October 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
Five years ago, Liberties Press published Causes for Concern: Irish politics, culture and society, a sometimes eclectic mix of Michael D.s journalism, academic writing and speeches over the years. The book is a testament to the range and breadth of Michael D.’s accomplishments as a politician, a public intellectual and, above all, as a great humanist. Unusually amongst public figures, Michael D. is at home in a range of communication modes from the rhetorical flourishes of the university lecturer, to the incisive observations of the detached columnist to the creative exegesis of the poet. As a political representative, opposition spokesman and Minister he could be relied upon to bring an intellectual acuity and vision to every brief in hand. Reading through the contributions in the book which extend over several decades of public life a few key themes emerge: respect for education and love of learning, the importance of promoting culture and the public sphere and the need to show solidarity with the oppressed.
In developing his world view, Michael D. has drawn on a rich seam of intellectual thinking but he returns repeatedly to the question of authenticity, and the goal of living an authentic life. Michael D.’s analysis of the ills of Irish society- clientelism, consumerism, materialism and technocratic determinism- are trenchant and prescient. He was a critic of the direction of socio-economic change in Ireland when it was neither popular nor profitable to be so. The kind of values that he has been espousing for decades- solidarity, community, democracy, justice, freedom and equality- are exactly the values to which we have now turned as we seek to rebuild our economy and society in the wake of the Celtic Tiger.
As Declan Kiberd so eloquently points out in the introduction to Michael D.’s book “In an age when the great ideological battles between capital and labour have been pronounced to be over, Higgins has kept ideas at the centre of political life; in a time of technocracy, he offers vision; and while others run for office on the basis of competence, he insists on an ethical perspective.”
Michael D. has spent a lifetime putting his considerable intellectual gifts to work in the service of the Irish people. He has used his voice courageously to speak out for those in Irish society and elsewhere who have been oppressed. He will indeed be a President of whom we can all be immensely proud.
Mary Corcoran and Alex White
March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
More than 1,000 members of the Labour Party gathered at the O’Reilly Hall at UCD in the heart of Dublin South to decide whether or not the party should go into government with Fine Gael. There was no sense of triumphalism or euphoria in the packed auditorium. Rather, there was a sense of trepidation amongst those present about what the future might hold not just for the Labour Party, but for the country as a whole. The draft programme for government presented is not the Labour Party manifesto, but according to Eamon Gilmore, it is driven by the values of the Labour Party. On the economic front, it contains a commitment to introducing a jobs plan as well as labour market activation strategies, establishing a strategic investment bank and renegotiating the EU/IMF framework. On the issue of reform, it contains a blueprint for a new way in which to conduct government business. Eamon Gilmore argued that the new government would not be a coalition in the old sense but rather a national government formed between the largest and second largest party in the state to deal with the challenges faced by the country. Thus, he said, the business of governing would be done on the basis of co-decision making and parity of esteem. At the core of the new governance system would be an economic management council or ‘war cabinet’ which will be the body that will decide all major economic issues. The council would be chaired by the Taoiseach, managed by the Tanaiste and made up of equal numbers drawn from both coalition parties. All relevant departments and agencies such as NAMA and the Regulator offices will be drawn into the council, which is intended to achieve the elusive ‘joined-up’ thinking on matters pertaining to the economy.
The programme for government contains the most radical platform of reform of the Dail and of the Civil Service that has ever been put before the people. Some of these proposed reforms will require constitutional changes, in particular, changes that will empower parliament to hold the government and the civil service to account. Fundamentally, there will be an attempt to rebalance the relationship between the oireachtas and the executive. Under recent administrations, the Oireachtas was effectively circumvented by a highly centralized and sometime ‘out of control’ executive.
In the debate that followed many delegates warned that the Labour Party in government with Fine Gael would face the same fate as the Liberal Democrats in in government with the Tories in Britain. In the recent Barnsley byelection, for instance, the Lib Dems came in 6th behind a pot pourri of other candidates. Others argued that the time for Labour was not now, but in five years time when Labour might be strong enough to lead a left government. Ruairi Quinn countered that the epithet “Labour must wait” had confined the party to opposition for generations. Joan Burton argued that economic renewal and recovery are conditional on high standards of probity in every aspect of Irish life, and that the Labour Party entering government could play a key role in ending cronyism and corruption in Irish politics. But perhaps the most compelling argument was made by Susan O’Keeffe who argued that Fianna Fail had always put party first, and country, second. The Labour Party must put the people first ahead of party considerations. The party must work as hard as it can and as long as it can to change the country for the better.
The motion to enter government was passed overwhelmingly. It is a very high risk strategy for the Labour Party. But politics is ultimately about the exercise of power, and if the Labour Party can exercise power in the public interest in the coming years the country as a whole can only benefit. Its time now to get to work.
February 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Speaking at launch of Labour’s Manifesto for Children
If this election is about anything, it is about families, about protecting children, and about securing a better future for our young people.
Ireland has the highest proportion of children in the EU, with almost one-quarter of our population below the age of 18. Yet, for too long, Ireland has fallen short of the aspiration that an independent Ireland would be a country that treated all the children of the nation equally.
We in Labour believe that children should have the best possible start in a world that has become vastly more uncertain and precarious. But this belief is not just a pious aspiration. We are today backing it up with a specific set of proposals in a children’s manifesto that we believe will deliver genuine change for children and for families.
