Speech made by Ivana Bacik upon her election as 14th leader of the Labour Party – Change Can’t Wait
24 March 2022
I honestly never thought I’d be introduced as Leader of the Labour Party.
Goes to show anything is possible!
I am honoured, excited and I confess quite overwhelmed.
I am incredibly grateful for the support I have received from Labour members throughout the country during the past three weeks.
I know the ambition you have for our country
and for how our Party can shape our future for the better.
I sincerely hope that I can repay the trust you have placed in me
As I work with our Senators and TDs, local councillors, area reps, constituency organisations and party members to build a better, fairer, and more equal Ireland.
I want to acknowledge the immense work, commitment and contribution made by Alan Kelly to the Labour Party over many years.
I also want to acknowledge our good fortune to be here in a democratic, peaceful corner of Europe, while as we stand here today, the people of Ukraine are continuing to endure the catastrophic consequences of the brutal and illegal Russian invasion.
I’ve been a campaigner for change all my life.
I didn’t become a political activist because I had all the answers – and I still don’t.
I didn’t become involved in politics because that’s what my family expected – far from it.
I became involved in politics because I listened.
I listened in a grotty students’ union office back in the late 80s,
I listened to women and girls with crisis pregnancies from across our country.
Women who, at the most vulnerable time of their lives, were abandoned, failed by the State.
I, along with others, said we can’t put up with this, change can’t wait.
We were threatened with prison for giving women a phone number.
And I will never forget the women we spoke with, and listened to.
Women who did not have access to what people once called an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
I became involved in politics because I listened.
And I couldn’t stand injustice.
I knew, whatever the odds, campaigning together we could change people’s lives for the better.
It took decades, but we finally did it – we made positive change for women in 2018 with Repeal.
But the job of change is far from complete.
Women are still paid less than men and are less likely to fill leadership roles or be public representatives.
Women are still more likely to experience poverty, more likely to be harassed and abused and even killed in their own homes,
For these reasons and many more, women are still ringing me and I’m still hearing about injustice.
I am still listening.
For me, politics is about building a better future.
It’s not about contrived shouting matches or tearing people apart to score a political point.
That’s not the politics I believe in.
For me politics is constructive – it’s about positive change. And change is always a choice.
It’s about having the imagination to say we can do better.
and the capacity to build alliances to make that better a reality.
It’s about having the courage to imagine a society that won’t tolerate the barriers that have held us back:
of sexual orientation,
We can always do better.
I believe in the incredible power we have as a community.
The changes that we can make when we come together with passion and purpose.
We’ve all seen it in action in the past two years during the Covid pandemic.
Call it meitheal or solidarity.
The name doesn’t matter, the spirit behind it does.
This is the spirit that I want to bring to our public life.
A belief that together we are stronger.
A commitment to the equality of all people on our island
The confidence that we have it within us to succeed, no matter the challenges.
So, what does that mean in today’s Ireland:
I believe in a state that acts in the common good for all its people:
• A state that leads the charge on climate justice, developing a new model of climate neutral growth through just transition
• A state that values and invests in children’s early education and care
• A state that treats care work with the respect that it deserves
• A state that builds homes for its people and guarantees affordability and security for all
• A state that follows the lead of John and Pat Hume and works for the unity of the people of Ireland, by being brave and honest about the changes needed to make that happen.
We are now entering an era of serious politics.
We have big problems to solve.
They are global. They challenge us fundamentally.
We should not trust anyone who says the next few years will be easy.
That’s a myth.
Cost of Living
The cost of living has spiralled out of control.
Inflation looks set to continue its rise.
And as ever economic and income inequality hits people with the least the hardest.
But the State can take action to remedy the hardships people face.
There are some constructive actions the state must take.
I am pressing for a mini-budget immediately to address the cost of living crisis.
And most importantly, I believe that Ireland needs a pay rise.
We in Labour know that an increase in take-home pay is the best way to help working people and families keep up with rising costs.
And the best way to achieve real and sustainable increases in pay is to strengthen the power of employees to negotiate pay rates and salaries with their employers.
So as a life-long trade unionist, I want to see stronger rights for unions to bargain collectively with employers on pay and conditions.
But along with increasing wages, we should look at solutions being pursued by our European partners, such as energy price caps – as introduced in France and being debated in Brussels this week.
Last week a major energy supplier here announced massive price increases of up to 39%. This is intolerable.
Energy companies need a clear message that they must share the burden of increased wholesale energy costs.
They can’t protect profits while letting working people foot the bill.
And they need to know that the State will take swift and direct action if they shirk their social responsibilities.
So we are calling for a windfall profit tax on energy companies.
The cost of living crisis, the energy crisis and the climate emergency are strongly interlinked.
But let’s be clear – our global climate and biodiversity crises are existential.
Fundamental to our capacity to live.
We have delayed too long – there is no time for whataboutery anymore.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, we should never feel powerless.
We have many of the solutions already.
From agriculture to transport we know what we have to do.
