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Labour leader address at the 108th Connolly Commemoration

14 May 2024

Comrades, members of the Connolly family, friends.

As Leader of the Labour Party, it is an honour to gather here with friends; to address you as we commemorate the founder of our shared movement

On his 108th anniversary, we recommit ourselves to the principles of James Connolly.

An unashamed ideologue, he taught us that there is nothing to fear about having beliefs, or a vision. 

Indeed, for an activist to shy away from visualising a better Ireland is to fall at the very first hurdle.


Connolly was a republican, in the true sense of the word.

He knew that it was more than flag waving; that it wasn’t nativism.

Because to love your country is to believe that it can be better – for everyone. 

This year, it is more important than ever to expose those who pretend to love this country. 

But who claim to do so only as a means of causing division. 

It is not love, but hate, which motivates them. 

We know that loving your country means loving the people who make it.

European Elections

The rise of the far-right at home and in Europe poses a threat to everything we hold dear. 

Those politics are a poison for democracy. 

Hard won rights are under threat from these sinister elements: workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, migrant rights, freedom of expression: everything. 

Where the far-right is in government today:

  • They cut down the right to strike; 
  • Treat women as objects, or chattel; 
  • Use the police to suppress, not protect;  
  • Restrict the press, tell people who the can love, or how they can identify; 
  • And boast policies which see migrants drown at sea.

Enemies of progress, they cannot get a foothold again.

Never again must mean exactly that. 

Let’s make no mistake, the European People’s Party, is incapable of stopping them.

Just this week, they could not bring themselves to sign a pledge condemning the far-right and violence against political activists.

When Netanyahu threatened genocide against the people of Gaza, Ursula von der Leyen joined him for a press junket. 

They diminish workers’ rights, cut the social wage – deepening those inequalities which anxieties which can be exploited by the fascist right. 

At every opportunity, this party exposes itself as weak. 

This permissiveness is cowardice at best; outright approval at worst. 

At this crucial juncture in world politics. 

As war and ecological breakdown rear their heads, they cannot be allowed to hold the balance of power in the European Parliament.

Only the Socialists and Democrats can turn the tide.

Only a vote for Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Niamh Hourigan, or Fergal Landy can add an Irish voice to that fight.


Comrades, in less than a month, we will have the opportunity to continue to mould the European project in our image.

A strong Union, that protects peace, and promotes progress.

A European project that stands up for ordinary people – all of us.

That stands against those who seek to divide us.

Because we know who the real enemy is.

It’s not someone with a different skin colour, or religion, or way of life. 

We yearn for democracy of the economy, and society.

Because, as Connolly knew, without both, neither can really be achieved. 


Labour activists from communities all across the country want to offer this.

They want to change Ireland for the better.

They are activists from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Who represent the Ireland of today – the Ireland that Connolly fought for. 

That project is by no means complete. 

Misery persists in Irish society. 

And that 32-county dream of Connolly’s is still just that.

But the gains we have were won through struggle. 

And we cannot return to the bad days –tenement living, soaring inequality, Irish solutions to Irish problems. 

We cannot return to those days. 

Labour activists will make sure of that. 

It is never easy to stand up and put your name forward for election.

I know only too well about the challenges that come with that.

Many of you here today have your own story to tell about the courage it takes to fight for change.

To you I say this:

We need the radical change envisioned by Connolly now more than ever.

In every council chamber, in the Dáil and Seanad, and in the European Parliament.

Government Failings

Because, comrades, we live in a paradox of plenty. 

We live in a wealthy country.

On paper, we have a strong economy.

But in our lived reality, too many are struggling, too many have been left behind. 

Numbers on a balance sheet mean little to the family in emergency accommodation.

The pensioner who cannot afford the healthcare they need.

Or the minimum-wage worker who cannot keep up with childcare costs.

What use is that high GDP when Deliveroo drivers face violence at work to earn just a pittance?

When a secure home is a pipe dream?


In explaining this paradox, one needs only to look to the growing intensification of capital’s share of the economy.

And the incredible rise in corporate profits in recent years. 

Over time, less of the income of the Irish economy has gone to workers.

And more has gone to capital;

In other words, more profits are being extracted at the expense of wages - stolen. 

All the while, we are seeing an erosion of the social wage. 

Workers pay tax.

Yet the Government refuses to invest in real public services. 

