TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore has been told by Labour TDs to quit the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to save the party from wipeout at the next general election.
He was faced with demands to take immediate action in the wake of the party's disastrous 6pc support level in the latest opinion poll.
At a tense meeting of Labour TDs and senators in Leinster House yesterday, Mr Gilmore tried to steady nerves following the slump in support.
One of the most common complaints at the parliamentary party meeting was that his role as Foreign Affairs Minister was sending him abroad when he was needed to push the party's case at home.
"We would like to see a more high-vis Eamon Gilmore. He is the leader of the pack and we need him out there. It's like a family, if somebody's away, the family can be in a little bit of disharmony," said one TD.
Labour TDs have been left shell-shocked by the latest opinion poll which could see the party left with as few as 10 seats after winning 37 in the 2011 general election.
A party source said previous opinion polls had shown an increase in Labour support and there had been a general sense that the economic conditions had been getting better.
"We weren't expecting it. People are a bit shell-shocked," he said.
But Labour is set to achieve its objective of getting a Budget adjustment target of less than €3.1bn after Finance Minister Michael Noonan confirmed that it would be "somewhat less" than this figure. A Labour source said it would certainly be no more than €2.8bn.
The attendance at the parliamentary party meeting was strictly limited to TDs and senators – with Mr Gilmore ordering that party staff and advisers stay outside.
Mr Gilmore personally wrote down issues in a list, one by one, as 20 TDs and senators took turns to speak. He promised that he would come back at next week's meeting with responses.
TDs insisted that there were no personal attacks on Mr Gilmore and that the mood at the meeting was to start fighting back against the "unjustified" poll result.
"There was no criticism of the Tanaiste. The only thing people are saying is that 'you are a good performer and we need you at home performing for us'," said one source.
Sources say that the majority of Labour TDs believe that Mr Gilmore should take up a domestic ministry so that he can restore Labour's support levels. Others think that it would have little effect on the party's low rating in the opinion polls.
However, there are no indications that Mr Gilmore is going to ask Taoiseach Enda Kenny to bring forward his cabinet reshuffle from next year to get him into a new ministry. A senior Labour source said that Mr Gilmore's preference for leaving it until 2014 had not changed.
Mr Gilmore expressed his own disappointment at the opinion poll result. But he gave what was described as a "very forceful" speech which helped steady the nerves in the party.
"He was back to his old fighting best, as good as we've seen him," said one source present.
But Mr Gilmore and the Labour ministers were left in no doubt about the need to put a distinctive "Labour stamp" on the Budget. This means reducing the cutbacks in education and social welfare as well as getting funding for free GP care for children under five.
Another complaint was that the party was not getting its message across to voters.
Labour party chairman Jack Wall said the opinion poll was seen as a warning. "There was a sense of realism at the meeting. People feel there's more to do. It's a very difficult period in Irish life and we have to work to try to improve that," he said.
Senator John Gilroy said the opinion poll rating was not unexpected. "We're at the bottom of the cycle but there are some signs of recovery. There's no sense of panic or foreboding or doom in the party," he said.
Mr Gilmore's record as leader was strongly defended yesterday by Dublin Mid-West TD Robert Dowds, who said he had been doing his absolute damnedest to fix the economic mess.
Labour Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan insisted that the party was united around Mr Gilmore.
And Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte backed Mr Gilmore's pledge to lead the party into the next election. He said that Mr Gilmore had come back to the Dail in 2011 with more seats than at any time in the past 100 years of Labour's history.
"People think that because they got a new government they got a new economy, and that we would start with a blank sheet of paper. We can't – we have to deal with the inheritance – disastrous and all that that inheritance was, we have to deal with it. People are hurting, I understand that," he said.
Mr Gilmore said that he intended to complete his term as leader. "I have a job to do. That job is to lead my party in government. To do a job which is about rescuing the country from the disaster when we came into office."
By Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor