One of the most interesting things about the Labour Party conference this weekend was not so much the eye-catching promises to build a million homes, but rather the age profile of the members.
More often than not, it is Sinn Féin who sweep up a growing share of the younger vote. Pundits often ask: what young person would vote for the Labour Party?
Plenty, it seems.
On the Dublin to Cork train early on Friday, members of Labour Youth could be heard loudly debating everything, from the economics of the European Union to the inner machinations of the Green Party and the state of the media.
At the conference, there were multiple fringe events heavily populated by younger members. At these events, TDs were encouraging them to run for election, offering tips for success and practical advice. On Friday night, Labour LGBT held a karaoke session which doubled up as a fundraising drive. While there may have been some dodgy renditions of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, the room was packed full of younger members.
It fed into the wider message of the overall conference: don’t write the Labour Party off just yet.
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Members were clearly smarting from recent media coverage of the state of the party, some more so than others. On multiple occasions, TDs, in their speeches and privately, made thinly veiled references to speculation about the future of the party.
At one stage, party leader Ivana Bacik, in a speech, referenced the party’s “good friends in the media ... you know who you are”. On another, former leader Alan Kelly said there had been too much talk from people outside the party about Labour’s future. He also referenced competitors who have come and gone over the past, in a nod to the Soc Dems who are experiencing something of a surge since Holly Cairns became leader.
Alan Kelly’s presence was most interesting. As he stood in the shadows on the sidelines inside the conference room, waiting to join a panel, a large number of party members flocked to embrace him. One security guard even jokingly cocked an imaginary gun at him, in reference to his AK-47 moniker. He is clearly still quite popular among the membership.
On the other hand, some members of the parliamentary party did not seem overly enthused at his return to the stage, where he thanked members for voting for him as leader. Some in Labour, rightly or wrongly, took this as a dig at Ivana Bacik, who was elected unopposed after Kelly was ousted.
Regardless of the intrigue and the strained relationships between certain factions within Labour, the party sought to return to bread-and-butter issues at the three-day conference.
Housing dominated the second day, and Labour have positioned themselves in the middle of the political debate now by tabling a motion of no confidence in the Government, which will dominate Dáil proceedings this week.
It follows the Government’s controversial decision to let the ban on evictions lapse. In her televised party leader’s speech, Bacik received the support of the crowd when she said that Labour would aim to build one million homes over a decade.
She also called for a new tax on “fossil fuel-guzzling SUVs”, a bike to school scheme for children and an unlimited bus and train ticket for €9.
Climate also took top billing during the conference, with those motions being heard first.
There were some references, too, in her speech, about where she sees Labour in the future. Talking about future Coalition partners for Labour, she referred to a “left-led green-red” Government as her desired destination after an election.
On the second day, the crises in the health service were also debated at length.
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha told the conference that last week in Ireland, there were 3,000 people on trolleys. “That is a national scandal,” she said.