Our national infrastructure is crumbling.

We pay through the teeth for services like education, housing, childcare and public transport.

Services that are offered for free, or at a fraction of the cost, in other EU countries.

Meanwhile, meagre increases to the National Minimum Wage and social protection payments amount to pay cuts in real terms – 

Gobbled up by the rising cost-of-living.

The Government’s best answer is to give a grant here, or a tax cut there. 

Stop gap measures.

A band aid on an open wound. 

It characterises their approach to Government. 

Haven’t we seen it in the appalling treatment of those sleeping in tents in recent weeks?

The Government will break the law – domestic and European. 

Failing to provide shelter to those who need it. 

To those who are legally and morally entitled to it. 

And when breaking point is reached, they fence of the public realm, and threaten arrest to those with nowhere else to go. 

Cosmetic solutions. 


Our solutions rest with the community, in community.

In community, solidarity, meitheal, whatever you want to call it.

Because people, united, achieve great things. 

We’ve seen it just this week with student activists, working together to secure college divestment from companies tied with Israeli settlements in Palestine. 

Tales of disobedient students always stay close to my heart!

That victory was massive.

But people working together achieve great things all the time. 

In towns and villages, they make our roads safer for children and commuters by campaigning for lower speed limits.

They create beautiful parks for everyone. 

They fight for more affordable housing, or new schools. 

Self-belief and collective resolve go a long way. 

But Labour representation can make all the difference. 

I am proud to lead a party of activists who put in the work; who use their intelligence, and the system, to create change.


When it comes to these upcoming elections, in no other area is it more important to support Labour candidates than in housing. 

Working people face a wide range of struggles and challenges in today’s Ireland of plenty.

But housing crisis remains the greatest workers’ rights issue of our time.

The civil rights issue of this generation.  

Entire generations have been locked out of the housing market, 

A rental trap from which people cannot escape has emerged. 

People are forced to turn down jobs because they cannot access decent accommodation nearby,

Moving back in with their parents in their 30s because it is next to impossible to save for a mortgage while renting,

Or delaying starting a family because they do not have a stable roof over their head. 

Workers are being pushed further and further away from their place of work, expected to endure unreasonably long commutes, taking hours out of their day. 

"Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what you will" goes the old trade union phrase. 

Its authors would never have envisaged sitting in traffic for 3 of those hours, with public transport infrastructure remaining on the long finger.

It should not be outlandish to suggest that workers can afford to buy or rent a home and build a life close to where they work.


The Government pushes a narrative that the State is building more houses now than in any time since the 1970s

But the reality is that the State has failed abysmally in keeping up with the rise in workforce and population. 

In 1975, the State built what amounts to 2.8 houses for every 1,000 people living in Ireland.

Yet in 2022, despite a near 40% increase in population since 1975, they built not only less houses, but only half the amount at 1.4 per 1,000 people. 

Given our “incredible” finances, it is clear that ideology and an over-reliance on the private market that is holding working people back from secure housing, not the economy.

The neoliberal economic model to which Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have subscribed and governed by since the foundation of our State is one that necessitates an endless pursuit of growth for growth’s sake. 

Yet it has not brought about the end of inequality, it has concentrated wealth even further. 

It has not eradicated poverty, it has created a poverty trap. 

It has not redistributed resources, nor has it created a sustainable future for our children or for our environment.


Those on the right lack the imagination to make Europe work for housing its people. 

As my friend, Niamh Hourigan, has said, when we faced food insecurity in the 50s and 60s, they found a way to make the Common Agricultural Policy work. 

Have they any appetite for a CAP for housing?

We do. 


At a local level, we saw in Dublin City the power of Labour Councillors in fighting for more social and affordable homes at the Glass Bottle site and countless others. 

In Waterford, Labour Councillors have started a fight against mould in HAP accommodation. 

Across the country, we stop the sale of public land. 

And fight for better when that argument has been lost. 

On 7th June, I am asking those who agree to join that campaign by voting Labour. 

Let’s do it, together.


Comrades, I am proud to lead Connolly’s Party.

It is a task that I take seriously.

Let’s work together to fight the right. 

To prove that a better Ireland is possible. 

An Ireland that works, for all. 

We won’t stop until we have achieved Connolly’s vision together.

People, united.

Communities, together.

All welcome.

Ní neart go cur le cheile.