Joint Leaders’ Address – National Conference 27th January 2018

January 31, 2018

Leaders’ Address, second National Conference, 27th January 2018


Who are ‘WE’? Not us but ‘WE’ in its widest sense. We are neighbours. We are friends. WE are sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, partners, sons and daughters. We are all of us. And WE are better together.

Now, here at our second conference, we stand together, joined by our ideals, strengthened by our growing friendships, and emboldened by our common goal of building a fairer Ireland.

The growth of the party over the past two years has been extremely encouraging and we are hugely grateful for the enormous effort that you and our colleagues across the country are putting in on a daily basis to grow the party and spread our message that a fairer and more decent Ireland is possible.

Whether in housing, tackling corruption, repeal, or in our championing of Slaintecare, we are growing as a nationwide movement.

Just as I stand shoulder to shoulder with Catherine, together we stand with you, whether you’re a party candidate, a constituency worker, an ordinary member, or simply a citizen. As Co- leaders of the Social Democrats we affirm our commitment to you that the full strength and resolve of the party stands squarely, shoulder to shoulder, with all of you.

Together, we, as Social Democrats, can and WE will deliver real change.

Quality of life 

We are about more than just working to try to live. Social Democracy is about a good quality of life where people feel fulfilled, happy and valued.

People increasingly feel they are losing control; that the exorbitant cost of living in this country has made accessing even the most basic necessities a struggle. The constantly increasing cost of living, be it housing, insurance charges, electricity bills, childcare costs or public transport fares, increases that feeling of a loss of control over the quality of our lives.  We want to wrest back that control and to provide the conditions for people to live a happy and fulfilled life, within a vibrant society, fuelled by a strong economy.

As Social Democrats we believe in the power of WE.

We believe that those of us in this room tonight,

those watching online,

those sitting at home tonight or those with no home,

those lying on hospital trolleys or languishing on waiting lists,

those worried about catching a flight to Liverpool on Monday for basic healthcare

…are determined that Ireland can be better.

That we can work together towards meaningful change that has a direct impact on the everyday lives of people in this country, change which is underpinned by a social democratic vision.

As Social Democrats we aspire to more than just basic survival. We recognise that our collective potential makes us capable of much, much more and that ambition and political will can get us there.

Ask yourself if you are 20 now what kind of Ireland do you want to live in when you are 40?

If you are 40 now how do you would want Ireland to look when you face into your retirement years?

If you are 60 now, what is the Ireland you would want to take care of you in your later years?

What of our children, grandchildren and their children? What is the Ireland you dream of leaving to them?

Is it an Ireland where the so called Republic of Opportunity is only available to those who can afford to access it? Where inequality continues to grow?

Or is it a decent Ireland? A fair Ireland? An Ireland where politicians ensure that public affairs are managed in the best interests of ALL the public and not just the privileged few.

Public goods and the market

Ireland and successive Governments have for too long been held captive by powerful vested interests. We will challenge those interests.

We reject the politics of the Golden Circle and, as Social Democrats, our determination is to truly serve the public interest.

But the type of Ireland you envisage 20 years from now won’t happen by doing things the way they’ve always been done.

The past 100 years has given us passive politics which excludes rather than includes citizens. It is a politics of outsourcing responsibility for delivery of public services. And it’s a system that has enabled private interests to control and distort services that should first and foremost be the responsibility of the state.

As Social Democrats we recognise the value of the market; however we also recognise that the market has a very specific function which is about profit and survival of the fittest. It is not and should never be – a substitute for responsibility when it comes to delivering public services such as health education and childcare.

The State’s primary concern should always be to promote equal dignity for all citizens – that is not a consideration of the market and that is why the State cannot be allowed to continue to abdicate responsibility for essential services to a private sector driven mainly by profit rather than human dignity.

Locked out – housing

We’ve spoken out in defence of what we have termed the Locked-Out Generation.

We know that the cost of Housing, either renting or buying is increasingly outside the reach of so many. As things stand home ownership is something that will never be a reality for so many.

Meanwhile those people locked-out of the prospect of home ownership also find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to afford the ever increasing rents that are demanded by a housing market left to the whim of private interests.

Earlier this week in the Dáil our Bill on Renters’ Rights passed 2nd stage – a significant achievement and one which we are very proud of.  We see this as a vital first step in helping provide some security to those currently renting and also in helping to create a vibrant rental sector where renting becomes an attractive and secure housing option.

Today we follow on from that first step with our demand for the introduction of a Renters’ Charter. Such a charter would provide protections for renters on a number of fronts with protections that can work together to create a rental sector that provides security of tenure and affordability to renters. Our rental charter contains a number of significant provisions including:

  • Proper rent caps
  • Proper Regulation
  • A Deposit Protection Scheme
  • Protections for tenants in buy-to-let properties
  • And a ban on rental bidding wars

A strong rental sector is a vital part of an overall housing strategy. Both landlords and tenants have rights but also responsibilities in ensuring good attitudes and behaviour within the sector. This must be enhanced by strong Government policy and effective enforcement which protects both landlord and tenants.

