Labour conference told ‘TikTok taoiseach’ Simon Harris lacks vision

Labour party working extra hard to motivate members in advance of the local and European elections

Incoming Fine Gael leader and taoiseach Simon Harris has been described as a “yappy dog chasing a tyre” without the vision needed for government.

Labour’s Ged Nash hit out at the soon to be appointed leader as he spoke to reporters at his party’s two-day national conference.

“I think Simon Harris will be a little bit like the yappy dog who’s chasing the car. If he caught the car, he won’t know what to do with it. I don’t believe that Mr Harris will have the kind of vision that you need to transform the way government is done at the top. We’ve seen no evidence of this in terms of how he has operated as minister over the last few years.”

The party’s finance spokesman said “this government seems to think that the only metric of success that matters is economic success. But the Labour Party is very clear that you cannot eat good GDP figures.”


Criticising the social media savvy Mr Harris he said “we don’t believe the TikTok taoiseach will transform anything, he will merely tinker around the edges”. He was speaking as the party debated housing, transport and workers’ rights issues.

Party leader Ivana Bacik told delegates that “what we have now is a coalition that increasingly does not even believe in itself, with increasing numbers of resignations. When they say a week is a long time in politics, this week, it was never truer than this week.

“We see a failing Coalition, a coasting Government, clinging to office even while it jettisons members, terrified of change. And that’s not the politics we so desperately need now, whether that’s in the council chamber in Government buildings or in the European parliament.

“Those politics isolate us. When the far-right burn buildings or cities, those politics look the other way.”

She added that “we have a once in a lifetime opportunity with the elections that we’re facing into over the year ahead to create a liveable planet a thriving community, homes for all.”

She claimed the Government was “tinkering” with issues and “not for transformation, and that’s wrong”. In Labour, we say what we mean and we mean what we say. We’re not beholden to beholden to vested interests. We do not ditch our core principles for populism. And we’re not under any other party’s thumb.

She again paid tribute to late former minister of state Emmet Stagg who as housing minister “was steadfast in his commitment to deliver public housing on public land”.

When Mr Nash was questioned about Labour’s capacity to compete with Mr Harris’s social media capacity to connect with young people Mr Nash said the there were really “impressive younger members who are responding to Labour’s message” adding that people are tired of Fine Gael who had been in office for 13 years and since 2016 had not managed to turn Ireland’s economic success into the kind of social progress we’ve seen across the EU” and Mr Harris had to take his fair share of responsibility for that.

He insisted that Labour was at much more than the 3 per cent to 5 per cent various polls put them at and would be “extremely competitive” in 15 to 17 constituencies in the general election. He said they have a strong team of 55 councillors and hopeful of at least one European parliament seat.

And on competition with the Social Democrats perceived to be occupying the same left-wing ground, he said most sitting TDs in both parties were not running in the same constituencies and in many ways the two parties “complement” each other.

He believed the “shine” was coming off Sinn Féin who had a broad coalition of different interests and there was “confusion” in the party on a number of issues including immigration and decriminalisation of drugs.

Labour will be working extra hard this weekend to motivate members in advance of the local and European elections on June 7th and a general election within a year.

Labour has selected close to the 110 candidates it hopes to field in the local elections, the same number as last time around in 2019, and hoping to increase the number of local authority members from 55 currently.

And the party is confident that it has the organisational capacity across the country that other left leaning parties such as the Social Democrats do not have.

Dublin Bay North TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin is the party’s Dublin European election candidate, whose campaign was officially launched on Friday evening.

Limerick sociologist Niamh Hourigan has been selected for Ireland South with its candidate for Midlands-North West yet to be confirmed. The party currently has no MEPs.

Almost 90 motions are proposed for 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.

On the eve of the conference party leader Ivana Bacik renewed her call for a general election.

“We need to see a radical change in Government. We want a general election now, we’re very clear about that. We’ve seen more disarray in Government today, we don’t see this as the time for a changing of the guard in Fine Gael.”

Mr Varadkar’s decision to resign “certainly amounts to a vote of no confidence in his own Government, and we are very sure that now is the time for the people of Ireland not members of Fine Gael to decide who leads the country for the challenges out there”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times