Former Independent TD Jerry Cowley has joined the Labour Party, the announcement was made at the opening of the party's National Conference in Galway.

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Labour has not won a seat in Mayo since 1927, so this evening's announcement that Dr Jerry Cowley has joined the party is a boost in the constituency.

Dr Cowley was elected to the Dáil as an Independent in 2002, but lost his seat five years later - he will now be expected to challenge for a return to the Dáil next time out.

Heath reforms proposed

Health spokesperson Jan O'Sullivan TD has promised that her party would introduce a one-tier universal health service if in Government.

She said that Labour will begin implementing its plan as soon as it is elected to Government and would dismantle ‘the dead hand of centralised bureaucracy by reforming the way hospitals are paid to a 'money follows the patient' model’.

To enthusiastic applause, Deputy O'Sullivan called on Mary Harney to go as her ‘so-called reform programme has failed along with her party and her ideology’.

She said that in the past 12 years spending on health had increased by €10bn, but the money had gone into ‘the same old inefficient system run by a huge centralised bureaucracy that pays hospitals a fixed sum no matter how much work they do and that is headed by a nominal Minister for Health, 'Hands-off Harney'‘.

Ms O'Sullivan said that when Labour first advocated the universal insurance model back in 2001, it was a lone voice.

She welcomed the fact that Labour's ‘likely future partner in Government’, Fine Gael, is now advocating the same idea along with other organisations.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch TD, of Cork North Central, said that we have a health service with which we continuously find fault and which is unequal.

She added that when it comes to health, we must start again.

She called for a health service similar to that of other European countries. She remarked that Mary Harney had said some years ago that we must choose between Boston and Berlin, but ‘we are going to Berlin and we want nothing of Boston’.

Deputy Lynch added that the idea that you treat people differently because of their age is a scandal.

It was wrong she said that older people were asked to put a lien on their houses to pay for health care and this would not happen to a younger person.

It was wrong that older people were being asked to donate part of their homes to cover their health costs.

Senator Phil Prendergast said that the HSE was set up five years ago to make the health service more efficient, but it had done the opposite.

She said that the HSE treats people as goods to be warehoused.

Blasphemy law criticised

The Labour Party has committed itself to holding a referendum to remove the crime of blasphemy from the Constitution.

Senator Ivana Bacik claimed there was a ‘creeping fundamentalism’ taking place under the cover of the recession, led by groups like the Iona Institute.

She said it was ‘silly and dangerous’ to revive a medieval crime like blasphemy.