Speech by Brendan Howlin at the launch of #aNewRepublic
29 March 2018
Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brexit, Northern Ireland and Justice
Speech by Brendan Howlin
Leader of the Labour Party at the launch of #aNewRepublic
99 years ago, the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil was published.
On 21 January 1919 Tom Johnson presented the Democratic Programme to the First Dail just a few feet away from where I stand now.
It was a statement of principles which reflected its time;
But it has endured in its importance and relevance.
For those of us on the left, the Democratic Programme remains a source of inspiration, even if the vision it offered has been far from fully achieved.
The clarity of ambition was enviable:
In that document, we declared that “we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all.”
As we look towards the next century, we should be just as clear.
Those values - Liberty, Equality and Justice:
For those of us in Labour, they are immutable.
They are the same values I heard every day of my childhood.
My mother’s humanity, my father’s trade union dealings, Brendan Corish’s politics - all of them represented these values.
I hope my own politics have done the same.
But the modern policy implication of our values deserves new voice.
Politics is principally about the immediate.
It is about the here, and the now.
There are reasons for this.
But it need not always be thus.
People often speak about Ireland as a small country.
But we are only as small as the limit of our imagination.
So a new and better Ireland is worth imagining.
And it is something that we can achieve.
Sadly, our discourse sometimes suggests otherwise.
For me, after everything we’ve gone through over the last 10 years, we are entitled to better.
To decent hospitals.
To brilliant schools.
To homes we can afford.
And to transport links that work.
Because economic growth is good, but quality of life is what matters.
That’s why we want to measure our progress differently.
Not based on the size of our economy alone.
But also on the strength of our society;
The quality of our healthcare;
The state of our environment;
And the level of equality we have reached.
These are how we should judge our success.
But a plan for our future must be broader than what I want.
It is beyond time that we reimagine our republic.
The Democratic Programme identified some issues that remain alarmingly relevant:
Housing, children’s rights, and the border were all mentioned.
But some issues had yet to become relevant.
Our position in Europe; climate change; the future of work – these are the key challenges of our generation.
And a plan for a new Republic must take them on.
We must ask many questions:
What type of future do we want for our children?
When will we deliver equal status for all?
Will robots really do all our work?
Does our political system serve our citizens?
How do we protect our children and privacy in the era of social media?
These are not easy questions to answer.
But they are worth searching for answers to.
Over the last 99 years, our world has become more complex.
In many ways, it has become more uncertain and more challenging.
Just take a moment to look at the issues occupying us at the moment.
None of us would have thought, even a short couple of years ago, that Brexit would come to pass.
But come to pass it has, with enormous implications for this country.
The legacy of our economic crash of a decade ago includes a continuing and severe crisis in housing with shocking new homeless figures published today.
And while we are finally facing up to the reality of abortion in Ireland, the debate is likely to be fierce and heavily contested.
Each of these questions - and many more – occupy the headlines of our national agenda on a daily basis.
But the nature of that debate doesn’t often lend itself to a real contest of ideas.
Instant responses, instant opinion, instant answers – these are the hallmarks of our modern political discourse.
As the world is becoming more complex, and less amenable to quick-fix solutions, we are drawn ever-more to the immediate, and all too often to the trivial.
But my purpose here tonight is not to criticise.
My argument this evening is that we need to give time and space and deep consideration to a vision for the future of this country.
Alongside the cut and thrust of ‘normal’ politics, we need to carve out a space that allows us to gaze towards the horizon.
To look at the challenges and opportunities that we know lie ahead.
And to imagine those that will face the generations to follow us.
As a party of the left we have our own ideas about our future.
We want an equal Ireland;
An Ireland where important things are measured and valued;
An Ireland where our children’s dreams can be brighter than ours.
As a political party that has proudly worked towards these goals for 106 years, we have a lot to offer in this debate.
But we know that we don’t have all the answers.
No one party does; and no one person does.
Imagining a new Republic will take a national effort.
I want that effort to start here tonight.
Tonight, we launch a project aimed at supporting a national dialogue.
A dialogue that seeks to do what Tom Johnson did 99 years ago – look ahead to the next Century, and spell out what our Ireland should look like.
We are extending an invitation to citizens and organisations all across our country to join with us in drawing up a new Democratic Programme, to be published next January, 2019.
As I have already said, I am proud of my own party and of its history.
But this project is much wider than our party.
I want to engage with people who broadly share our commitment to a fairer Ireland.
I want to hear from those who have a different view too.
I want a discussion that examines the set of ideas and policies that might transform Ireland for the better.
And one that firmly grasps the challenges that lie ahead.
Those questions I mentioned earlier – questions about the future of work; about the future of our planet; about how equality can truly be delivered – those are the questions that we will seek answers to.
I do not underestimate the scale of the task we intend to undertake.
The Democratic Programme still inspires us 99 years later because it was truly visionary.
And vision doesn’t come easily.
But with a determined effort, and a spirit of integrity and honesty in our discourse, come it will.
And working together, we will imagine a new Republic.
In four years, our decade of commemorations will come to an end with the centenary of the Irish Free State.
I can think of no better way of marking that centenary than to be able to declare proudly that work to make the vision of a New Republic a reality has begun.
Tonight marks the start of a journey towards that goal.