News John Downing

Sunday 21 September 2014

When push comes to shove ministers will work with Burton

Analysis

Published 28/05/2014 | 02:30

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Joan Burton TD with defeated MEP candidates Phil Prendergast and  Lorraine Higgins at the launch of the Labour Party's  Local and European elections campaign
Joan Burton TD with defeated MEP candidates Phil Prendergast and Lorraine Higgins at the launch of the Labour Party's Local and European elections campaign

AROUND Leinster House last night, some heavy-hitting Fine Gael politicians were not shy about letting it be known that their party would struggle to work with Joan Burton as Labour leader and Tanaiste.

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Now, what can that mean?

Well, on one level, if that notion bore in on the ordinary Labour members, who are to choose the successor to Eamon Gilmore, it could actually mean she was odds on to win.

It is no secret that Joan Burton is not on all her Fine Gael parliamentary party colleagues' Christmas card lists. But what if the FG anti-Joan folk are speaking the truth?

Well, then we could be looking at a period of unhelpful instability, and a general election much earlier than spring 2016 as predicted by the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste.

In Coalition, any minister who fights a tough battle and wins pays a price for the future.

Ms Burton is just that soldier. In the run-in to the last Budget, Ms Burton fought hard against hefty cuts to her Social Protection funds. The net result was that she staved off some €150m cuts to her department budget.

By contrast, the axe fell more heavily on Dr James Reilly's Health Department, which compounded his problems about continual over-spending in his department.

In the ensuing weeks, Fine Gael elements let it be known that their party man was "sacrificed" to mollify Ms Burton and Labour in vain efforts to boost that party's flagging opinion poll ratings.

But does unpopularity with the bigger coalition partner actually mean that collaboration in government is ruled out?

The most obvious answer is that, if chumminess were the sole criterion, few politicians would ever co-operate with one another – especially those within the same party who often hate one another with a very special passion.

There is quite a list of people who managed to bury the hatchet – not always in the back of one another's heads – and get on with things.

Charlie Haughey and Des O'Malley managing to forge a Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat Coalition in June 1989 is perhaps the best known example.

We are in a tricky phase right now and rhetoric is in far greater supply than fact.

We are probably looking at a four-week Labour leadership campaign; followed by intense Fine Gael-Labour discussions on a newly orientated government; followed by the unveiling of a new-look Cabinet.

It is very early in a volatile period. But right now my money is on Fine Gael being able to work with the new Labour leader – even if that leader is Ms Burton.

Irish Independent

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