The busy side streets off Dublin’s bustling Grafton Street shopping district lies the little coffee shop called Coffeeangel, where Hugh Murphy of Labour Youth discussed all things politics, his early life and his hopes for the future. Hugh has recently been elected as the Chairperson of Labour Youth in the Republic of Ireland – Labour was once the 3rd largest party in the south, but currently presides over the current era of politics as a minor party. He highlights that the first youth setup within the party took place in 1969 at Trinity College Dublin – Hugh is currently in his fourth year of study there studying politics.
Estimated at 100 members (many of whom are university students), Labour Youth has advocated some policies on behalf of the wider party. One such example is public transport. Hugh defends his party leader’s calls to introduce a €9 ticket scheme for people aged between 18 and 24 – similar to measures introduced throughout the pandemic by the German government.
“We must make public transport more affordable and accessible for young people, amid the importance of the climate crisis and the current cost of living crisis.”
Climate Change and the environmental welfare of the planet are among the top priorities for Hugh’s tenure as Chairperson.
“When I stood upon my manifesto for this position, climate was important to me. It’s a shame that the Green Party aren’t delivering on the climate crisis in government.”
When pressed with how he viewed the Labour Party’s delivery in government in the past, Hugh conceded that Labour had a “tough time” in government between 2011 and 2016. Although he emphasises that Labour had always been the junior partner in coalition government and “couldn’t always get what they wanted.”
Eamon Gilmore served as Tánaiste between 2011 and 2014. He resigned following poor Labour performances in the 2014 Local and European elections.
“Do we always get it right – no I don’t think so.”
The new Chairperson of Labour Youth points out that Labour now lives within a “crowded field” among the various political parties and that his party needs to reach out and re-build. Ivana Bacik’s arrival to the party leadership has given the young politico hope for the future after been a part of her successful by-election win in Dublin Bay South during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recalling that contest, Hugh Murphy was “quietly confident” that his party’s leader would retain her seat in the next general election. Noting Bacik’s history campaigning on social issues – the decriminalisation of homosexuality under Albert Reynolds’ Fianna Fail-Labour coalition in 1993 and the fact she almost served a prison sentence because she provided information on abortion while at Trinity College herself – there was a tacit acceptance that Bacik would be in a ‘close’ race next time round.
In 2011, the Labour Party secured 37 seats in the Dail under then leader Eamon Gilmore. Later in November, Michael D. Higgins was elected President of Ireland. The 22-year old summed up Higgins’ performance as “excellent” and noted his ability to mobilise young people across the country and that upon his exit from the Áras he would be “sorry to see him go.” Asked if he would vote for Bertie Ahern in the 2025 vote – “integrity is important, so he definitely won’t be getting my vote!
Source: Irish Left Archive.
One party that was formed by ex-Labour TDs is the Social Democrats, whose Dublin Central TD Gary Gannon passed us as we sat and chatted. Hugh Murphy sees the SocDems as “equals, very progressive” who have little policy divergence and a “lot in common” with the Labour Party. Posed with the possibility of a merger between the two parties in the future, he would be very much in favour of such a proposition and raised the question as to whether leftist parties should consider standing a single “left” candidate in the next presidential election or even some form of electoral pact in a general election. Self-critical of the idea, Hugh notes that even among the left-wing parties you see divisions of which includes People Before Profit, whom he labels as “further left.”
The current government under Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party has been in office since June 2020 and under the helm of Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar sharing the post of Taoiseach. How does Hugh Murphy rate them out of 10 – “5/10 tops.” Amid the cost-of-living crisis, the climate crisis and the affordable housing shortage, the government is “not doing enough to support working people.”
Labour is considered one of the parties who may find themselves in the position of kingmaker between a Fianna Fail-, Fine Gael- or Sinn Fein-led government after the next election. The Trinity student sees “no harm in talking to other parties.” When encountered with the pollster’s verdict that Sinn Fein will likely be the winning party, Hugh gave an assessment of the next possible government party.
Source – Ya Libna News.
“I know personally of young people who are voting for or are members of Sinn Fein. I would never see myself ever joining Sinn Fein. I would find it uncomfortable to be in a government with a party whose guiding philosophy is nationalism and there are still questions which remain about Sinn Fein’s past.”
Labour will soon debate a motion at their upcoming Ard Fhesis which signifies a move across the border into Northern Ireland – “this motion is envisaged for the very long-term and not anytime soon. We have had links since the ‘70s with the SDLP in the north and we have a good working relationship with members of the SDLP.”
