Joe Higgins TD not retiring from political activity, but not to stand in next General Election

Press Statement     Monday, April 28, 2014Joe Higgins has decided not to stand in the next General Election and instead will play a role in energetically assisting activists in Dublin West and nationally by passing on the experience he has gained from more than forty years of political activity in the ongoing campaign to build a new movement for ordinary working class people to change society.

To the people of Dublin West, Joe said, “It has been my privilege to work alongside many people from every part of the Dublin 15 area who have displayed such commitment to defending and developing the community. I will continue to fight for the people of Dublin West as a public representative over the next two years as I have tried to do since I was first elected to Dublin County Council twenty three years ago. In particular we need to step up the fight against  the policy of austerity which is robbing ordinary people of any chance of a real “recovery”, just as we were robbed during the last six years of the crisis.”

Joe Higgins made his decision not to stand earlier this year. Joe will be 67 when the next General Election is due. If he stood and was elected he would be in his seventies during that Dail term. He believes that the baton of elected representation should be carried on by another generation of highly capable representatives such as Councillor Ruth Coppinger in Dublin West and Paul Murphy MEP who substituted for Joe in the European Parliament for the last three years, showing great political ability and commitment. Joe has every confidence that these colleagues, many others in the Socialist Party and a whole range of new activists in the Anti Austerity Alliance, will be the cutting edge on the crucial issues, developing further the struggle that Joe carried on for many years.

In particular Joe believes it is vital Paul Murphy gets every assistance in his campaign to retain an MEP seat in Dublin which has just started and likewise for Councillor Ruth Coppinger, who will be a strong challenger in the Dublin West By-Election whether it is held in four weeks or in six months time.

Joe Higgins stands out as a principled socialist who stands for a fundamentally different Ireland, a socialist Ireland that James Connolly, Jim Larkin and many of the men and women of the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 aspired to. In contrast all the parties – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, the Green Party and shamefully the Labour Party, all converged into a grey blob of compromise and sell-out. These parties care more about power, than people. Notwithstanding its rise in the polls, given its acceptance of the primacy of the capitalist market, Sinn Fein is set to go the way of the Greens and Labour.

A robust, independent voice for working people must not only be maintained, but strengthened. The struggle to build a new broad political movement for ordinary working class people that attempts to rebuild a Left and Socialist tradition is now more important than ever. Joe will do everything he can to assist, as this struggle is taken forward by fighters, left wing activists and socialists in the Socialist Party, in the AAA and elsewhere.

Joe felt it was necessary to make his decision public now because of the inevitable focus that will come on Dublin West because of the By-Election. It’s only a matter of time before he would be asked about his own intentions regarding future elections, so Joe felt it would be best to outline his decision before any campaigning for the By-Election starts.

As a public figure over the last thirty years, Joe Higgins has made a unique and decisive contribution to political, social and industrial life of this country, participating in all the key battles that ordinary people were involved in.  Over that time, he has been the most consistent and leading advocate for the interests of working class people and for the necessity of socialist change if Ireland is to become a truly democratic, just and equal society.

Elected public representative

First elected as a councillor in 1991, Joe Higgins led the campaign that defeated water charges nationally in 1996 and was propelled by that movement into the Dail for the first time in 1997. Between 1997 and 2007 Joe was regarded by many as the real opposition to a rampant Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat government, in particular holding Bertie Ahern to account and warning of the inevitable crisis that the “get rich quick” policy they operated, especially in relation to the property bubble, would inflict on the country and its people. He is recognised as one of the most clear and articulate speakers that the Dail has heard in many years.

Joe Higgins fought on countless workplace and community issues, including spending a month in prison in 2003, along with twenty one other activists, for refusing to desert his community in Dublin West who were actively resisting the unjust Bin Tax, which he correctly identified as the thin end of the wedge for a raft of new stealth taxes and privatisation of key public services.