First and foremost, we believe that our children should not be made to pay for the current economic crisis and for this reason, Labour will not cut child benefit, particularly in the wake of recent budgets in which family incomes have already taken a substantial hit.
Labour also believes that the delay in proceeding with the referendum on children’s rights has been unacceptable. Labour will ensure that a children’s rights referendum is urgently progressed.
It is our view that Ireland’s child protection code and system should be more robust. Labour is committed to putting in place the strongest, child-centred legal framework to protect children from sexual, physical, and mental abuse.
We have led the charge in proposing measures to develop, as an urgent priority, a national strategy plan to improve youth literacy levels, and will continue to prioritise literacy as an issue.
We are also putting forward proposals to ensure that every child should be guaranteed a high-quality preschool place with clear curriculum requirements, appropriate staffing professionals, conducted in an appropriate setting.
For Labour, the protection of families, children and childhood will continue to be a priority, even in these difficult times.
January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
This week, Labour launched its plans to overhaul the penal system in this country. It is quite clear that the current system doesn’t work and is not effective – least of all it is not cost-effective.
In the past ten years the prison population has almost doubled and at an average cost per prisoner of €79,307, it is the most expensive in the world.
Labour want a cheaper and more effective alternatives to prison be provided for. The current system only exacerbates the problem. By adopting the policies in this document, we believe it will provide both social and economic benefits.
I would encourage you to take a look at the document by clicking here.
December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
Senator Alex White will run for the Labour Party in Dublin South in the forthcoming General Election.
He was selected at a convention last Saturday in Ballyroan Community Centre, Rathfarnham.
Speaking afterwards, White said he was “pleased and deeply honoured” to have been selected.
“This is the most vital General Election in our lifetime. The recent budget, the four-year plan and the EU-IMF deal have been the bills for economic failure – bills that the public will have to pay off well into the future.
“In Labour we have a profound sense of fairness and social justice. We now need to marry those politics to a message of hope. Hope that we can begin a process of renewal that will transform our politics and economy for the collective good. Huge challenges face our country. But they are challenges that together we can overcome. Labour’s vision and politics must be at the heart of our recovery.
“In the coming months, I hope to bring that message to the doorsteps of Dublin South. I very much look forward to it.”
December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
Yesterday’s budget was severe on all sectors of society. There are many people who cannot afford to take the cuts handed to them by this government. Yet, because the devil of this budget is in its detail, it may take until January for the full realisation of these measures hit home.
Today, I spoke on the budget in the Seanad. You can view the video below…
October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
One of the legacies of the period from which we have just emerged was the complete failure of many in government to distinguish between a so-called genuine business person and one who was less than genuine. Those who have turned out to be duds and less than genuine, if not worse, were feted and celebrated by many members of the Government during the recent period. Therefore, I would not rely too heavily on the ability of certain people in government to make the distinction between so-called genuine business people and those who are less so.
I do not subscribe to the view that there is no hope. I do not for one minute wish to be lined up in anybody’s mind or book with people who believe the country is sinking or does not have a future, that there is no future here for my children or theirs. I believe very strongly that there is a positive future for us as a community, society and economy. We must restructure and rebuild a genuine and real economy based on production and the efforts of our people, the provision of goods and services based on innovation and all the qualities about which all other colleagues spoke during the course of the debate. In that sense, I am an optimist, although today it is very difficult to be one. Leaving aside political partisanship, I want to be counted among those who see a very strong future for the country in the years ahead when we will address seriously the shocking and horrendous problems we can see.
Neither do I subscribe to the psychobabble we have heard, particularly in recent days, although it has been evident for a number of months. I do not think it gets us very far. I refer to those who give out about people talking down the economy, the endless negativity and so on. Essentially, it is propaganda. Those who devote most of their speeches and spend their time preoccupied with others who, in their view, talk down the economy are not addressing the real issues. In a sense they are blaming and attacking the messenger. People do not need to read the so-called negative pieces by journalists in the newspapers or listen to the economists who appear on “Prime Time”. They do not need to be told by such individuals that things are bad. They can turn off the television and the radio and need never buy a newspaper, but they will still know that things are shocking for them and their families. People who have lost their jobs or have had wage or welfare cuts do not need to be told by anybody, negative or otherwise, that life is difficult and things are tough for them. Let us stop blaming and trying to take refuge in the notion that there is an army of people talking down the economy. There is an element of psychobabble in the notion that if only we could get people to be more cheerful and have smiling economists and cheerful journalists writing nice happy-clappy articles in newspapers, everything would be fine.
Trust is the next issue to be considered with regard to the future and confidence. I had a very interesting experience earlier, although people might think it strange for me to relate it. I listened to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on “Morning Ireland” and said afterwards to a person that I thought he had done a good interview. That person said, “Yes, but do you believe him? I cannot believe him any more.” I asked what was meant by this. The reply was not necessarily a personal criticism of the Minister but one of the Government and its attitude. It has to do with trust. There was such a lengthy period during which the people were not told the full truth or given all the facts that now they are being given facts and the truth which we hope is the whole truth, they have lost faith in anything they are told. There should have been far more honesty much earlier in the process. We should not have had Members coming into the Dáil or the Seanad suggesting, for example, the bank guarantee would be cheap and that we would get out of the banking crisis relatively easily. I recall that at one stage a Minister came into this Chamber and more or less suggested to Members that we would make money out of the whole process, that NAMA essentially would be a money spinner. People simply did not believe it. « Read the rest of this entry »