Labour in crisis as Burton and Kelly's relationship at all-time low
Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30
Relations between Tanaiste Joan Burton and her deputy leader Minister Alan Kelly have deteriorated sharply, after a series of personality clashes and disagreements, several senior ministers have told the Sunday Independent.
News of their tense relationship comes as it has emerged Ms Burton drew the ire of her Fine Gael colleagues at last Wednesday's cabinet meeting over the announcement of the Commission of Investigation into the IBRC Siteserv controversy.
Fine Gael ministers were furious at her attempts to portray the announcement as a Labour initiative.
Their suspicion of selfish motives on her part is a clear illustration of how delicate inter-government relations have become.
But the Sunday Independent has learned that Ms Burton's "tense and difficult" relationship with Mr Kelly, the environment minister, is a major talking point among cabinet ministers.
"There are problems there, without question. The two strong personalities are not playing nice with each other," said one Fine Gael minister.
Another Fine Gael minister concurred, saying: "The dynamic is not good between them. They are not in a good place."
Even ministers within Labour have acknowledged the difficulties between Ms Burton and Mr Kelly, accusing him of being overly direct and her of being overly indecisive on big issues.
"Kelly is known affectionately as AK47, there would be a shoot-first approach. Whereas with Joan, it is a case of a considerable amount of talk is needed for everything. You go on and on and on where you might lose the will to live," said one senior minister.
"The relations aren't that great between the two of them," the minister added.
The Sunday Independent has learned that Ms Burton and Mr Kelly have clashed on a number of specific issues.
It is known that they crossed swords over the appointment of David Leach as general secretary of the Labour Party.
Following a row with Mr Kelly, Mr Leach has left his role to take up a senior post with the international aid charity, GOAL.
It is also known that the pair differed on Aer Lingus and Ms Burton annoyed Mr Kelly and other ministers in delaying the sign off of the decision at cabinet by insisting on a lengthy debate, causing the meeting to be adjourned.
The pair also recently clashed over the move to introduce attachment orders to welfare payments, with Mr Kelly arguing strongly for it, with Ms Burton openly disagreeing with him.
She told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that this plan could be problematic.
Labour sources last night played down the significance of the poor relations, accusing Fine Gael ministers of acting mischievously in making such comments to the media. "He was against the appointment of David Leach at the time, but you have two strong characters who are well able to work together as they often do.
"They are able to get things done. It would be unfair to characterise it as there being great tension among them," the Labour figure said.
"I have a suspicion that there are a few Fine Gael ministers who are pi**ed off at a few things lately, but I think there is some mischief-making here," the source added.
At last Wednesday's cabinet meeting, several ministers became annoyed with Ms Burton's "overreaction" to what she took as a slight in terms of the lack of notice she received before the crucial meeting about the inquiry.
"She may have felt worried that she would be kept out of the story. She may have overreacted," the minister said.
As Finance Minister Michael Noonan brought the matter to Government for decision, Ms Burton also insisted the work done to date by consultants and liquidators, KPMG, be fed into the Commission of Investigation.
"Joan stressed this needed to happen," said a source.
Some Fine Gael ministers were annoyed at her refusal to agree to a suggestion from Fine Gael that they delay revealing the issue of the missing IBRC minutes within the Department of Finance, for fear of contaminating the commission's announcement on the same day.
"There was anxiety on Fine Gael's side to decouple. But she wasn't helping with that, they were bristling," the minister added.
The rows come as further evidence emerged of the likelihood of an early election, possibly in November.
The Sunday Independent has learned of contacts between Fine Gael headquarters and a number of their constituency chairmen, telling them to order their posters for the election, which has to happen by next April at the latest.
One constituency chief confirmed that he has been contacted by party bosses to place his order, as the party is on an election footing.
It also comes amid word of a "ramping up" of the pace of selection conventions across the country. A party spokesman played down any suggestion of posters being ordered, and said the party expects to have 16 conventions completed by the end of June.