News John Downing

Saturday 23 August 2014

Faithful believe lady in waiting can lead them back from brink

John Downing

Published 29/05/2014 | 02:30

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28/05/2014 The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton TD today announced her intention to run for Leadership of the Labout Party. She made this statement on the Plinth of Leinster House, Dublin. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne
28/05/2014 The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton TD today announced her intention to run for Leadership of the Labout Party. She made this statement on the Plinth of Leinster House, Dublin. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Many Labour inmates of Leinster House do not love Joan Burton – but soon they may have to at least pretend to honour and obey her.

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As she told the nation "the limits of austerity have been reached", it became increasingly likely that ordinary Labour members may be ready to believe she might lead them back from the brink.

Minutes after she arrived on the plinth outside Leinster House, exactly at the appointed time of 2.30pm yesterday, it looked like the Labour Party leadership was hers to lose. In the hours before she formally launched her candidature many backbench TDs and some senators conceded that the feedback from their local members, who will ultimately decide, were "strongly pro-Joan".

Many of her "dear colleagues" in the Labour parliamentary party are less enthusiastic.

"I haven't been doing any kind of counting of people," she said rather unconvincingly, when asked how many party TDs and Senators were on board for her campaign.

Everybody else could count three TDs and two Senators openly in camp Burton. The TDs were Carlow/Kilkenny's Ann Phelan, Eamonn Maloney from Dublin South West, and Michael Conaghan of Dublin South Central, along with Senators Susan O'Keeffe of Sligo and Ivana Bacik of TCD. Behind them stood a strong phalanx of Dublin councillors, notably former Lord Mayor Mary Freehill, and other party activists.

The woman who would be Tanaiste answered the main question without any demur: would Labour led by Joan Burton stay in coalition with Fine Gael?

"Yes," she said.

When asked about pronounced rumblings of Fine Gael antipathy towards her, Joan Burton insisted she has a "very good working relationship" with the Taoiseach. But she also had a duty to her party: "I tell it as I see it from a Labour Party perspective."

The "gang of eight" rebels who caused waves on Monday by pushing for Eamon Gilmore have been laying great emphasis on the need for a new generation of Labour front benchers. But 65-year-old Joan Burton noted that Hillary Clinton is older than her and considering running for the US presidency.

Right now, her joke that being US president is easier than being Labour leader, had the ring of true words spoken in jest. Yet when it comes to talking about the economy we heard good rhetoric but were left wondering about where the money will come from to deliver.

"People are not yet feeling the economic recovery that has just begun – in their personal lives, their families and their communities. Too many people are still hurting six years after the worst economic crash in our country's history.

"My view is that the limits of austerity have been reached not simply in Ireland but the EU," she said.

Ms Burton's problem – and that of anyone else who picks up the Gilmore baton in coalition with Fine Gael – is that it will be the same money we do not have. Talking up the end of austerity may only speed further problems for Labour and the country.

There was much head-scratching over her assertion that social and economic recovery must come "from the middle out, rather than the top down". Could "the middle out" mean the "coping classes" or "the new poor"? Or, should we all just send out for some more cliches?

Back in the here and now, by 5.30pm news had filtered out from the first Labour parliamentary party meeting since their electoral Armageddon. The twice-defeated leadership contestant, Brendan Howlin, would not be standing for either leader or deputy leader.

The idea of a "coronation" rather than a "contest" – an idea utterly ruled out just hours earlier – began to stir back to life again. But we are some way from noon next Tuesday and close of nominations.

Irish Independent

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