Saturday 10 December 2016

Burton plans to rise like a phoenix from the ashes

Published 25/02/2016 | 02:30

Communications Minister Alex White; Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton; and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin outside their election headquarters on Sir John Rogersons Quay yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Communications Minister Alex White; Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton; and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin outside their election headquarters on Sir John Rogersons Quay yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Joan Burton coughed and pointed to her throat and, as if by magic, a Labour Party worker appeared with a glass of water and after another significant gesture, a Strepsil.

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It was a necessary remedy - because she had a lot to say.

Fresh from her triumph in the final leaders' debate before polling day, the Labour Party leader was in fighting 'Joan of Arc' mode.

The polls have been progressively more dire - but is it possible at this late stage for her to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, carrying her party under her arm?

Asked if she was disappointed deputy leader Alan Kelly could not be there, Joan's tone was bright. "Well, I was talking to Alan yesterday and he's canvassing in Tipperary and I think, like most Labour candidates, we'll be canvassing until 10 o'clock on Friday night. I'm perfectly happy with that."

Brendan Howlin did not pull any punches.

"Everybody knows, every Labour deputy is fighting for their political lives and we want to talk to as many of our own constituents as we can.

"Obviously, we're part of the national campaign but everybody is doing their own thing too," he said.

Enda Kenny's "whinger" gaffe was mentioned.

"Well, I think the Taoiseach has set out his stall very clearly," said Joan.

"No more than myself, there are moments in all campaigns, no matter how wonderful and bright and shining you are, when language can become awkward.

"I don't agree for instance with the 'whinger' comment. I said that. The Taoiseach has withdrawn it and explained the context.

"You know all politics is local and the local opposition can be quite irritating when they don't recognise your wonder as much as your own party supporters might. I assume that that was one of those moments," she added.

In a canny appeal to "progressive voters" - as if anyone considers themselves to be otherwise - Joan urged them to "think twice before you cast your vote".

And she warned that with a possible Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition on the cards, "we could stumble by accident into the most conservative government of recent decades".

Labour have winnowed their manifesto down to three key commitments they hope will swing the electorate back to the status quo.

They say they will invest most in schools, health and childcare, cut the USC for low and middle income earners, and deliver a referendum on the 8th Amendment.

And if a leadership challenge should arise after the election?

Joan's answer was crisp.

"Well, I'm not anticipating that it will arise because we're fighting for every seat and the campaign has experienced a huge amount of warmth around the achievement of marriage equality," she said.

She says that Labour will score "above the expectations".

She said she has seldom seen an election where the people have remained "very, very thoughtful".

There are many undecideds out there who she feels will not make up their minds until tonight or before they walk into the polling station tomorrow morning.

With one last fighting thrust of her sword, Joan hopes to convince them.

Irish Independent

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