Sunday 23 October 2016

Gilmore enjoyed highest of highs and lowest of lows with Labour

Published 03/06/2015 | 02:30

Eamon Gilmore has long been one of the most polished performers at Leinster House
Eamon Gilmore has long been one of the most polished performers at Leinster House

Eamon Gilmore will continue to hold the accolade of being Labour's most successful leader for quite some time to come. But much good it did him when his party colleagues came calling on the morning of Monday, May 26, last year.

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After big losses in local council and European Parliament elections just days earlier, the Labour TDs and senators wanted him out. And by 4.30pm he announced he was standing down as leader.

At the time, it was hard to believe that just 30 months earlier, Gilmore had been on the highest of political heights. After leading a record Labour 37 TDs to Leinster House in February 2011, his party went on to take the office of President that October, and on the same day recorded a first by-election win by a government party in almost 30 years.

In summer 2009, Eamon Gilmore was being talked up as a prospective Taoiseach. He spoke about the "Gilmore for Taoiseach" campaign as the need for a three-way battle - not just traditional Fianna Fáil versus Fine Gael.

Eamon Gilmore has long been one of the most polished performers at Leinster House. In opposition he was quick in debate and often right about things that were wrong.

But he and his colleagues found government harder, slower and more complex. And Labour's extravagant election promises in February 2011, which by far exceeded Fine Gael's exaggerations, were a serious hostage to fortune.

Mr Gilmore's own slogan that "It's Frankfurt's way or Labour's way" had some very bitter and ironic echoes. Labour paid the higher price usually exacted by voters from the junior coalition party. But explicit and unrealistic election promises, which had to be broken, took a very heavy toll.

Since quitting as party leader, he has maintained a largely dignified silence. In a rare Dáil speech last month he conceded that he was happy to pay the career price for the national economic recovery which had resulted from Labour agreeing the tough action necessary.

And he got a surprising level of recognition less than two weeks ago when 60pc of people voting said "Yes" to same-sex marriage.

Back in July 2012 he said: "The right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation and, in my opinion, its time has come."

Critics who described those Gilmore comments as excessive were proved wrong. His successor as leader, Joan Burton, has not revived her party's fortunes. His record as leader will stand unrivalled for the future.

Irish Independent

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