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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

Brendan Howlin: ‘The most resistant group I have come across are the most privileged’

The Labour conference has heard from senior ministers hitting out a the opposition parties, “obnoxious” trickle-down economics and the problem of cyberbullying.

Ruairí Quinn (with his back turned) and Pat Rabbitte at the Labour conference in Enfield today
Ruairí Quinn (with his back turned) and Pat Rabbitte at the Labour conference in Enfield today
Image: Niall Carson/Press Association

Updated 4.58pm

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE AND Reform Minister Brendan Howlin has said the most resistant group to change during his attempts to reform the public service have been “the most privileged”.

Speaking on the fringes of the Labour conference in Meath today, Howlin said that “every group I meet is in favour of reform, for somebody else”.

“The most resistant group I have come across are the most privileged. There is a sense of entitlement in some cohorts, which is absolutely extraordinary,” he said.

He declined to say who he was specifically referring to, promising such revelations for his book.

The Labour TD also mounted a strong defence of his party in government, saying the Haddington Road Agreement would not have been possible without the junior coalition partner.

“We are the party of public servants and quality public services,” he said, adding that the government’s economic recovery strategy has been “as fair as we can possibly make it”.

Howlin also said that he did not wish to return to the Celtic Tiger era, hitting out at its crudeness, it’s vulgarity.”

‘Threshold of decency’

Speaking this morning, the Tánaiste launched a strong defence of his party’s role in government as he rallies members ahead of the local and European elections in May.

Speaking at the party’s one-day conference in Enfield, Co Meath this morning, Gilmore claimed that his party managed to make economic adjustments “while maintaining the threshold of decency that this party always stood for”.

He pointed to the party “refusing to reduce core rates of social welfare” as well as taking thousands out of Universal Social Charge, raising the minimum wage and creating 58,000 jobs in the last year.

Gilmore said there will be no return to “boom and boost” and said his party would set about “building a sustainable economy” and a “sustainable recovery”.

“We will not take any guff from Fianna Fáil who put to the country into the bailout in the first place, or Sinn Féin whose daft economics will put us into a second bailout,” he said to applause from the party faithful.

He added that “if politics is the art of the possible then the Labour Party is the specialist in doing the impossible, and let’s do it again”.

‘Internet safety’

Also speaking this morning, Labour’s deputy leader and the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton hit out at the economic theory of “trickle-down economics” which she described as an “obnoxious” idea that had dominated policy in the US and many EU countries for too long.

She said it is better to build a recovery “from the bottom up and not the top down”.

The party also heard from a number of local election candidates with the conference also addressed by its European election candidates including Lorraine Higgins, the Galway-based senator, who is running in Midlands North West.

On the fringes of the conference, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte is chairing a session on internet safety and cyber bullying.

The Minister said a lot of people doubted that proposals by British Prime Minister to have ISPs block harmful content are implementable and said there are no “facile” solutions to the problem.

He said that discussing social media and the internet has been a “fraught area” for politicians and added that while “social media is a force for good” it has “the capacity to be abused, and is abused.”

Brian O’Neill, the chair of the internet content governance advisory group, said that proposals had to be achievable and based on “strong reliable evidence”. He said the internet is “too important” for “panic and the wrong kinds of responses” to the issues of cyberbulling and online safety.

First published 11.13am

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Read: ‘We get on extremely well’: Brendan Howlin ‘annoyed’ by report of rift with James Reilly

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Hugh O'Connell

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