Saturday 3 December 2016

'I never wanted foreign affairs job' - Burton

Published 22/12/2015 | 02:30

Tánaiste Joan Burton
Tánaiste Joan Burton

Tanaiste Joan Burton has contradicted her predecessor Eamon Gilmore's assertion that she wanted to be made Minister for Foreign Affairs after the last election.

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More than two months after Mr Gilmore made the claim in his memoirs, Ms Burton has said there "might have been a slight misunderstanding" about what actually happened in March 2011.

The current Labour Party leader admits that she tried to convince Mr Gilmore not to take the position for himself - but denies it was because she wanted what is seen as one of the most desirable jobs in Cabinet.

Mr Gilmore wrote in his book that he was "taken aback" and couldn't quell Ms Burton's "growing anger" during a brief meeting when he told her she was being offered Social Protection, and not Foreign Affairs, in the new Fine Gael and Labour Government.

"She told me that I was making a big mistake," he wrote.

However, Ms Burton has now moved to clarify the incident and said she has a different recollection of what happened.

"I think the discussion around Foreign Affairs was that I pointed out that there were a lot of people in the Labour Party who could do that job very well," she said.

The Tánaiste noted that after their previous spell in government, the Labour Party had carried out a review to see what lessons should be taken from the experience.

"One of the advices, which was published at the time, was that no leader of the Labour Party in government should be both Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, because the burden of the two jobs - the need to be away from the country a significant amount of time - was not the easiest role for somebody who was also going to be a busy party leader," she said.

Mr Gilmore ignored that advice and took the portfolio after initially thinking about not taking any ministry at all.

In his book, 'Inside the Room', Mr Gilmore said when it came to selecting his Cabinet he strongly considered being just the Tánaiste.

However, he foresaw problems with being "out of the government loop".

Ms Burton, who replaced Mr Gilmore as both Tánaiste and Labour Party leader in July 2014, said her reputation going into government was in relation to economics and finance: "Obviously I've lived abroad, and worked abroad, and been minister on a previous occasion for overseas development. But my focus really was on the economic rescue of the country, and having gone into Social Welfare my focus has been relentlessly on putting people back to work, getting people back to work, and I have to say I have enjoyed very much doing that job," she said.

Asked whether she would like to remain on in the Department of Social Protection if the Labour Party is re-elected to government next year, Ms Burton replied: "I'm not making any decisions like that. Everything like that is for looking at post-election."

In his book, Mr Gilmore details his sometimes difficult relationship with Ms Burton.

He said when she became leader he was "somewhat surprised" when she said she had not made any decision about his position in Cabinet.

This gave him hope that he might be reappointed to Cabinet in the subsequent reshuffle.

"In any event, I believed that if I were to be sacked as minister, as the outgoing leader I would at least be afforded the courtesy of some advance notice so that I could make some practical arrangements."

However, Mr Gilmore was told he was out of Cabinet in a brief two-minute meeting with Ms Burton.

After the encounter, he met Department of the Taoiseach general secretary Martin Fraser and told him: "I have just been court martialled and I am to be shot at dawn."

Irish Independent

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