COLM Keaveney has broken his silence about his surprise decision to join Fianna Fail which he described today as a “changed party”.
The Galway East TD said Fianna Fail has learned from the “mistakes of the past” and now represents the people who “Labour committed to represent” prior to the last general election.
The Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party has in the past few minutes unanimously agreed to accept former Labour Chairman Colm Keaveney's application to join.
Leader Micheal Martin addressed the party outlining his support for Mr Keaveney's entry to the party. Mr Keaveney is to be "given a role" in the areas of mental health and disabilities.
Mr Keaveney has just arrived in Leinster House, warmly greeted by Senator Darragh O'Brien and was then taken to meet senior party policy and press officials before the official announcement at 1.30pm.
He told independent.ie that joining Fianna Fail was an “easy decision”.
“Fianna Fail is a changed party. It’s a different party. Fianna Fail represents the people who Labour had committed to represent prior to the last general election,” he said.
“The best way I can fulfil the commitments I made to the people of Galway East is to join a party like Fianna Fail. It is a party that has shown an understanding of the mistakes of the past. This was a very easy decision for me to maker,” he added.
Asked if he has anything to say to those in the Labour Party, Deputy Keaveney said:
“The best of luck to them. There is some very decent people in the Labour Party.”
Mr Keaveney has been in talks with Fianna Fail party leader Michel Martin since the Summer about a potential move.
He will be given a position on the party frontbench in the area of health, education and disabilities.
The signing is a significant boost to Mr Martin and comes after a series of meetings with party officials.
Mr Keaveney will be the Fianna Fáil candidate in the next general election in the newly conference Galway East-Roscommon South constituency.
The former Labour TD will bring the number of Fianna Fáil TDs up to 20.
Mr Keaveney was elected as a Labour Party TD in 2011 and subsequently became the party chairman.
He enjoyed a fraught relationship with the Labour leadership as he was frequently critical of the party's policies in Government.
He resigned the party whip in the wake of last year's budget to become an Independent TD and eventually resigned from the party and as chairman.
The deal to get Mr Keaveney to join Fianna Fáil has taken almost six months to come off.
The Galway East TD has also been meeting with senior party officials since the summer.
He had two meetings in July and August with Mr Martin.
His personal assistant, Colm Hynes, was also involved in meetings with Fianna Fáil general secretary Sean Dorgan.
"Fianna Fail come sniffing around to Colm during the summer wanting a meeting. But Colm has been kicking lumps out of Fianna Fáil for years," a local party source said.
Mr Keaveney was considering a run in the European elections in new Ireland Midlands-North-West constituency, but was thought to have backed off the idea due to the logistics and expense involved.
Fianna Fáil TD Michael Kitt has said he has not ruled out running again despite the imminent arrival of Keaveney.
"It's early days yet," he said.
Mr Kitt said he had no difficulty with the imminent arrival of Mr Keaveney.
"We're a broadly based party. A new member broadens the support," he said.
Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore today declined to comment on the news.
However a senior party source said the decision has come as a "surprise" to Mr Gilmore.
"He would have expected Colm Keaveney to run as an independent, I think the last thing he thought would happen is that he would join Fianna Fáil."
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn branded the defection of former Labour Party Chairman Colm Keaveney as the act of a desperate man.
"I think it must be a sign of his own desperation," he said cuttingly.`
Speaking in Government Buildings, Mr Quinn said jokingly that Labour will “struggle" to recover from the news.
News of Mr Keaveney's application to join Fianna Fáil comes just 48 hours after the conclusion of the Labour Party's successful National Conference.
When pressed for a more considered response, Mr Quinn said: "Colm has made many choices. For him it is the end of a particular journey. It is a personal decision that he has made. On a serious note it is for him to make decisions".
Mr Quinn did say he was sad that Mr Keaveney, who represents the Galway East constituency, had decided to leave the Labour Party.
"I am sad he that he had left the Labour Party, I am sad he has taken this particular route. But it is a free country," he added.
Mr Quinn said there had always been a way back into the Labour Party, but he "chose not to take it."