system that can't accommodate the children who are already looking for places. Already in the commuter belt parents are at their wits ends to find a place in primary school for their child. The challenge should not deter us, it should inspire us. For in the next ten years, we have, not just a grave obligation, but a great opportunity, to remake the face of Irish education.

For Labour, it is a core value that poverty must never be a barrier to learning, but rather education and learning must be a route out of poverty.

Central to that ambition, is the provision of pre-school education.

Labour's approach to childcare is child-centred, respects the lifestyle choices of parents, and will ease the burden on families. We have put pre-school education at the heart of that strategy, because of the enormous benefits for children, for their families, and for the community.

And so, I commit to the Irish people that over the lifetime of the Government we will provide one year pre-school education for every child.

The first duty of any Government is the safety of our citizens.

The casual destruction of human life has become commonplace.

The lucrative profits from the deadly drugs trade are driving the crime wave where even innocent citizens are no longer safe in their own homes or in their place of work.

Following the murder of a Mulhuddart man in November 2004, Michael McDowell said it was the last sting of the dying wasp. Since then we have had 49 gun murders. Some wasp, delegates. Some sting.

No one should be in any doubt about the scale of the threat posed by organised crime. Nor should there be any doubt about the investment required, in time, personnel and equipment, to tackle these gangs.

We will legislate against gang membership and we will allow an individual's unexplained wealth and un-sourced assets, together with his previous activities and associations, to be admissible as evidence of profiting from gangland activity. The onus will be on the individual with no obvious means of support to explain how he came by the money to acquire the new house, the investment properties, the start-up capital, the holiday home abroad. We did it before when Ruair赤 Quinn established the Criminal Assets Bureau and we will do it again.

For all the new prosperity we have a society ill-at ease with itself,

drifting we don't know where. What are our values? What are the instincts and ethics that guide us? What is our purpose? What kind of society are we bequeathing to our children?

Traditional society has retreated, and while the churches remain a vital part of civic society, religion is now more diverse, less visible and far less dominant than heretofore. These trends, which took a century or more in other European countries, have happened in less than two decades in Ireland.

We are a more open and liberal society now , but we cannot drift towards becoming a society devoid of community and public values. Yes, we have more rights to be ourselves, to think for ourselves and to act as we choose in matters of private morality. But we cannot walk away from our broader obligations to our community.

The best way for our country to succeed socially as well as economically in the 21st Century will be by building the Fair Society in which there is liberty for all, responsibility by all and fairness to all.

Labour's values do not float freely without roots; they are rooted in the best of our history. Because they inspire us we can unite around them; they give us a shared purpose. It was Sean O'Casey who said of Larkin that he would as soon put a rose in a vase as bread on the table. Labour's rose is a symbol of a better tomorrow, a tomorrow where there is bread but where there are roses too. Our present lo p-sided society is at risk of trampling on the rose. We need to pause, to take stock.

Labour's values of liberty, responsibility and fairness means taking citizenship seriously. From the quality of citizenship taught in our schools to defining not just the rights of citizenship but the responsibilities too. It means getting the balance right between diversity and integration.

The challenge for our country now, is to define a new ethic to steer by.

An ethic that is consistent with both personal freedom and personal responsibility. An ethic that respects people of many faiths and people of none. An ethic that offers guidance both to Government in its policies and to people in their communities.

I don't believe that Ireland has lost touch with all that was positive in our past. But our sense of common purpose is increasingly being eroded by ten years of the devil taking the hindmost.

There is a need for us to assert the role of values in our communities. There is for example a crisis in our society in alcohol abuse among children 每 alcohol that is sold to them by adults. We can't have a Garda at every off-licence. Adults must take the responsibility for their actions and put the welfare of others before profit. If garages are tuning up car engines for boy racers th en they are flying in the face of community values. If people are dying on the roads, then we need to look at our own driving behaviour as well as better driver education and enforcement.

Too many of our neighbourhoods are tortured by anti-social behaviour.

Labour's firm commitment will put more community garda赤, visibly patrolling neighbourhoods. We will not tackle anti-social behaviour without better policing, but better policing on its own is not enough.

As a country, we have not done enough for our youth. Young people don't need lectures on social capital 每 they need something to do and someplace to go in their spare time.

I want to see a concerted effort at community level, to bring together the schools, the clubs, the local authorities, the juvenile liaison officers, to improve provision for young people. I want to build on the magnificent contributions of so many volunteers at community level to fill the gaps that open up on long summer evenings and at the weekends.

