Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik has said she disagrees with UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s order that British MPs should not join union picket lines, but said she still admires him.
Ms Bacik said the British Labour Party’s recent surge in the polls offers a lesson on how the Irish party can grow by uniting and not being disheartened by stagnant survey figures.
Mr Starmer has come under criticism from trade unionists for not emphatically backing striking workers.
During the summer, he warned his frontbenchers not to join picket lines, and sacked his shadow transport minister in July for giving unauthorised media interviews from a demonstration organised by the transport union RMT.
The UK is facing workers’ strikes across various sectors this winter as nurses, paramedics and rail workers walk out over jobs, pay and conditions.
“I didn’t agree with the edict that Labour MPs shouldn’t stand with the picketers, that’s a personal view,” Ms Bacik said in an interview with the PA news agency.
“I certainly wouldn’t have thought of us ever doing that, of course not. We’re a party of the trade union movement. And we certainly don’t agree with everything British Labour stand for or do.
She added: “For a long time, we obviously had a huge difference over the war in Iraq.
“And their clear view is that if there were a referendum on the island of Ireland, that they would be in favour of retaining the link with the United Kingdom and that’s not our position.
“We’re a Connelly-ite republican party,” she said, referring to James Connelly, a co-founder of the Irish Labour Party who was executed for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising.
Ms Bacik and Mr Starmer met in Dublin earlier this month, the third meeting of the two barristers.
I know how vital it is that the UK's relationship with Ireland is built on partnership and an understanding of shared challenges.
It was a pleasure to meet @labour leader @ivanabacik again today and discuss how how we can work together to build economic growth and prosperity. pic.twitter.com/PX26qqyfAI
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) December 6, 2022
She said the meeting with Mr Starmer aimed to maintain ties between sister parties, which includes the SDLP, but also gave the chance to discuss Labour’s success.
“A huge part of that meeting was just to discuss how to strengthen our links.
“But obviously, we also have been watching with great interest how Keir Starmer, as leader over a number of years, has focused first on uniting his own party.
“And one of the things that we spoke about was how united British Labour are now – so much more than at any time in the previous five or 10 years when they were always riven by splits and factions.
“And now, at the party conference in September, it was really evident how united they are.
“They’re now clearly doing so well over there, and have united, and are looking now as to how they can deliver an effective government, and we’ll continue to develop our links with them because that’s very important to us.”
Ms Bacik, who has previously described herself as being “a Green Red or a Red Green”, praised the “fairer, greener future” headline of the conference, and also expressed appreciation that former Labour leaders like Ed Miliband “are now playing a really pivotal role within the party in pushing their policy agenda”.
“And we’ve seen that after some years when Keir Starmer was being derided for not polling well and not bringing Labour up to be seen as a real contender against the Tories – we’re seeing that has really shifted.
“So to me, it is a lesson. He was very much focused on building from within, on strengthening internally, on uniting the party, on recruiting candidates.
“That’s been a central focus for me for the last six months as well.”
She said that she admired his stamina, but said that she has been a long time in politics herself.
“One of my favourite headlines last summer was ‘overnight success after 30 years’. So I like to think I’ve got stamina too, but he certainly has and that’s been really impressive to watch.”
Ms Bacik became a TD in a by-election last summer, her third attempt at entering the Dáil, and eight months later became leader of the Labour Party.
She is a barrister, has lectured in criminology and law, and describes herself as a lifelong trade unionist. As a student, she was taken to court and threatened with time in prison for sharing information on abortion.
The Labour Party has languished in the polls at around 4 per cent, having won just 6 per cent of first preference votes in the 2020 general election.