Saturday 22 October 2016

Gilmore deserved more loyalty from Labour

Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30

Eamon Gilmore
Eamon Gilmore

Surely no surprise that the only way was down for Eamon Gilmore from November 11, 2011 onwards. The surprise was the speed of his downward journey, and his own members' efforts to expedite it.

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It took a mere 30 months for Eamon Gilmore to go from being "most successful Labour Party leader ever" - to being driven out by his own.

On November 11, 2011, a beaming Mr Gilmore stood beside Labour's stalwart, Michael D Higgins, as he took office as Uachtarán na hÉireann. The day Michael D had won, Labour had also become the first government party in three decades to win a by-election, as Patrick Nulty was elected in Dublin West, adding to the party's record number of 37 TDs elected in that February's general election.

Until very recently, any Irish political memoir was the exception to the rule. Garret FitzGerald soaked up much of that exceptional space as he appeared to push out some version of recollections every other year. Gemma Hussey's account of her time in the Fine Gael-Labour cabinet of 1982-1987 broke new ground in terms of candour.

There have been more such memoirs in recent times, including some from political advisers. But we have never, ever, had the writings of a very recently departed Tánaiste published as his own embattled party face into a general election campaign and a very uncertain fate. It's what makes Eamon Gilmore's book, 'Inside the Room', a must-read for anyone interested in Irish politics.

This writer is still waiting to complete the full volume to deliver definite judgement. But what screams out from the extracts carried in the Irish Independent and 'Sunday Independent' is the extraordinary level of disloyalty he faced from his own Labour members.

Part of the story of his express-speed descent from the political heights has been a very robust treatment of his period as Tánaiste in newspapers, on radio and on television. Hands up, this newspaper pulled few punches in that regard.

Media did have the vast storehouse of hostages to fortune given them by Labour as they fought against Fine Gael in that February 2011 general election. Gilmore soldiered a long time in political parties and the trade unions and is no shrinking violet when it comes to conflict and self-defence. Former Fianna Fáil minister and Ceann Comhairle, John O'Donoghue, will attest to the Gilmore ability to target the political jugular.

The cumulative problems created by the early not-really-surprise parliamentary party resignations, and their virulent parting shots at Labour in government, were deeply unhelpful. For a time it was a staged procession: Tommy Broughan; Patrick Nulty, who briefly looked into a few Labour meetings after his by-election win; Colm Keaveney's insistence on holding on to the party national chairmanship after quitting the parliamentary party; and Roisin Shortall's allegations of being let down in her health battles with Fine Gael's ill-starred James Reilly.

"We expected, and could handle, the criticism from opponents, but the opposition and attacks from within the Party itself were more difficult," he writes in a major piece of understatement. With members like these, the opposition and sniping media only need to be there to land blows on the Tánaiste and his embattled government colleagues.

The man was surely entitled to more Labour Party loyalty in his hour of need. And it is not as if he had failed to graphically spell out the rocky times ahead to the Labour Party members as they entered coalition in March 2011. But it was ever the fate of parties which "stand for things" - be it Labour, the Progressive Democrats or the Green Party - after they enter government and tough decisions are unavoidable.

But one gets a sense he felt the disloyalty was at work also at a much higher level. He cites a September 2011 Irish Independent story quoting "cabinet sources" saying he was "quiet" at government meetings, leaving other Labour ministers to fight the good fight. Gilmore's own words are worthy of quotation: "Unfortunately, this was not the only report from inside the Cabinet room which undermined me within the party and with the public. Unnamed Cabinet sources complained about the existence of the EMC and what it was doing. And there was serial leaking of Cabinet discussions, and of proposals that were before Cabinet, some of which were never actually decided on. All of this put me constantly on the back foot," Gilmore writes.

It looks like he could be talking about Joan Burton here. There are lots more questions to be asked of both.

Let's conclude by also recalling that Labour TDs and Senators pushed Gilmore out because they got just 7pc in the May 2014 local elections. And last week's opinion polls put them on that self-same 7pc under Joan Burton. So, much good their peremptory dumping of their "most successful ever" has done Labour. That blindingly obvious fact risked being overlooked until Eamon Gilmore put his book out there this past weekend.

Meanwhile, two bigger questions now remain amid the most volatile national political mood since the late 1940s. Firstly, can Eamon Gilmore's prediction, that Labour will go into customary survival mode, be borne out?

Secondly, even if Labour hang in there with a half-decent number of TDs, will they want to go back into coalition with Fine Gael?

Based on the past four years, Labour is unlikely to be led by Joan Burton by then. You do not need to read this book to know that.

Irish Independent

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