The two Labour Party leadership candidates went head to head in the first of the hustings, which were held in Cork city on Monday night.
Tipperary’s Alan Kelly, and Dublin Bay North’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin each outlined their vision for the future of the party.
Both candidates said they wanted the party to be a vessel for change - and that the party, in its current state, didn’t inspire voters.
Deputy Kelly opened his speech with his connection to Cork - having gone to UCC and joined the Labour Party in the city.
“It’s where I really cut my political teeth,” he said.
He went on to talk about the state of the party now: “I think for too long though we as a party have been telling ourselves things will be ok when they clearly won’t. In the last six years, we have experienced three of the worst elections in our history. We haven’t been relevant to the national conversation,” he said and went on to say that that could change.
Deputy Kelly also spoke about his credentials, and the work he’s done while in Leinster House: “Over the last four years in both the public accounts committee and as party health spokesperson, I have demonstrated the ability to connect; to be relevant, to be organised and be passionate about the delivery of public services that are aligned with our values. I took every opportunity to make sure our party was being pushed forward and relevant.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Ó Ríordáin outlined the first thing he would do as the leader of the Labour Party. He wants to “legislate to break the employer veto on negotiating with workers.” He said he also wants to employ “a bold policy agenda,” to rebuild a campaigning party, and to establish “a fit-for-purpose organisation with a ‘win-back’ strategy for every constituency.”
He went on to speak about a number of issues facing Ireland, and also hit out at some other parties for their stance on certain issues: “The Labour Party champions the public service, and rejects the pervasive tax-cutting agenda of the parties on the right – and so many of populists who seek to position themselves on the left.”
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said that he wants to “build a movement that we can all be proud of – and I want each and every one of you to be part of that movement.”
This was the first of five debates between Deputies Kelly and Ó Ríordáin - the next debate takes place on Thursday in North Dublin, followed by others over the coming weeks in Mullingar, Galway and South Dublin.
Labour members, who have been members for 18 months or more will make the decision on who will be the next party leader by Friday April 3, with the counting of votes taking place later that day.