Our Renters Charter will achieve a rental market which works as successfully here as it does in other countries and cities across the world.

Locked Out – precarious work

Similarly, far too many of our young people are locked out of secure employment, decent conditions and fair pay.  Increasing globalisation raises huge questions about the future of employment which too often appears like a race to the bottom.

The driving down of standards in work through low pay, zero hour contracts, bogus self-employment and the growth of the gig economy all pose major challenges for our society, and for young workers in particular.

Fair pay and conditions are vital if we are to achieve high productivity and quality employment evident in other countries where social democracy is at the heart of their politics.

It is time for a new deal for young workers.

All workers should have a right to expect that hard work is properly rewarded, that work-life balance is possible and that they can have a legitimate expectation that a decent job will allow you to live a decent life.  We call on Government to legislate to end all precarious working arrangements, to introduce a living wage, to strengthen rights to collective bargaining and to close the gender pay-gap.

We must also end the blatant discrimination against young new entrants into our public service.  It is shocking that we still have to call for equal pay for equal work.  No wonder we have shortages in nursing and teaching.


How many times have you asked yourself ‘why can’t we get things right in this country?

It doesn’t have to be like this. We are capable of governing ourselves, of designing and building institutions that work for, rather than against people.

With Slaintecare we have shown what is possible.

The kind of problems which so many people face in getting access to basic healthcare here in Ireland would not be tolerated in any other modern European country and they shouldn’t be tolerated here.  Access to good quality and equitable public healthcare is a cornerstone of any properly functioning fair society.

But for too long the Irish health service has been dominated by commercial, professional and religious interests at the expense of the patient.  We must change this so that access to healthcare is provided on the basis of health need rather than ability to pay.  And we also need to greatly expand our primary and community care services so that early care is available, close to home and in a way which achieves better health outcomes as well as better value for money.

One of the biggest challenges to the Irish health service now is the recruitment and retention of staff, at all levels. Sadly, far too many of our highly trained and dedicated staff have gone abroad to health systems which function properly, which value them and which do not operate the kind of health apartheid which is such a shameful feature of our system.

That’s why the Social Democrats took the initiative to seek all-party agreement on a plan for the kind of major reform needed to achieve a universal, high-quality public health system.  Slaintecare is a fully-costed 10 Year strategy for such reform and we call on Government to stop the procrastination and to commit to the full implementation of Slaintecare, as a matter of urgency.


A crucial step in changing direction to deliver a society where public goods really are public requires a complete volte-face from the current economic policy to a sustainable and vibrant economic system that works to deliver the type of society we all aspire to live in.

The next series of budgets will be based on a significantly expanded fiscal space. The upcoming General Election, whenever that is, will pose a clear question to Irish people…Do you want to repeat the mistakes of Bertie & Co and use that money to buy votes or do you want to invest in quality public services that you can rely on?

The political choice to be made is: do we collectively invest in a better health service; do we collectively decide to invest now in education?

or better public transport?

or Childcare?

or do we want tax cuts which raid the public purse?

The price you pay for opting for tax cuts is a hospital trolley crisis; a housing crisis; traffic jams, they are all part of that price. But the great irony is those who can afford to will increasingly be forced to put their hands into their pockets to pay for services which, in a functioning society should already be provided.

It is time for a new social contract where we pay fair taxes and demand reliable and quality public services in return. That is the Social Democratic way.

To say our low corporate tax rate is the only attraction of Ireland does us all a great disservice while also depriving vital services of the income they need to survive and thrive.

Our industrial policy must involve improving investment in education and training, increasing capital investment in infrastructure; reducing the cost of living in areas like housing and energy but also significantly cutting out unnecessary red-tape for small and medium businesses. It cannot solely rely on a low corporate tax rate.

Our 12.5% corporate tax rate must be our effective tax rate; not variations ranging down as low as 1% for those biggest global entities. Those global entities are, after all, the ones that benefit most from public investment and so they must be required to make a fair contribution.

It is important for Ireland to bolster our indigenous businesses. We need to encourage start-ups and entrepreneurship and foster innovation by supporting our hard-working and ambitious self-employed business people. Ireland can do much better in the area of innovation and support for small enterprises.

We also need to reform our courts system to reduce costs and streamline access – a more efficient system will also benefit the wider society – and will make Ireland a more attractive country for business investment.

The December agreement on Brexit was a very good start but it is only one step on what is an extremely challenging road ahead. Without solid action to follow through on the aspirations of that Agreement, all industries face huge challenges, most significantly our agricultural sector and our many hardworking farm families.  Brexit poses significant threats for Irish businesses but it also opens up huge possibilities and we must position ourselves to make the most of those opportunities.


Similarly we are acutely aware of our responsibilities regarding Climate and our Environment. Irish households have some of the highest energy bills in the western world. We are facing into fines in the order of €600 million a year from 2021 onwards for our lack of action on climate commitments.

Indeed, we face the ridiculous prospect of the money that the Government intends setting aside in its so-called Rainy-Day fund going entirely to the EU in climate fines.

