“The more I articulate the views of members, or try to facilitate a discussion of real Labour policy, I am seen as a problem, a difficulty, an inconvenience...I can no longer go along with what is increasingly like a political charade.”
This is the damning verdict on the Labour party leadership by the dissident Galway East TD Colm Keaveney who resigned from the party, and from his position as party chair, on Wednesday afternoon.
Dep Keaveney has been one of the party’s most vocal internal critics who has in turn polarised opinion within Labour. He has recently been at odds with the party over abortion; last December he voted against the Social Welfare Bill that cut child benefit; and he publicly criticised the party’s budgetary proposal for a three per cent increase in the universal social charge.
Despite this he remained party chair and successfully blocked all attempts by the party hierarchy to his acquiring and retaining that post.
Dep Keaveney said he resigned because the party has moved away from its basic values and any attempts to promote such principles have been opposed by the leadership.
“My aim has always been to see the Labour Party hold true to the proud values on which it was established. I find, however, I can no longer perform this task,” he said. “The more I wish to represent even the most basic of Labour values the more alienated I become from those at the top. I am in no doubt my presence is no longer welcome by them.”
Dep Keaveney said his efforts was to “at all times to listen to members views and to articulate their beliefs”, but that this led him “into conflict with those who currently lead the party. We promise one thing then do another and blame it on someone else. The members must accept what they are given and the leadership will tolerate no dissent.”
In a statement to the media, Dep Keaveney outlined his criticisms of the Labour leadership’s economic policies.
“Economic issues and the creation of a just society were the reasons I joined Labour and entered politics,” he said. “While we can all agree and disagree on approaches or particular policies this should remain the central theme and aim of any Labour movement worthy of that name.”
He also accused the Labour leadership of protecting the rich and inflicting the harshest aspects of cuts and austerity upon the least well off in Irish society.
He said it was “now apparent” that cuts to special needs assistants, resource hours, and to the mobility allowance were a “part of a consistent approach this Government has taken”, whereby those groups “least able to defend themselves” were “targeted for decisive action, while powerful vested interests are left untouched”.
Although Dep Keaveney welcomed the “partial reversal of some of those cuts”, he said the practice of “proposing cuts, distressing people, and forcing them to engage in protest to secure the reversal of measures that should never have been decided on in the first place” is “no way to run a country”.
Dep Keaveney’s opposition to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy bill put him at odds with the majority of party members as Labour has long been a pro-choice party.
“Many members may have been disappointed with my objections,” he said. “I apologise to anyone that feels that way but I hope all can understand my concerns are genuine.
“Labour is a pro-choice party and I never had a difficulty with that until it came to considering the recent legislation. I believe it is right to question all legislation in order to ensure what we deliver is just and workable. I hope all can appreciate that my approach is honest and made with the best of intentions even if they disagree.”
Dep Keaveney will remain in Dáil Éireann as an Independent and he said he will continue to represent Galway East.
“I will not breach the contract that they made with me just for the sake of staying in a position,” he said. “Too many at the cabinet table are willing to trade what they held dear for one more hour in the sun.”
Dep Keaveney was the first Labour candidate to win a seat in Galway East. His resignation means the party has no TD in the constituency. However it retains a senator in Lorraine Higgins and a county councillor in Shaun Cunniffe.
Speaking of his time within Labour Dep Keaveney said he was honoured to have served as party chair of the Labour Party.
“I would also like to acknowledge and thank all of those in Labour that I have worked and debated with,” he said. “It has been rewarding and I have been touched by the basic decency of the party’s grassroots membership and their commitment to improving our country and society. I wish them ever success and good fortune in their endeavours.”
In his statement, Dep Keaveney also thanked his wife, Deirdre, his parents, family, and friends” for all their support throughout the years”.