Saturday 1 October 2016

Party blew off course when the Gilmore Gale signed up for austerity


Published 27/05/2014 | 02:30

Eamon Gilmore, then president of the UCG (now NUI Galway), speaking to protesting students at the Galway County Buildings at Prospect Hill in Galway on December 5 1974.
Eamon Gilmore, then president of the UCG (now NUI Galway), speaking to protesting students at the Galway County Buildings at Prospect Hill in Galway on December 5 1974.
Eamon Gilmore on a Workers Party leaflet
Eamon Gilmore with wife Carol after the 2011 general election

Long-term forecasts dating back to before the 2011 election predicted that the 'Gilmore Gale' was blowing the Labour Party off course.

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The Tanaiste would have done well to heed the warning that he was heading for the rocks.

Eamon Gilmore then urged the electorate to vote for "Frankfurt's way or the way of the Labour Party" – but as it turned out, all roads led to austerity anyway.

It was a far cry from the earliest archive footage that shows an earnest-faced and passionate Eamon Gilmore, aged 22, in his first TV appearance in 1977, during a protest over student grants.

Hard work got him to the top, Mr Gilmore once said himself. But his unusually polished oratory skills helped him greatly on the road from humble beginnings in a small farm in the townsland of Lurgan, near Caltra, Co Galway.

Educated through Irish in a two-room national school, Mr Gilmore experienced early tragedy at the age of 14 months when his father dropped dead of a massive heart attack at the age of 36. His grandmother, Ellen Gilmore, who lived with them in the family home, subsequently had a huge influence on his life.

"She was a window not just into the history of our family but also into the history of a country that was experiencing the growing pains of independence," Mr Gilmore wrote in his book, 'Leading Lights, People who have Inspired Me'.

A prized set of china given to his grandmother as a wedding present still sits in a glass cabinet in the living room of Mr Gilmore's own home in Shankill.

Education was valued in the family and Mr Gilmore was awarded a scholarship from Galway County Council to attend prestigious Garbally college in Ballinasloe as a boarder in 1965. A third-level grant sent him on to university to study psychology in UCG and it was there that he met his wife, Carol, and they went on to have three children.

Through the Literary and Debating society, Mr Gilmore discovered his political voice and became an ardent student activist.

At the age of 18, he became President of the Students' Union at UCG and in 1975, joined the UCG Republican Party, affiliated to Official Sinn Fein, which subsequently became Sinn Fein the Workers Party and later the Workers Party, leading to questions being asked about Mr Gilmore's Republican links.

In 1976, he became the youngest ever President of the Union of Students in Ireland, working with his British counterpart to unify the students' movement in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Trade unionism was a natural progression and he joined the Irish Transport & General Workers Union, eventually becoming Secretary of the Professional & Managerial Branch from 1981 until 1989 – in the meantime obtaining a Workers Party seat on Dun Laoghaire Borough Council.

A Dail seat in 1989 was the start of it all and he has been re-elected in every election since, respected across the political divide for his polished oratory skills and deep thinking.

In 1992, he broke with the Workers Party to set up the Democratic Left with Proinsias De Rossa, serving as Junior Minister for Marine in the Rainbow Coalition, credited with banning nuclear vessels from Irish waters.

He played a central role in talks that led to the merging of Democratic Left with the Labour Party and became the Dail chamber nemesis of the Fianna Fail government throughout the Celtic Tiger years.

In 2007, he became leader of the Labour Party when Pat Rabbitte stepped down and Mr Gilmore vowed to build up Labour as a viable government leader.

In 2010, it emerged that Carol Gilmore had profited from the sale of two-and-a-half acres of farming land left to her by her mother that had the benefit of planning permission for a school. The Department of Education insisted there was nothing "abnormal" about the transaction.

It did nothing to quench enthusiasm for the Gilmore Gale, which swept to victory in its best electoral performance in the party's history in the 2011 general election. Soon after, Mr Gilmore's car was egged by a furious Eirigi protester, forcing him to abandon an event to promote a 'yes' vote in the Children's Referendum.

More controversy followed, with grassroots followers grumbling he was spending too much time on his Foreign Affairs beat.

But it was his apparently unquestioning swallowing of austerity that saw lifelong Labour supporters finally vow "Anyone but Labour".

Irish Independent

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