This is about our own children – and our grandchildren.
We are running through their carbon budgets, spending their resources, destroying their planet.
What needs to change? Our economic planning and climate response must be in sync.
Two sides of the same coin.
We need a new economy. One that generates wealth, but also supports emissions reduction.
Labour will publish a new strategic economic plan in the coming months with an emphasis on regional job generation.
A plan to take us to net zero by 2050.
A plan to put climate at the heart of government.
Let’s make Ireland the renewable superpower we can be.
And break the hold of the fossil fuel oligarchs and magnates.
We can make Ireland better and more equal in other ways too.
Inequality in Ireland starts the day a baby is born.
That shouldn’t be how it is in a republic.
Public funding for childcare in Ireland remains a fraction of what other European countries invest.
That’s why I have called for a Donogh O’Malley moment for early years education and care.
Just as O’Malley committed the state to provide a secondary school place for everyone, so we need now to guarantee a publicly funded pre-school place for every child.
Parents need affordable, accessible childcare. Early years educators deserve decent pay and conditions.
And most of all, children deserve an equal start.
That’s the change we in Labour Women have been seeking with our Equal Early Years campaign.
Change is always a choice. These choices shape our future.
I believe that the Labour Party can and must help to shape that future.
Because as a Party, we know the fundamental truth – that change can’t wait.
The families for whom fuel bills are forcing a choice between food and heat can’t wait.
The workers on low pay and precarious conditions, struggling to get by rather than getting on, can’t wait.
The generation of young people locked out from having secure, affordable homes can’t wait.
I know the ambition this Party has for our country – to change it for the better – as we’ve always sought to do in the past.
My pledge as leader is that I will fight for that change, as I’ve always done.
Our Republic is unfinished.
Homes, Care, Climate, Community- we lack equal provision of these very basics that allow people to thrive.
Labour has always been innovative and constructive.
Over the last few years alone, we’ve sought and achieved change to improve people’s lives:
• Reproductive Health Leave – for when women suffer early miscarriage.
• Renters’ Rights – to give people security in their homes.
• Sick Pay – to guarantee income for the most precarious workers.
• Coco’s Law – to target online bullying and abuse.
• Collective Bargaining for freelance workers and the right to flexible work – to create a really effective workers’ rights framework.
The thread between all these issues is equality.
Social equality and economic equality.
Social issues are economic issues.
If you separate one from the other you imply that only the well-off are entitled to care about social problems.
Equality is not a luxury reserved for the privileged.
It is a right that all deserve.
Equality, solidarity, fairness – these are Labour values – core to our vision for Ireland.
I want to conclude by speaking about my paternal grandfather. His name was Charles Bacik.
In the aftermath of World War II, he came to Ireland from Czechoslovakia with his young family.
And here – he found a country which welcomed him, and offered him the opportunity to make a real contribution to his new community in Waterford.
My family’s experience is partly why Ireland’s response to Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine has moved me so deeply.
Across the country we see people offering shelter, raising money, communities rolling out a warm welcome.
Ukraine has shown again – as if further proof were needed – the generosity of spirit of the Irish people.
Ukraine has also forced us all to think about the future of our continent, as we watch people fleeing from Putin’s brutality.
I am committed to Irish neutrality.
But I believe our non-aligned status isn’t about opting out.
It has to be about opting in:
Opting into humanitarian missions, to peacekeeping, to diplomacy, and to the prosecution of war criminals.
We are not, and we never have been, neutral against barbarism and aggression.
As an internationalist party, we in Labour want Ireland to play a full role in the evolving European debate about security, a debate that must focus on protecting our democracies in the 21st century.
That’s why this week at the EU Council meeting, Ireland should lead the move to expel Russian diplomats from EU countries.
And that’s why Ireland also needs to push at EU level for a ban on all imports of Russian oil and gas – to put pressure on Putin through all economic and non-military means at our disposal to stop this horrific war.
Comrades and friends,
More than one hundred years ago, the poet and political activist Tom Kettle wrote that
“politics is not as it seems in clouded moments,
a mere gabble and squabble of selfish interests,
but that it is the State in action.
And the State is the name by which we call the great human conspiracy
against hunger and cold, against loneliness and ignorance.”
As Kettle wrote, the State is the most powerful force we have, to get to grips with the great challenges and inequalities in society.
The State can and should deliver a new social contract – a new fair deal for real change on housing, care, climate and communities.
But it will only do so if harnessed effectively, if those holding the levers know that change can’t wait – and are impatient to do more, do better.
Not hold back progress – but actually deliver it.
That is what I’ve believed since my first days campaigning for change.
And I want to continue that campaign for the significant changes that we still need to see in Ireland;
For a true Republic that values the equality of all the people on our shores and offers the hand of friendship to our neighbours.
We’ve come so far as a country.
And I’m proud to have played my part in that journey.
But there is so much more we can do
To build an equal, tolerant, sustainable island, contributing proudly to our European and international future.
That works starts today.