I attended the 21st Century Labour Commission last Saturday, along with a number of other Labour representatives and staff. The Commission was set up following the Party Conference in Wexford last November. As the party comes towards the one hundreth anniversary of its birth, the time is now right to re-examine what Labour means to both those in the party as well as the people of Ireland and to forward the party into the new century.
At the opening of the Commission, our party leader Eamon Gilmore made an address. Below are some sample comments:
As the name implies, your task is nothing less than developing a blueprint for a 21st century Labour Party. A party that is relevant to, and successful in, contemporary Ireland. Successful in motivating people to join us, successful in winning elections, and successful in improving Ireland.
Before embarking on your work, it is worth pausing to reflect on the significance of the task – on the goals that a 21st century Labour Party must achieve.
Why does 21st Century Ireland need a 21st century Labour Party?
Our party must once again find that coherence of expression. All of us have come into the party for different reasons, motivated by different moments in our lives, or in the life of our country. We could, all of us, give a passionate and valid statement of what Labour means to us. The passion and commitment of our members is the core of our strength as a party. But we must go beyond individual stories. We must, as a party, bring together those individual voices into a common chorus. We must be ready to present the Irish people with a clear and understandable statement of what our party, Labour, stands for in modern Ireland. Not just pertaining to the immediate concerns of today, but to Ireland as it will be between now and 2020 – and indeed beyond.
There is a need for us, in particular, to expand the meaning of the term ‘Labour’ in the way we speak and are spoken of. We must go beyond old images of a downtrodden proletariat and smokestack industries – beyond the idea of Labour as an interest group representing a particular form of paid manual employment. Yes, those are our origins, and we are proud of them. But the context of Labour today relates to work in a much wider sense.
Labour is not a description of work – or simply a label for a political movement. Labour is a set of values.
Modern Ireland needs Labour’s vision, but it needs all of that vision. We cannot, as individual members, or as a party, confine ourselves to the part of it that we find most comfortable. Labour’s values are, of their essence, confident and assertive, and we must have the confidence to assert them in their fullest form.
We are not seeking change for its own sake, but transformative change, rooted in Labour’s values. It is vital that we as a party, give clear and united expression to what those values mean in modern Ireland. To be clear, with one another, and with the Irish people, about what Labour is for. Giving our country a New Purpose, and creating a society where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.