Friday 30 September 2016

Gilmore got the boot from Cabinet in two minutes

Published 31/10/2015 | 02:30

Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore pictured in Dublin's Mansion House on the election of Joan Burton as Labour leader
Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore pictured in Dublin's Mansion House on the election of Joan Burton as Labour leader

Politics is an unforgiving game marked by highs and lows. And inevitably, most political careers end badly.

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It could be a lost election, a party heave, or a sense of regret and frustration at not getting things done.

Former Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore bowed out from high political office on a low, going from being one of the most popular political leaders in the country to one of the most unpopular in the space of three short years.

He led Labour into government with Fine Gael after winning a record 37 seats and 19pc of the vote in the 2011 General Election, only to resign as party leader three years later after a disastrous local and European campaign and low showings in opinion polls.

He went into government knowing that he and Labour were in for a rough ride, with hard decisions to be made in order to steer Ireland out of the financial doldrums. And he paid the price.

Gilmore is now ready to tell the story of those rollercoaster three years in government, and there is considerable nervousness within the Labour Party - and indeed outside too - at the publication of his revealing memoirs.

'Inside The Room - The Untold Story of Ireland's Crisis Government' doesn't disappoint. It is a no-holds-barred account of Gilmore's time as Labour Party leader, covering the run-up to the last General Election, his dramatic and turbulent period in power in the midst of the most serious financial crisis in the history of the state, and his demise and resignation as party leader.

He writes frankly about what he describes as forces within his party who worked against him - especially at the end of his term as leader.

We are brought into key meetings of the Economic Management Council - the 'War Cabinet' that steered Ireland out of the financial abyss. We also get some interesting snippets and insights from cabinet meetings, and a feel for the relationship between Gilmore and Enda Kenny, which did become more fraught at the end.

Poor relationships between Gilmore and his successor, Joan Burton, are confirmed in this very readable and honest book. He tells how he was "taken aback" and couldn't quell Burton's "growing anger" at a brief meeting when he told her she was being offered Social Protection, and not Foreign Affairs as she had requested, in the new Fine Gael and Labour government of March 2011.

However, three years later Burton had her turn. Gilmore writes how he was fired from Cabinet by the new Labour leader in a brief two- to three-minute meeting. "I was court-martialled - to be shot at dawn!" he writes.

The troubles for Gilmore began as soon as the government term started. The first hurdle on which he tripped was over his Cabinet choices, leaving Joan Burton and others disappointed.

Willie Penrose had his well documented wobble, when it emerged he would be a super junior minister without a full seat at Cabinet. And Ruairi Quinn had to battle to get Education.

While it was presumed that Burton's disappointment was at not getting one of the two Finance ministries, we know from the book that she had expressed an interest in Foreign Affairs in the days leading up to the Cabinet announcement - the post which Gilmore reserved for himself.

This choice was to be another cause of his downfall, with criticism that he was spending too much time away from home.

With the Troika breathing down the Government's neck, Labour had to swallow hard on many unpalatable measures. Supporting the toxic USC charge, slashing Child Allowance by ten euros a month and cutting disability, carers, home help and winter fuel allowances inflicted mortal wounds that went down really badly amongst supporters.

There were increasing tensions with Enda Kenny, particularly over the Garda scandals that plagued the coalition in 2014.

He lost several parliamentary party members during his term. Penrose resigned as a minister of state over the decision to close Columb Barracks in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. Six weeks later, Patrick Nulty resigned in protest at the party's support for austerity measures in the Budget. Roisin Shorthall resigned as Minister of State for Health in 2012. Colm Keaveney left after voting against the 2013 Budget.

Gilmore writes how they spun against him when they were outside the party.

Critics say that in government, Eamon Gilmore was not as convincing as he was in opposition. But maybe he did not get as much credit as he deserves.

It was Gilmore who, in a compromise to not getting the prized Finance portfolio in the Coalition, proposed the establishment of the Economic Management Council, with equal balance between Fine Gael and Labour. He also pushed for the establishment of an independent Garda authority during the Garda crisis - something often forgotten.

The tough budgetary decisions that had to be made - unpalatable and all as they were - were in the national interest and are now yielding results as the economic recovery begins

As Minster for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gilmore did a lot of work restoring Ireland's international reputation and trade connections.

He was forced to resign as party leader after last year's local elections, where Labour saw support plummet to just 7pc, just over a third of that in the General Election. Forces in the party were out to get him. He saw the writing on the wall and resigned before a heave.

He is still a young man at 60 years of age, with lots to offer. He won't be contesting the next General Election, but was recently appointed as the European Union envoy to the peace process in Colombia.

This might not be the end to the political career he would have wished for - but he did make a real contribution to Irish life. Few politicians go out on a high.

Irish Independent

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