Labour’s ‘red lines’ revealed but conference is ‘not great timing’

Ivana Bacik to outline demands for entering government as she calls for election in wake of shock Leo Varadkar resignation

Labour Party “red lines” for entering a future government are set to form a key part of Ivana Bacik’s address to delegates gathered in Dublin for its National Conference on Saturday.

The Labour leader is expected to outline the following conditions for her party entering a coalition after the next election: full separation of church and State; a new community model of policing; leave entitlements for women who suffer miscarriages; a stronger State role in making renewable energy available; and increased housing targets.

When Leo Varadkar announced on Wednesday he would depart as Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, Ms Bacik was quick to demand a general election, saying it is “utterly untenable” that the Government would stay in office.

Regardless of the fighting words, Labour Party figures must have been ruing their bad luck in having their conference take place just days after Varadkar’s shock announcement became the biggest political news story in years.


As a smaller party, which has not yet recovered from the electoral battering it took in 2016 after a stint in government with Fine Gael, Labour could have done without the media being distracted for its big weekend.

“It’s not great timing,” admits Dublin Fingal TD Duncan Smith. He remains positive, saying that much of the work of such conferences involves engaging with members and developing policies.

“Obviously we would love as much focus from the outside on our conference and our leader’s speech as possible. Hopefully we will get that.”

Labour has seven TDs. Its support level stood at 4 per cent in the most recent Irish Times/Ipsos B&A poll in February.

Smith says during the time he has been seeking election “we’ve never been higher than 6 per cent and we’ve still managed to return seats in areas where we’ve had good candidates and we’re working hard”.

Bacik may be planning to set out “red lines” but does the party have an appetite for going back into government?

“One thing that differentiates us from others on the left is that we are ready to step up and go into government and we are, with this parliamentary party, a refreshed group,” says Smith.

“I think if we present a clear message to the electorate that resonates and we can add to our numbers then absolutely we’ll be ready to go into negotiations to enter government.”

He says of this week’s big news that Fine Gael “seem to be unravelling”, adding: “if they do need a reset they shouldn’t be using 10-11 months of Government for that.

“They should be going to the people and putting their case across as we will be.”

Senator Marie Sherlock – who plans to run for the Dáil in Dublin Central – says: “We’ve been on election footing for some time now. We’re ready”.

“We’re going to see a new taoiseach installed effectively without a mandate and there’s a very clear desire for change out there so we believe an election should be called.”

Sherlock says there is an opportunity for Labour to “to drive home our message all the more ... that the public want a decent health system, a decent education system. A country that has incredible public finances should at a very minimum have decent services.”

She mentions the need for affordable housing, workers’ rights and improving childcare and eldercare as some of the themes that will be aired at the conference.

The party will debate almost 90 motions across the weekend.

They include proposals for improving housing supply, including measures designed to get more people living in city centres, and climate action ideas such as establishing a State retrofitting company to accelerate energy-efficiency improvements for social housing.

There is a call for the introduction of a €9 monthly “climate transport ticket” to help shift people away from using cars as Ireland seeks to meet climate targets.

There is also a proposal for the Labour Party to draft a bill designating abuse and threats against retail, healthcare and all public-facing staff as a specific public order criminal offence.

On the war in Gaza, a wide-ranging motion includes a call on the Government to signal public support for the genocide case being taken by South Africa against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Labour will have a busy weekend. The party hopes people will be listening.