We need to spend now on the capital side in order to save later. This is essential to avoid climate change and climate fines.

The strait-jacket of the fiscal rules is preventing us from achieving a more sustainable economic and ecological future.

We need to robustly challenge those rules and break them when it makes sense to do so.

For that reason, the Social Democrats are proposing the implementation of a new national retro-fit scheme for households and small businesses. This must happen as a matter of priority.

The current Sustainable Energy grant system is good but it could be so much better. It relies on people having money up-front to fund the retrofitting of their homes – Money, most people just don’t have.

The Social Democrats are calling for a new grants system where the SEAI would partner with energy companies in order that people can upgrade their homes, get a grant for the work, and fund the balance through the savings on their energy bills. All energy providers should be required to facilitate the scheme.

This pay-as-you-go system would require no up-front payment from householders and would mean that tens of thousands of households currently excluded from the grants system could avail of the scheme. This would upgrade our housing stock, would cut the cost of home heating and would be good for the environment.

What is Success?

It is easy to use economic indicators to claim success. But how many people in this room or across Ireland sit there and think, ‘oh great our GDP has grown x%.’ They don’t because in reality it is not something that people consider central to their lives.

So how do we measure success? If you don’t measure something then it doesn’t get done. If we rely solely on GDP and other such indicators then we accept the trolley crisis, we accept the housing crisis, we accept child poverty, and we accept grossly substandard disability and mental health services. Well the Social Democrats don’t accept those things. The success of Irish society and citizens is about far more than GDP.

Ask people in Denmark, Norway or Finland what makes them consistently rank highest when it comes to happiness with their lives – they won’t say anything about GDP but they will tell you about good working conditions, a childcare system which allows them to access the workplace on their own terms, a health service which serves their needs no matter what their income is AND a housing system which makes it possible for everyone to access the housing model that suits their needs.  These factors make a successful society and successful societies make successful economies.

Regulation & Accountability

They will also tell you that they are confident in their political and public institutions. Can we honestly say that?

Corruption and malpractice have for too long been pervasive in Irish political and public life. That is why we continue to call for the establishment of an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency.

If oversight and regulation of our institutions is to be meaningful, then it must be adequately resourced and staffed, and it must be independent of government.  It must have teeth.

Nowhere is this truer than in relation to policing. Since the 1960s we’ve had tribunal after inquiry, after tribunal. And all pointed to the need for root and branch reform of the operation of the Gardai, the need for greater oversight and the need for a far greater level of accountability. Critically though, there were few, if any, consequences for officers who brought the force into disrepute. Nor it seems, were there any lessons learned.

And so, here we are again, after the appalling treatment of whistle-blowers, the resignation of two Garda Commissioners, two Secretaries General in Justice and two Ministers for Justice. And still, we do not have an effective means of dealing with complaints from the public. Nor from gardai themselves.

That is why the Social Democrats fully support the call from the GSOC to properly resource it to perform its important oversight role by strengthening its powers and by giving it independence from the Department of Justice.

We urgently need this reform so that our police force can concentrate on their primary role, which is to uphold the rule of law and keep our communities safe.

An organisation based on the principles of transparency, public service, and accountability.

We need a Garda Síochána that truly prioritises and values community policing.  Gardaí whose presence is viewed as a welcome and reassuring one in every city, town and village in the country.  Gardaí who are proactive and deliver results on local issues – whether drug dealing, anti-social behaviour, or the scourge of rural crime.
We also need to shine a light on other public institutions …..including government itself. Secret government, public information that the public cannot access, blanket confidentiality – these feed into costly decisions which could have been avoided if more people knew about them sooner.

Take the night of the bank guarantee. Billion Euro decisions that will impact our lives for decades to come were made that night yet not a single note exists to explain who made those decisions or why.

That’s why we will introduce a Bill to make sure that the principles of open government are woven into all decision making.

Our forthcoming Record Keeping Bill – based on successful models from Scotland and New Zealand – will force officials and Ministers to create and maintain the permanent records that are essential for accountability and will ensure there are real consequences for wrongdoing or incompetence.


That Ireland you picture 20 years from now starts with the decisions we make today. It doesn’t just happen; it requires work, a roadmap and the will to get us there. WE have the will, together as a party we’re designing the roadmap and we are enthusiastic to get to work on it.

The optimism, enthusiasm and inherent fairness and decency which makes Ireland so fantastic at a community level can be embedded into our political system to replace the same old with a new approach towards creating an Ireland which is based on the principles of equality, dignity and honesty.

We are proud of the calibre of people signing up to the party and it reassures us of the appetite and desire to work towards building a better country and a fairer future.

To those of you in the hall tonight, and to the rest of our members, supporters and friends throughout the country……….. We know that as a party we are capable, determined, ambitious and driven by a vision; a vision that is focused on solutions.

As we prepare for the next General Election we know that Irish people will be faced with a decision, a decision on the future direction of our country – we want them to make their decision with a credible alternative on their ballot paper.

Let us, together, be that credible alternative.

Thank you