John Downing

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Labour unfairly tarnished in an unequal partnership

John Downing

Published 09/05/2014|02:30

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Less than three hours before the Taoiseach announced the resignation of Justice Minister Shatter, Eamon Gilmore was left to publicly defend Mr Shatter
Less than three hours before the Taoiseach announced the resignation of Justice Minister Shatter, Eamon Gilmore was left to publicly defend Mr Shatter

AMONG the downsides of being the junior coalition party is that the internal machinations of your bigger government partners can also hurt you a deal more than they should.

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Thus Labour walks away from the events of the past 48 hours with its image additionally diminished. Opposition assertions that Labour is yet again "out of the loop" – this time on the events leading to the resignation of Justice Minister Alan Shatter – have a definite ring of truth.

So, less than three hours before the Taoiseach announced the resignation of Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Tanaiste and Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, was left to publicly defend Mr Shatter. The Labour leader was obliged to publicly back the embattled Justice Minister while at the launch of his party's Dublin West by-election candidate Loraine Mulligan's campaign.

Mr Gilmore actually found out that Mr Shatter was quitting at 4.20pm. The Taoiseach announced the resignation just after 4.35pm. The whole chain of events which led to all of this began with a meeting between the Taoiseach and the Attorney General after 6am.

It is all reminiscent of events three weeks earlier when the Taoiseach entered the Dail from a cabinet meeting and told the nation the average family could expect to pay €240 per year for water. There followed a three-week campaign of attrition by Labour who repeatedly told us "they needed to get the announcement right" about Ireland's first water-charging regime.

That bigger water announcement happened on Tuesday of this week and there were concessions won by Labour. And at the same time we were told that the average family can expect to pay €240 per year for water.

If we spool back a little further to the events of March 24 and 25 last we see another example of Fine Gael again working the need-to-know principle in dealings with its Labour government partners.

Here we are dealing with events which led to the resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the long-standing practice of recording phone conversations at garda stations. Here also, we risk entering a bigger game of who knew what and when which risks losing all but the most obsessive of readers.

So, let's keep it simple here. The Taoiseach and Attorney General and various officials were engaged in discussions which began on Sunday evening, March 23, and continued through Monday, March 24, and on into the following day, Tuesday, March 25. The first Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore heard of the issue was when Mr Kenny told him on that Tuesday morning before the Cabinet met.

It was during that Cabinet meeting that news came through of the Garda Commissioner's decision to stand down from his job.

After that Cabinet meeting the Taoiseach also announced news of this systematic recording of phone conversations at principal garda stations across the country for over 30 years. Mr Kenny also announced the establishment of the full-blown commission of inquiry.

A whole raft of major decisions were taken on the back of just a few hours' knowledge by the Labour leader. At our kindest we must say this is hardly a model of partnership in government. There is a certain mitigation in Labour assertions that, in the final instalment of the Shatter case, they were standing well back and allowing "the other crowd" sort themselves out. A sort of "let Fine Gael do its own family business".

Labour people old enough to remember the way the 1992-1994 Fianna Fail-Labour Coalition ended will know the value of allowing their coalition partners some space.

In summary, Labour are trying to tell us quietly that Mr Gilmore knew more and earlier on Wednesday but just could not say. But that also feeds into another internal Labour dynamic and the future of Eamon Gilmore's party leadership, all of which is for another day. And these are at best points of mitigation. In some respects it is not especially fair that Labour should suffer because Fine Gael is engaged in internal conflict. It's an outcome which has a certain schoolyard bullying ring to it.

But Fine Gael and Labour are partners in a coalition and Eamon Gilmore has the office of Tanaiste. And that, as the old saying goes, is politics.

Irish Independent

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