Joan Burton: I did not undermine Eamon Gilmore
Published 31/05/2014 | 02:30
JOAN Burton has rejected suggestions she was trying to undermine Eamon Gilmore by continually referring to him being out of the country as Foreign Affairs Minister.
Labour Party figures believe Ms Burton (below) deliberately used President Michael D Higgins' state visit to the UK to raise Mr Gilmore's need to take on a domestic portfolio, the Irish Independent has learned.
In an interview with this newspaper, the Social Protection Minister said she was only reflecting the views of people "with a huge amount of goodwill" towards the Tanaiste.
During the state visit, Ms Burton said she believed Mr Gilmore needed to move to another position as he was away so often.
The comments are understood to have annoyed a number of Mr Gilmore's supporters on the ministerial and backbenches of the Labour Party, who wanted to hit back at the time.
A party source said Ms Burton's line was 'he's always out of the country', adding that "she has been running her campaign for some time.
"The very first day of Michael D's state visit to the UK, she used it as an opportunity to say it would be better if Eamon Gilmore came home.
But Ms Burton said Mr Gilmore was aware of her opinion on his choice of portfolio and that he should move to another job.
"I have been of that view and Eamon knows that.
"Frankly, as I travelled around the country talking to Labour Party members in the context of the job that I do in Social Protection, I have the privilege of meeting a lot of people, going to a lot of communities.
It came up constantly as a theme – not just from members of the Labour Party, but actually members of the public with a huge amount of goodwill towards Eamon, who said that they would like to see him in a domestic ministry. And these are people with goodwill towards him – I am not talking about critics," she said.
Ms Burton said people recognised the need to restore Ireland's reputation at the height of the crisis, but the issue subsequently became "really prominent".
"I think Eamon is aware of my view on that over quite a period of time because that's what people are telling me. But the important thing is that was people of goodwill and regard. People who regarded Eamon very highly, and who do regard him very highly," she says.
Ms Burton says she believed Mr Gilmore should have accompanied the President to the UK, regardless of what portfolio he held.
"Whatever ministry Eamon held as Tanaiste, he would have been and should have been in London. That goes without saying.
"But I worked for three years as the Minister for Overseas Development with Tanaiste Dick Spring in the early 90s and I saw close up just simply how demanding it is to be abroad a very significant amount of the time, attending to very detailed, very important European negotiations," she said.