What happened at the Labour National Conference?

Labour held the event in Westmeath on Saturday

What happened at the Labour National Conference?

Image: Sam Boal/Rolling News

Labour held their National Conference in Mullingar on Saturday, the party's final gathering before kicking off its election campaign. 

The day started off with declarations from leading party figures that Labour will confound its critics and return with a strong number of seats, despite predictions to the contrary. 

Speaking to the media, both Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin and Environment Minister Alan Kelly were clear that the candidates running are all capable of winning their seats. 

"We’ve 36 candidates, our ambition is to have 36 seats", Howlin stated, while Kelly highlighted that "you can quote opinion polls and all of that – we have our own work done – but our candidates are not just incredible candidates, but they’re candidates who have performed in their own communities". 

Joan Burton's Closing Speech

In her closing speech, Joan Burton reflected on the ideals of the 1916 Rising, the establishment of the Labour Party, and the continued need for Irish workers to have political influence.

She catalogued the achievements of the party during its term in Government, saying it brought stability and jobs, leaving the country significantly better off than in 2011.

The Tánaiste also announced an SSIA-type savings top up scheme to help first time buyers with a deposit, and promised an increase of five euro a week in welfare pensions each year of the next Government.

The pension plan is set to cost just over €100m a year every year - meaning it would cost over €1.5bn in five years, but Burton says that's a worthwhile use of public money:

Burton praised the work behind the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum and vowed to bring a referendum on the 8th Amendment should Labour be returned to Government.

She urged voters to stick with Labour so it can maintain stability and finish the job it started:

Election Date

Following speculation that Enda Kenny may favour holding the election on Thursday February 25th, the Environment Minister also said the election should take place on a Friday, but that there will be no row with Fine Gael about the date. 

Jan O'Sullivan also addressed the topic, stating that the date is out of her hands - even though most schools would be shut to serve as polling date.

Morning Address

Speaking on Saturday morning as she addressed the conference, leader Joan Burton said that "the past five years have been turbulent, to say the least. But they have also proven to be transformative, and the priority for progressive voters should be to protect, consolidate, and extend those gains by returning Labour back to Government with a sizeable block of TDs".

Burton added that it would be "the only way to ensure stable, balanced government" at a time "when the global outlook is uncertain [and] further economic shocks are a possibility".

As a government, we haven’t got everything right – I’d be the first to admit that - but working together with the people, we have embarked on a major programme of economic and social care and repair" adding that "I think it’s fair to say we’ve put the country firmly on the road to recovery".

The Labour leader had harsh words for the opposition as she stated that they have "nothing to offer in the way of substantive policies". 

"Fianna Fáil nearly bankrupted the country – and they're totally bankrupt of ideas. Sinn Féin are more concerned about protecting their 'good republican' friends than actually building a good republic. They don’t represent an alternative. They represent renewed incompetence on one hand and, frankly, something more sinister on the other".  

Tax Plan

Speaking to Newstalk on Saturday, Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash spoke of a divergence between Fine Gael and Labour over the establishment of a so-called 'rainy day fund'.

Nash accused Fine Gael of changing their figures every day over the plan to save €2.5 billion over the lifetime of the next Government, while Labour want as much money as possible spent on public services. 

He stated that "the only party that's got a comprehensive strategy around tax reductions for working people that is sustainable is the Labour Party. Now, as opportunities are opening up for our economy, our argument is for every one euro in tax cuts that we'll introduce for working people [...] we're going to provide three euro for public investment".  

Poll

Meanwhile, a Red C survey for tomorrow's Sunday Business Post sees a drop in support for Fianna Fáil, while Labour are up in the last opinion poll before the election is called.

Fine Gael drops a point to 29%, the party's second drop since Christmas; while Labour goes up a point to 10%, the party's highest poll rating since last September.

Live from @ElectionNT