Climate change too, is an ethical issue. We must, all of us, look at how our own behaviour is impacting on the environment. And we must look at how our country behaves in the world. We must face up to the great global challenge of climate change, not grudgingly, or belatedly, but as persuaders and leaders in Europe, and for Europe on the world stage. Climate change is not a niche issue, or a simple issue, or a soft issue. It is a challenge of a nature, and on a scale, that social democrats instinctively understand and embrace. With global poverty, climate change is the issue which will mobilise the next generation of socialists around the world. We should be in the vanguard of that movement.

Here, as in so many other areas, Government must give a lead.

Let me give a simple example. Transport accounts for one fifth of carbon emissions in Ireland. We will not reduce that pollution by keeping traffic on poor roads. But, we must also effect a shift to public transport. Rois赤n Shorthall has outlined a series of common sense measures to get traffic moving in this city, by putting more buses on the streets, and giving people a reason to use them. Instead of putting up bus fares, we should have a one Euro standard fare on all routes. We can do the same in other towns and cities around the country.

When we build houses we must also build sustainable communities. My firm commitment for change is Labour's new ' Begin to Buy' scheme for affordable homes in good neighbourhoods. We will also legislate to protect the consumer rights of home buyers, to regulate management companies and estate agents, and to control management charges. We will end homelessness and reform the planning system to better serve communities and neighbourhoods.

Everywhere I go, people ask me, how can we sort out health?.

If Mary Harney can't do it, how can the Labour Party do it?

Let me tell you: Mary Harney can't do it, isn't doing it and won't do it, because Mary Harney doesn't understand that health is a community service, not a market commodity.

Her plan is to give tax breaks to developers, to build superprivate clinics. Her plan is to sell-off scarce public land. Her plan won't work. It will drive up insurance bills, damage public hospitals, and worsen the two-tier system.

Her plan is to sign contracts before the election. You have no mandate Minister to do so, and in Government, Labour will stop it.

How do we fix the hospitals? Three steps.

Firstly, get basic management right. Where A&E is not working,

re-organise it. Last Monday, I visited St Lukes Hospital in Kilkenny where they are getting results through simple efficiencies. Where the hospitals are dirty, clean them. It's not rocket science. It's a bucket, a mop and people who'll use them.

Secondly, build more beds. We need 2,300 more beds.

And while we are building up that capacity, make sure we are getting the most from the beds we have. Labour wants a health care system where the money follows the patient. That is why we want to extend universal health insurance to all children up to age 16 as soon as progress is made on the capacity issue.

Thirdly, don't have people in hospital who don't need to be there.

Build proper community care beds for elderly patients, in their communities, so they are not in hospital beds. Don't send people to A&E who could be treated by their family doctor. Extend the medical card to more people, so they can be treated by their GP, and make GP care free for children under five -because those early years are when kids need to see the doctor most.

Economic growth brings resources and choices. I have said taxes are down and will stay down.

In the recent budget, the Minister admitted that he was five billion euro better off than he had forecast a year earlier. Growth at 4.5% over 5 years will generate at least 11 billion Euro in additional revenues for the Exchequer. I want those resources to deliver public services that will add to our quality of life. But with investment, must come reform. Those with the strongest commitment to public services have the greatest interest in seeing them change.

Year on year, this Government has levied more taxes and wasted more taxes than any Government since the foundation of the State. Given the opportunity to cut tax rates, Fianna F芍il and the PDs made the choice to cut the top rate. They have now committed to another cut in the top rate from 41% to 40%. That's the Fianna F芍il/PD way. Its not the Labour way.

When you cut the top rate of tax, those who have most, benefit most.

If you cut the lower or standard rate all taxpayers benefit but those on middle and low incomes gain most.

Therefore, given the resources available, within 2 years of being returned to Government Labour will cut the standard rate from 20% to 18%.

I want you to go out on the doors with our five " Commitments for Change' --

♂ More hospital beds in clean hospitals

♂ Pre-school education for all our children

♂ More Garda赤 on the beat in neighbourhoods.

♂ Abolish the means test for carers

♂ Enable more people to begin to buy a home.

Not all we will do, but five things I will personally guarantee.

If you think these five commitments would make a difference.

If you believe in a government that gets up every morning with the interests of hardworking people in mind; a government that will protect the weak and the excluded; a government that believes that its job is to make Ireland not just a good place to work, but a better place to live.

If you, like me, believe that Ireland can do better

Then join us. Help us to go from here and win. Because we need you to make a change.