Joan Burton hints at Eamon Gilmore's transfer to 'home' brief
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has strongly hinted that Labour leader Eamon Gilmore will transfer from the Department of Foreign Affairs to a domestic economic portfolio.
Her comments came after the Irish Independent reported that the Tanaiste and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howling will 'swap' departments in a long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
There is also speculation that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will make way at the Cabinet for a younger Labour official such as Alex White.
Communications Minister and former Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte is expected to remain within the Cabinet.
The moves were mooted amid growing concern within Labour over the party's plummeting support in opinion polls.
One poll put the party at less than 10pc which, if reflected in the European and Local Election ballots, would result in massive Labour losses.
Some party strategists are now worried that Labour may not elect a single MEP to the European Parliament.
Ms Burton, speaking in Cork during a European and Local Election canvass, admitted that Mr Gilmore's presence in a domestic economics portfolio would be "very positive" for the party into the future.
"I think people in the Labour Party have made it clear over quite a lengthy period of time that they would very much appreciate if Eamon was able to work full time in a ministry at home," she said.
"I think he has indicated through some of his spokespeople that that is his interest as well – certainly that would be very positive if that were to happen."
However, Mr Rabbitte insisted that any such move would not see the Tanaiste spend a greater amount of time in the country.
Speaking in Claremorris at the launch of fibre broadband roll-out for the town, Mr Rabbitte stressed that any re-shuffle was a matter for the Taoiseach and Tanaiste.
However, he added that there was "a certain amount of misunderstanding" about the impact of any reshuffle within the Labour ranks.
"If you were Minister for Enterprise and Employment, for example, you are likely to be more often out of this jurisdiction selling Ireland abroad, or as often as Minister for Foreign Affairs, so it's one of these things that's latched on to. I'm not sure it's all that meaningful," he added.
Ms Burton staunchly defended the Tanaiste's record in office and said much of the rebuilding of Ireland's economy and reputation had to be done overseas.
"His visit abroad this week alone (to Britain) will be critically important in terms of our economic recovery."
But she acknowledged that the coalition parties had paid a heavy price in the polls for the fall-out from the garda station taping controversy and the retirement of Garda Commission Martin Callinan.
"In relation to the polls, yes, the Labour Party has a lot of work to do – I think what Labour (has to do) is play to its strength in terms of the quality and calibre of the candidates that it is running," she said.
She refused to be drawn on her own leadership ambitions, stressing that the party already has a leader.
"The leader of the Labour Party is Eamon Gilmore and there is no vacancy as leader.
"But what I am doing as Minister for Social Protection, and what the Government in general is doing, is trying to get people back to where they want to be following what has been a huge reduction in employment with 250,000 losing their jobs," she said.
"It is very important that those matters are dealt with and I believe that, as the Government sets out clearly how those matters will be resolved, I believe people will be far more satisfied as a consequence."
But she stressed that the next general election would be decided on economic and employment issues. Meanwhile, Ms Burton yesterday defended the controversial JobBridge internship scheme, rejecting claims it was being exploited by firms for cheap temporary labour.
Ms Burton insisted the scheme had helped find full- and part-time employment for 14,000 workers and was playing a part in reducing Live Register numbers.
However, she refused to identify 35 firms who have been suspended from using JobBridge amid complaints over the internships offered and how workers were treated.