The partnership between the SDLP and Fianna Fail according to the young Labour activist did “cause tension” between the Labour Party and their sister grouping across the Irish border. Similar to Karl Duncan of SDLP Youth, Hugh spoke against Colum Eastwood’s decision to team up with Fianna Fail and questioned as to exactly what the short marriage actually achieved for the party north of the border.
You can listen to a podcast discussion with Karl Duncan from early 2022 at the following link (https://www.mixcloud.com/RadioYNP/eds-guests-karl-duncan-sdlp-youth/).
Now to Hugh Murphy’s personal background and his early life – his full first name is Hugo. He studies politics at Trinity College Dublin having grown up in Brussels in the shadows of the European Union institutions where his parents both worked in as civil servants from Ireland. He credits his mum and dad with his interest in politics from a young age. Not overegging his own personal intelligence, he laughed away suggestions that he was somewhat of a genius when it came to his years at school and exams to get into Trinity.
Having lived for a few years in the Belgian capital, Hugh can speak French to a good degree of competence and is also an Irish speaker – he has visited the Gaeltacht on two occasions. He believes that Trinity “could be more accessible” to students and pointed to the “flawed” Leaving Certificate system as one reason for this. He also calls for the abolition of university fees in the south and referenced a political hero of his party, Niamh Bhreathnach who as education minister in the “rainbow coalition” of the 1990s did just that.
However, Hugh’s political experience wasn’t just isolated to Ireland – having decided to leave his year abroad in Hong Kong amid lockdown restrictions, he went to Australia where he campaigned for the Australian Labor Party (ALP).
“Australia was amazing. I understand why it appeals to so many young people here. I was involved in the seat of McNamara and campaigned for the Labor MP Josh Burns. Josh is very vocal on issues like climate and gay rights, and I was lucky to see the election of a Labor government while I was there.”
Source – The Music Reel.
When quizzed on his knowledge of Australian politics, Hugh expressed his admiration for Julia Gillard, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. He voiced support for the indigenous ‘voice to parliament’ measure being put to a referendum by the Albanese government later this year. He was impressed by the federal structure used there, pressing that there were many local politicians such as Dan Andrews who were impressive in state government. He however opposed the Australian 3-year term of office for parliamentary elections and believed it would not be a good idea in Irish politics and was “shocked” at how the media divide between the Murdoch tabloids and mainstream journalism exists in the Pacific nation.
“Having seen it first hand, it was unbelievable how many negative ads were put out against the ALP. Thankfully we haven’t got that here as it is not good for democracy.”
Who would Hugh mark down as political heroes here at home? He notes Mary Robinson for her work on climate action, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, the “true European” John Hume and Naomi Long for whom he said he was “delighted to see the Alliance surge in Northern Ireland.”
Previously various Labour figures expressed admiration for other party figures, such as Garret Fitzgerald from Raurai Quinn upon Fitzgerald’s death in 2011. Whom would Hugh choose as his iconic non-Labour Party hero – “I would say Garret Fitzgerald for how he was able to speak to young people, his integrity and the how he stood up to Charles Haughey. Of course, I must also say that his government included the Labour Party.”
Garret Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in the presence of then Irish Labour leader, Dick Spring at Hillsborough Castle in November 1985.
Hugh Murphy outside of politics enjoys a swim in the ocean on a regular basis – he regularly goes for a dip at Seapoint beach but recommends Dalkey as his favourite spot. He is a “big cyclist” and also enjoys Dublin’s social scene. Drawing on the 2015 referendum on legalising same-sex marriage, he says that moment had a particular impact and a rather “moving” experience upon himself personally as a young gay man.
“I am lucky to have had such an accepting family. There are some great LGBT spaces in Dublin. I guess like we can say for everything, we could do more to make them more comfortable. I recommend The George. Pancy Bar and Mother are also notable mentions.”
For the final few questions, Hugh answered the toughest of them all…
His favourite book?
“Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders.”
His favourite film?
The best city in Ireland?
“I love all the big places in Ireland – Cork, Galway and Belfast. I love visiting and being in Belfast. However, Dublin is a great city and is probably my favourite.”
What does Hugh want to do when he graduates this year from Trinity?
“I’m unsure what to do next – I want to travel. I feel what all other young people feel about here right now with the various problems going on, but I see my life here in Ireland.”
Finally, Hugh’s advice to people with an interest in politics?
“Keep going, do the good thing and never take it too seriously.”