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Monday 18 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Labour pay heavy price for caving in over abortion bill

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Michael D Higgins has just published a new poem about extremism in the Middle East called The Prophets Are Weeping.

Whatever about them, our own President could certainly be forgiven for shedding a tear or two over the state of his old party.

By caving in over this week's controversial abortion bill, Joan Burton (inset) has dismayed many of her own supporters and left them more fearful than ever about the general election that is now barely twelve months away.

Labour has suffered many humiliations since it entered government four years ago, but yesterday's Dail vote was up there with the worst.

Virtually all of the party's TDs agree in principle with the amendment submitted by Clare Daly, which proposes to allow terminations in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

With the honourable exception of Anne Ferris, however, they were whipped through the lobbies like sheep yesterday evening and voted it down - largely for fear of offending their coalition partners in Fine Gael.

As expected, Burton hid behind the fig-leaf of claiming that Daly's amendment is probably unconstitutional. She could still have shown some gumption by coming up with a new wording herself, testing the bill in court or allowing her TDs a free vote.

spinelessness

Instead, the official Government line remains: Ireland's law may be a disgrace, but we've already had one abortion showdown in this Dail and that is quite enough, thank you.

Sadly, Labour's spinelessness is part of an ongoing pattern.

Time after time in this Government, Burton and her colleagues have talked big on certain issues but failed to back it up with meaningful action.

In other words, they want voters to give them credit for saying the right thing without the inconvenience of actually having to do the right thing.

The Universal Social Charge is another case in point.

Enda Kenny recently promised that next October's pre-election budget will focus on cutting the top rate of income tax.

Whether or not that is good economics, it does nothing for the low-paid workers who are supposed to be natural Labour supporters - and yet all the early signs are that Burton will once again concede without a fight.

On the never-ending nightmare of Irish Water, Labour are also allowing the hard left to walk all over them.

Thanks to a series of blunders throughout 2014, deputy leader Alan Kelly must now defend a flat-rate system that charges poor families exactly the same amount as rich ones.

No wonder that the Socialist Party and their comrades are having a field day.

Labour do win the odd battle, of course, but rarely in a way that reflects much credit on them.

Their opposition to the Government's possible sale of Aer Lingus probably means that any potential deal is already dead in the water.

Killing the deal before debating it properly, however, has left the suspicion that this is more about saving Labour seats in north Dublin than what might actually be in our national interest.

All this means that at a time when Ireland's left is growing fast, Labour are completely failing to take advantage.

While Sinn Fein and others hold talks on creating a Celtic version of Greece's Syriza, Burton's party must constantly deal with accusations that they have sold their socialist souls.

promises

Last weekend, Gerry Adams even had the nerve to suggest that SIPTU should end its "unrequited love affair" with Labour and throw its trade union weight behind the Shinners instead.

Labour is still haunted by a series of broken promises it made during the 2011 election and the infamous 'Labour's way or Frankfurt's way' slogan, beloved of Eamon Gilmore.

After seven months of leadership, Joan Burton has yet to make a real impact.

With no significant 'Burton bounce' in the opinion polls, the Tanaiste's safety-first strategy is not just strange: it is starting to look downright suicidal.

When Labour had a chance to stand up for its pro-choice principles yesterday, it rolled over and played dead.

Soon the party may not even have to act very hard.

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