Up to 400 Labour Party members who gathered in Clonmel on Sunday to celebrate the party’s foundation in the town 100 years ago, were greeted by Workers & Unemployed Action Group protestors demonstrating over Government austerity cutbacks.
About 20 members of the Clonmel based left wing political group, led by TD Seamus Healy, demonstrated behind barriers on the public road outside Hotel Minella as Labour Party members from all over the country, including party leader Eamon Gilmore and former leader Dick Spring, arrived for the centenary celebration.
There was a large garda presence around Hotel Minella for the four-hour long event that was attended by most of the Labour Parliamentary Party.
The WUAGs, who are the majority political group on Clonmel Borough Council, particularly highlighted the cutbacks that have affected Clonmel and South Tipperary including the loss of Kickham Army Barracks, St Michael’s Psychiatric Unit and the impending abolition of the Borough Council.
Deputy Healy was joined at the demonstration by Clonmel Borough Council members Cllrs Pat English, deputy mayor of Clonmel Cllr Teresa Ryan and Cllr Helen McGee.
He said they were protesting because Labour had abandoned low and middle income families and would be targetting them again in the Budget with further cuts and taxes. Clonmel had been very badly hit by government cutbacks with the closure of Kickham Barrack, St Michael’s Unit, the axing of the Borough Council and the constant threat to services at South Tipperary General Hospital.
“This isn’t the Labour Party that Connolly and Larkin founded,” he declared.
The protest was the latest setback for the Labour Party’s centenary celebration in Clonmel after Clonmel Borough Council’s only remaining Labour councillor Darren Ryan resigned from the party last week citing the party leadership’s “snubbing” of celebrations organised by the local Labour party organisation in May when he was Mayor of Clonmel. The party leadership pulled out of the weekend of anniversary commemorations due to their proximity to the Fiscal Treaty Referendum.
Another prominent local Labour Party figure Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald from Carrick-on-Suir boycotted the event because he believed the anniversary had already been celebrated on the actual date in May when the Labour party was founded in Clonmel and this new event was “too little, too late” in his view.
Clonmel based MEP Phil Prendergast, Senator Denis Landy and North Tipperary Minister of State Alan Kelly have hit back at the Workers and Unemployment Action Group’s criticisms of Labour’s record in government.
Ms Prendergast said the WUAG had a legitimate right to protest but she pointed out that Labour and Fine Gael had inherited a legacy of huge debt and the Troika had an absolute say in the how they ran the country at the moment. She couldn’t see how the WUAG could do any different if they had a sufficient mandate to be in elected to government.
“Seamus Healy has said he wouldn’t support any government. It’s wonderful to be in permanent opposition. It allows you great comfort where you can object, protest and rile up the people and just say it’s Labour that are doing this,” she said.
Minister Kelly agreed. He said Labour were in Government at a difficult time and he wouldn’t like to imagine what this country would be like if the party wasn’t part of the Government.
Contrary to what the WUAG protestors claimed, he argued that Labour was protecting people in vulnerable situations and rights during the greatest economic crisis the country has ever witnessed.
“This country would be absolutely destroyed if the likes of Seamus Healy and his policies every got hold. These people haven’t any answers and solutions. It’s certainly unpalatable for me to make some decisions in this Government but the alternative is what?
“How would we ensure doctors, nurses, teachers, council workers got their wages and that the necessary services to the elderly and needy continue.. The fact is we are borrowing money off strangers. The people elected a new government, they didn’t elect a new economy”.
Minister Kelly defended his party’s decision to organise this event to mark the centenary of its foundation in Clonmel and said he was one of the people who had pushed for it to take place.
He said he was very interested in the party’s history and it was very fitting that they acknowledge this anniversary in Clonmel in 2012.
In relation to Cllr Ryan’s resignation, Minister Kelly said he regretted that Cllr Ryan took that course of action but to him it didn’t really make much sense and it seemed to be quite a “weak reason” to leave the party.
He rejected suggestions that the Labour party organisation in the county was divided and weakened by the controvery over the marking of the Labour party’s centenary.
He said the party was in its strongest position in Co Tipperary in the history of State with a local Minister of State, MEP and senator and councillors around the county. He pointed out that the Labour party organisations in North and South Tipperary willl be uniting within the next few weeks in preparation for the merger of the two constituencies.
Meanwhile, Senator Landy, who walked out of a recent meeting of the Labour Parliamentary Party over the lack of consultation with the local party organisation about the centenary celebrations, told The Nationalist he was pleased the event was taking place in Hotel Minella and that the centenary of the Labour Party’s foundation was being recognised in the party’s birthplace.
He said he was certainly disappointed that the Labour leadership pulled out of the commemorations in May because a lot of hard work had gone into organising them by the local committee but he was now “moving on” and this was a day to celebrate the party and the great place it has in Irish politics over the past 100 years.