Here is the speech.
SPEECH BY EAMON GILMORE TD
Leader of the Labour Party
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
Friday, 13 April 2012
GILMORE WELCOMES DELEGATES TO LABOUR CENTENARY CONFERENCE
Speaking at opening of Labour Centenary Conference
Bailey Allen Hall, NUIG
Colleagues and Friends
Welcome to the Labour Party’s Centenary Conference. This weekend we will debate about 160 motions. But tonight I want to talk about a different motion.
100 years ago, James Connolly and Jim Larkin, proposed a motion to the 1912 conference of the Irish Trades Union Congress, which resolved that
‘the independent representation of Labour upon all public boards be and is hereby included among the objectives of this Congress’
With the passing of that motion, our Party was founded, and a century of struggle, campaigning and achievement began.
This conference is the first in fifteen years that has been held with Labour in Government. These are serious times, and we have serious work to do.
But for all of the difficulties that our country faces, and through which we must steer, it is right that we take this moment to reflect on what we have achieved over the past century. On how far we have come, and the work that we still must do.
We can look back with pride on our first century, and look with determination to the Second century of Labour.
For one hundred years, Labour has been at the heart of democracy and progress in Ireland. All too often, the Labour movement has been written out of the official historical script, by those who prefer to take a simple Celtic-Rangers view of Irish history.
This year, we have the opportunity to redress that balance. To honour the role played by Labour in shaping modern Ireland, from the time of our foundation to the present day.
Labour was there at every moment of crisis. The lockout in 1913. The Easter Rising, in 1916. Labour was there during the struggle for independence, when the Labour movement led a General Strike against conscription, uniting the country, and laying the foundations for the first Dáil.
Perhaps unwisely, but from a wish to avoid division, Labour stood back from the election of 1918, but the Party was central to events in the years that followed.
It was Tom Johnson who crafted the democratic programme of the First Dáil, which declared the desire of the Irish people ‘ to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all’.
It was Labour that provided a constructive opposition at the foundation of the State, ensuring that from the outset, Ireland had a multi-party democracy.
Labour was pivotal to the establishment of this State, and we were pivotal also to the shaping of modern Ireland. In Government, or in opposition, Labour, and Labour people, has always been at the forefront of progressive thinking, and social change.
Think of the work done by Noel Browne and Brendan Corish in building a fair and modern health service – work that Roisin Shortall is continuing today.
Building up the system of social protection, under people like Frank Cluskey and Prionsais De Rossa
Introducing modern Labour law.
Improving housing conditions
Fighting for the rights of women, led by Pioneers like Mary Robinson and Eileen Desmond
Fighting for the opening up of Irish society – liberalising laws on divorce and contraception, and decriminalising homosexual acts.
Standing with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, for peace and democracy, and opposing sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Working for peace, at Sunningdale in the 1970s, and paving the way for the peace process with Dick Spring.
None of this was easy. Every single part of it was hard fought in the face of fierce resistance. Fought for by Party members and activists, and by public representatives There are many here in this hall, who are veterans of those campaigns.
Who know what it was like when Labour was attacked from the pulpit. Who know the aggression that we faced, because we stood for a peaceful and inclusive Ireland. A fairer and better Ireland. An open, tolerant and progressive Ireland.
None of it was easy, but all of it was worthwhile.
As we look around us today, we can be proud of what we have achieved. Ireland today is a better place, because of Labour’s work and Labour’s struggle.
Our 99th year, was also our most successful. Today, we have the largest number of councillors, senators, deputies and MEPS that we have ever had. And in a moment of great joy and hope, the man who opened our last conference as President of the Labour Party, is today, Uachtaran na hEireann, Micheal D. Higgins.
Tonight, we think back with pride and gratitude to the men and women who founded our party. People who came from nothing. From thatched cottages and tenements. From some of the worst slums in Europe. People who had almost nothing, but courage and conviction. Faith in the possibility of a better tomorrow, faith in each other, and the courage to face the powerful, and stake their claim.
At its heart, Labour is far more than a political movement – it is an idea. The idea that we are all born to be free and equal, and that humanity flourishes when we work with and for each other. For us, solidarity is an objective and a tool. The society we seek to build is marked by solidarity, and solidarity is the means of achieving it.
The fundamental goals of this party have not changed in the past hundred years, nor will they change in the next hundred. They are the goals written on placards by Irish immigrant textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, who went on strike in 1912, declaring, ‘we want bread, and we want roses too.’
We believe that everyone should have the means to provide a decent livelihood for themselves and their families, and we believe in building a society where we can all grow to the fullness of our potential.
That the enormous human potential, that resides in each of us, can only fully flourish with the support of all of us.
We believe in equality. We believe in, what to us is a self-evident truth, that our common humanity is more powerful, more unifying and more compelling, than any artificial division of race, class or creed. And because we believe that, we seek an equal chance for everyone to flourish. To have bread, and roses too.
And because we believe in the supremacy of our common humanity, we have always sought to build alliances with those of good will in other countries who believe the same.
We can be proud that it was a Labour delegation to the Congress of the Second Socialist International at Berne in Switzerland in February 1919, who were the first Irish delegation to be recognised at an international forum.
We can be proud of our links with the Party of European Socialists, the Socialist International, and of our close fraternal ties with the Labour Parties in the UK and in Australia.
Today, our belief in human rights is reflected in the solidarity that we continue to show with the world’s poor, and in our commitment to peace and multilateralism.
Our mission has always been to serve not Kings nor Kaisers, but the people of Ireland. We have done so with honour, and integrity, and no Tribunal of Inquiry has ever found otherwise.
Today we again face, what may be one of our greatest challenges. The State that we helped to found is confronted by an economic crisis that has at times threatened to overwhelm it.
The Irish people are once more confronted by fundamental needs - the need for good jobs, for secure incomes, for the chance to build a life in their own country. We are once more thrown back to the very basic concerns that motivated the founders of our party.
The work that we have to do, is to guide our country through this crisis, and from it build a better Ireland. To take our country back from the profiteers, and to renew our Republic.
It won’t be easy, but that is nothing new for Labour. Every battle we have ever fought has been difficult, every achievement hard won. Those who pretend there is an easy way have their own agenda. Ours is a progressive agenda. Securing economic recovery, Building a better and a fairer Ireland.
In the course of our first century, we have had more than our fair share of difficult times. Looking back, we have been at our best when we have been unified. We have been at our best when we have been out, actively campaigning. We have been at our best, when we have been at the heart of political debate.
This is a moment of great crisis for our country, but it is from moments like these that new directions are set. The great lesson from our history is that we should never stand back. Never be content to let others drive the agenda. Never walk away from problems, or confine ourselves to a narrow set of concerns. We are the Party of Labour, but it has always been our goal to represent every section of Irish society and every corner of Ireland.
We are facing great challenges. But Labour is up for the challenge.
This is a moment for pride. This is a moment for courage. This is the weekend when we begin the Second Century of Labour.
You can view the party's motions this weekend here,
watch proceedings throughout the weekend below
Live broadcast by Ustream