Along with other activists, Joe also led an industrial dispute in 2005 that will have a special mention in the industrial and labour history of this country – The Gama Strike. This campaign and strike of Gama’s Turkish construction workers, with the support of Irish workers, resulted in an important victory and helped underpin proper pay and conditions for all construction workers. It also won more than €30 million in “stolen wages” for the Gama workers from this major multinational company.

Narrowly losing his seat in 2007, Joe stormed back into elected office in the European Election contest in Dublin in 2009, unseating two sitting MEPs and was then elected back into the Dail in 2011.

Campaigns

Joe Higgins’ office in the Dail is one of the busiest in taking up the individual cases and injustices that people experience at the hands of the system. In 2010 Joe used his office as an MEP to initiate the Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes. More than any other public representative, Joe spoke at a huge number of public meetings up and down the country to help organise a new fighting movement of ordinary people.

The idea for the mass people’s assembly attended by over 3,000 people in the National Stadium, Dublin,  in March 2012 against the Household Tax, which had an electric atmosphere, came from Joe and will be remembered by all who attended as a once in a lifetime event – a glimpse of what an organised movement of working people could be. It played a vital role in maintaining mass non-payment of the household tax by a majority of single home owners well into 2013.

Helping rebuild an active movement

An aspect of the work he has undertaken since being re-elected has been one of consciously helping and developing new activists for the immediate campaigns but also for the huge battles that will erupt over the next years as this much talked about “recovery” fails to materialise for ordinary people and they see the need to struggle for change.

In the Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes, Joe consciously encouraged others to take the lead, which they did with great distinction, including Socialist Party members Councillors Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy MEP. So much so, that in 2013 a frightened establishment were compelled to put the property tax under the control of the Revenue Commissioners who were given new dictatorial powers to rob these austerity taxes directly from wages and benefits.

Joe has also been a vital guiding hand in the emergence of an important new movement the Anti Austerity Alliance which is standing 40 candidates in the Local Elections. Most of these are first time candidates who are contesting in Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, Carlow, Laois, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Drogheda.

Between now and the General Election, Joe will keep up the hectic schedule of representing ordinary people whether it be on individual cases, speaking on vital issues in the Dail or by actively campaigning outside of parliament. Since the General Election of 2011,  Joe Higgins has spoken week in and week out in the Dail on issues ranging from the banker/bondholder bailout and the austerity agenda, the outrage of homelessness, the disaster which Private Universal Health Insurance would mean for the Health Service and much else. He has also been a strong voice on the Oireachtas Finance Committee and in a previous Dail term served for five years on the Public Accounts Committee.

Joe will continue to be fully active in the struggles that communities and workers organise against austerity and attacks on pay and conditions and will help when and wherever he can.

Continuing the fight

In particular Joe will make all possible efforts to help the people in Dublin West and beyond fight on the issue of housing which is now a crisis and a national scandal. In the Dail and outside Joe will demand that all the property bubble mortgages and house prices are written down to real values; for rent controls to ensure fair rents and rights for tenants and a state building programme to build affordable homes to buy or rent for all.

Joe will also fight to ensure that the Water Tax due to be imposed in October will be resisted by an active campaign of mass non-payment. This is a charge to Irish Water and neither Revenue nor the power to deduct it from wages or benefits, operate this time so people can fight this austerity tax just as we did with great success in 1994/1995/1996, forcing a defeat on Fine Gael and Labour.

Joe will also stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting on the key social issues of today – against the new wave of sexism and undermining of the rights of women; for a women’s right to choose an abortion, safe and free through the health system and for full equality for all in front of the law, including campaigning for the introduction of gay marriage and adoption.

While clearly he will remain fully active in the struggle, on the occasion of making his intention not to stand in the next General Election public, the Socialist Party collectively wishes to place on record our very deep appreciation of the inspirational role that Joe Higgins has played in our party and in Irish society over decades and which will undoubtedly continue in a different capacity from 2016.