ALL-OUT war has broken out between Labour chairman Colm Keaveney and the party leadership under Eamon Gilmore. The row, which has been simmering since Mr Keaveney lost the party whip by voting against the Social Welfare Bill provisions of the Budget, has escalated this weekend.
This latest development threatens to destabilise the leadership of Eamon Gilmore – and therefore the Coalition – because of a groundswell of support for Mr Keaveney.
Last night, as he fought to keep his position, Mr Keaveney spoke for the first time about the level of acrimony between himself and the Labour hierarchy, which he claims is now feeding into attempts to oust him from the party chairmanship.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Keaveney tells an extraordinary story of alleged "dirty tricks" that surrounded his successful bid for the chairmanship of the party almost two years ago.
He also reveals how a key figure in the party threatened to sue him for defamation in an exchange of legal correspondence after he had complained about alleged interference in his constituency.
Now Mr Keaveney fears that an attempt will be made to remove him from the position, which was conferred on him by the general membership, as opposed to the parliamentary party.
He also said that his relationship with the party leadership had soured long before he voted against the Government following last month's Budget.
Last night the Labour Party strenuously denied that there had been any "dirty tricks" to oppose the election of Mr Keaveney in 2011.
A spokesman said: "The Labour Party did not take a position on who should or should not be elected to the party chairmanship. Anyone suggesting otherwise is wrong."
Mr Keaveney's complaint was being dealt with by internal party structures, said the spokesman, adding: "It is unfortunate that the party chairman feels aggrieved."
The Labour leadership is understood to be seeking legal advice on how to remove Mr Keaveney. They take the view that his continuing as party chairman is now untenable.
Mr Keaveney said he now believes a complaint will be made against him, triggering his suspension from the party.
He said: "The irony is that I am going to be punished and court-martialled over a promise that the Labour Party made before the election.
"I look forward to immersing myself in clarifying what happened around these events. The Labour grassroots wear as a badge of honour honesty in politics.
"This nasty, below-the- belt approach would appall the grassroots members."
Mr Keaveney said the "shenanigans, the dynamics, the tricks, had no influence" on how he voted on the Budget, adding: "If it was a personality issue, I would have left the Labour Party a long time ago. It was a decision based on principle, not on personality."
The Labour spokesman said: "It is unfortunate the party chairman feels aggrieved but as far as the Labour Party is concerned, our primary focus is on building on the progress we have made in Government in bringing stability to our public finances, in tackling the jobs crisis and in safeguarding the state supports that are in place for people who need them most."