Labour TD says party better in opposition
Published 04/03/2011 | 15:26
Labour could better serve the country by rejecting a coalition pact in favour of heading the opposition, an outspoken party TD said.
Tommy Broughan warned of "profound worries" within the party about the prospect of a deal with Fine Gael this weekend.
The Dublin North East TD said many younger members in particular did not want to be the "mudguard of some other outfit" for the sake of some power.
"Putting the country first may well mean we would be better in opposition, by far," he said.
The former frontbencher said "grave reservations" remained over whether Labour could enforce its reform plans under the shadow of senior coalition partners with more than twice as many Dail seats.
"People feel it is going to be hard to drive the government and that, therefore, the people we represent might be better protected by leading the opposition.
"I think there is a strong view along those lines."
Labour has never led the opposition before and some see it as a historic opportunity to smash the traditional claim of either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael to lead government.
Mr Broughan said most Labour members were suspending judgment on a pact to see what their negotiators could secure in the discussions with Fine Gael.
Predicting vigorous debate at Labour's planned special delegate conference on Sunday - to vote on any coalition deal - Mr Broughan said fears would be raised that the party could be "decimated" at the next election for propping up Enda Kenny.
Unless negotiators drove a hard bargain on wages and social welfare protection, a jobs stimulus plan and investment, then the party leadership would have a difficult time persuading the grassroots to enter government, he said.
One Labour TD, who wished to remain anonymous, said there was a debate opening up in the party about whether they would be better in opposition or coalition.
"There's a bit of genuine debate happening," he said.
"There is some people who don't want to go into coalition under any circumstances, but there is a lot of people who feel there is a sense of duty and responsibility to do it."
But he insisted the electorate had voted for a coalition rather than a one-party government.
Also asking not to be named, another Labour TD said the parliamentary party was very open to a coalition deal and that it would come down to whether a proposed programme for government was workable.
Delegates at the special conference would be voting on the deal alone rather than ideological differences with Fine Gael, fears over a future electoral disaster or on a left/right realignment of Irish politics, the TD said.
Grassroots opposition to a coalition pact insists there is growing concern among Labour members across the country, including new and returning TDs.
Labour councillor Cian O'Callaghan claimed most were keeping quiet to allow the negotiators to thrash out an agreement.
"I've been talking to Labour party members across the country, grassroots members, councillors, and I'm also aware that a number of TDs in the party have some strong reservations about the potential for a Fine Gael-led government," the Howth/Malahide councillor said.
"You can be absolutely certain that you're going to see a very strong, vigorous and healthy debate on Sunday and we'll wait to see what the outcome is."
Mr O'Callaghan said four TDs had personally expressed their opposition to him about a prospective coalition.
Dismissing suggestions Labour could off-set tough Fine Gael policies, he said the UK Liberal Democrats had failed to soften Conservative cutbacks.
The youth wing of the party is also warning against a coalition agreement, claiming a "discredited and morally bankrupt" Fianna Fail should not be allowed to lead the opposition.
The Unite trade union has added its support, stating the party could form a strong left-leaning opposition of 60 TDs.
Jimmy Kelly, regional secretary, warned entering government could see Labour's strength decline.
"We'd undo that fantastic (general election) result by getting into government with Fine Gael," Mr Kelly said.
"The polices of Fine Gael are anti-worker, they're on the side of big business, they're on the side of promoting issues that would lead to privatisation, they're on the side of not taking on the wealthy in this society, in the sort of taxation that should be foisted on the rich."
Some 1,000 people are eligible to attend and vote at the special delegate conference at University College Dublin on Sunday, with a simple majority needed to ratify any programme for government.
The vote will be taken by a show of hands.
Delegates will come from Labour branches across the county, as well as 80 representing unions affiliated to the party.
Fine Gael would only have to secure backing for any deal from its elected TDs and senators.