Labour will not be allowed enjoy celebrating its centenary when the party holds its 65th convention in Galway this weekend, as the event is set to attract protests from far left groups, rural communities, peace groups, the unemployed, and health campaigners.
Labour’s centenary conference will take place in The Bailey Allen Hall, NUI Galway, tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday, and is expected to be attended by more than 1,000 delegates as well as party TDs, senators, and ministers.
It will be opened by Galway West TD Derek Nolan and be addressed by party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore tomorrow and on Saturday when he gives the Party Leader’s Address.
However, the Labour conference will be met by a storm of protest. Protests are planned by the Galway Alliance Against War, Glór Na Tuaithe - A Rural Voice, campaigners for St Francis Nursing Home, and the Turf Cutter and Contractors Association.
It is understood that the Galway Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes; Occupy Galway; Anglo: Not our Debt Campaign; Vita Cortex occupation workers; Free Education for Everyone; the Socialist Workers Party; and the Right to Work Campaign will also be protesting.
Meanwhile, the Galway branch of the United Left Alliance will hold a counter conference tomorrow and Saturday in the Harbour Hotel. The ULA conference will take a highly critical look at Labour’s time in Government through talks, lectures, discussions, and debates. Speakers will include trade union leaders, activists, elected representatives, and academics.
“Eamon Gilmore, Joan Burton, Ruairi Quinn, and Brendan Howlin are happily participating in a Government that is shredding the gains made by working people over the last few decades,” said ULA member and counter-conference organiser Conor McGuinness. “They are part of a Government that is punishing the elderly, the ill, the young, and the vulnerable for the crimes of a super-rich financial elite.”
Given the public anger over austerity and unemployment, and that Labour is attracting much of the ire, the party has announced that there will be “a considerable security presence for this event”.
It is understood there will be gardaí, as well as private security, around the university and there will be barriers in place at the Martin Ryan Marine Institute, one of the main entrances into NUIG.
“As a party of Government we felt it was prudent to take precautions to make sure the conference passes off without major incident,” a party spokesperson told the Galway Advertiser. “We understand there will be demonstrations but we are not expecting any trouble.”
Only those with accreditation for the Labour conference and those with student IDs will be allowed on campus. However, protesters will be permitted onto campus as well, with stewards leading them into an area reserved for demonstrations.
Labour members in Galway are also hopeful that the conference will pass off without incident and they accept that as a Government party protests at events like this are inevitable.
“The protests were expected,” says city councillor Billy Cameron. “When you are in Government, whether things are going well or whether things are going badly in the economy, there will always be protesters.
“Some will have genuine grievances they want to air, others will be pushing an agenda, but it’s par for the course. Party members do accept this will happen but you get on with it as best you can.”
The Labour conference will begin at 6.30pm with the official opening by Dep Derek Nolan at 6.50pm. There will also be an address by party leader Gilmore at 7.30pm.
“I am delighted to welcome the Party conference back to Galway this year and particularly happy given it is the Party’s centenary year,” said Dep Nolan. “We will debate motions on job creation, the economy, public services, and social justice. It should allow an opportunity for the party to look back on its first year in Government and discuss urgent ways of advancing our agenda on job creation and social solidarity.”
Dep Nolan will also be contesting the position of chair of the Labour Party at the conference.
Saturday’s session runs from 9am to 9pm and will see speeches from British Labour MP, Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and David Begg, the secretary general of ICTU. Eamon Gilmore will conclude the day’s events with the party leader’s address at 8.30pm.
Sunday’s session will run from 10.30am to 1pm and include discuss issues relating to Europe, Northern Ireland, justice and equality, children, and local government.