Joan enjoys sweet smell of success in a loved-up Labour Party
THE tension in the Mansion House was such that one could cut it with a rubber knife. This wasn't so much a cliffhanger as a dander down a gentle slope.
There was absolutely no sense of ta-dah at all when the new party leader was announced around mid-afternoon. Minutes after the handful of ballot boxes (which had arrived to the count centre by taxi, though which of the half-dozen receptacles paid the fare was unclear) containing just over 2,700 votes from party members were poured out on to the table, it was evident that one of the two contenders had scarpered over the line by a very long neck.
"Joan. Joan. Joan," intoned a relaxed tallyman as the ballots piled up.
And Joan Burton hadn't even been afraid of jinxing her chances hours before the votes were counted, when she took questions from the media at an event in Dublin Castle about the permutations of next week's Cabinet reshuffle. "I expect to be meeting the Taoiseach and sit down and have discussions, those meetings will probably go ahead after the weekend," she predicted breezily.
And thus it came to pass, when she garnered three-quarters of the votes. But her vanquished colleague Alex White was determined to be gracious in defeat (and let's face it, there are Cabinet goodies to be doled out), and upon his arrival at the count centre he heaped lavish praise on his new boss. "I've congratulated her warmly and I look forward to working with her closely," he hinted. "This is Joan's day," he proclaimed.
Then the woman of the hour swept in, beaming from ear to ear, with her husband Pat Carroll and daughter Aoife.
Joan couldn't contain her delight, and didn't even attempt to. "Ireland is a wonderful country," she declared exuberantly, as party whip Emmet Stagg led the charge down the steps with other colleagues to assume the doughnut shape around their new leader.
Next to arrive was Eamon Gilmore, and he too was overflowing with positivity, with all past instances of less-than-comradely harmony between himself and his erstwhile deputy leader now studiously forgotten.
"It's a historic day – I'm so proud the Labour Party has elected its first woman leader," he happily announced. And no, he had "no regrets".
Goodness. It was all very touchy-feely. One had to check that the Labour Party hadn't transmogrified into the Greens.
Even the four contestants in the race for deputy leader were losing the run of themselves.
It had taken a little longer to ascertain that junior transport minister Alan Kelly, who also had been the short-odds favourite for the job, was home and hosed. Yet the other trio of Ciara Conway, Sean Sherlock and Michael McCarthy were all feeling the Labour love for their new boss – whether or not they had supported her in the race.
The room was awash with hugs. Joan and Eamon posed for the cameras, hands joined and held aloft in a show of solidarity which would've brought tears of pride to the eyes of Lech Walesa.
It was like a night at the Oscars – albeit without the frocks, celebrities and gold statuettes, but with no shortage of luvvie-like speeches. "I feel very emotional about today," a beaming Joan admitted. "This country I believe in passionately," she declared.
Sean Sherlock mused on the election campaign: "I think we've all grown as a result of that experience," while Alex White hailed Joan as "a woman of exceptional ability – tenacious and a fighter".
However, new deputy leader Alan Kelly went one better, pledging no less than "1,000 per cent loyalty" to his "good friend" Joan Burton. (Let us hope he doesn't get handed a financial portfolio next week, given such profligate tendencies).
Golly. One would think that the pair had won the Lotto, or an Oscar, rather than the leadership of a political party which is deep in the doo-doo with the electorate. It wasn't so much Independence Day, as Co-Dependents Day.
But then again, not everyone was present for the love-in. Several deputies were as lathair, most noticeably ministers Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte.
But at her press conference, Joan brushed off the duo's conspicuous absence. "I heard Eamon (Gilmore) say it would be the first Friday evening in a long time that he would be free to have a pint," reckoning that the other pair had gone off to do likewise. "I'm sure they're here with us in spirit," she smiled, to cheers from her new parliamentary gang.
Later as everyone left the Mansion House, Eamon Gilmore was doing a final round of farewells. But he wasn't looking for sympathy. "There's no need to commiserate," he insisted. "For the first time in seven years I'm able to contemplate going for a pint on a Friday evening."
Just like Joan had said earlier. Right now there's more harmony in Labour than in a Beach Boys song.
But just wait till the jockeying for promotion starts next week. Then the harmonious hymn sheet will go right out the window.
Joan Burton Factfile
Name: Joan Burton
Family: Married to Pat Carroll, they have one daughter, Aoife Carroll
Lives: Cabra Road in Dublin 7
Profession: Accountant and lecturer
Education: Sisters of Charity, Stanhope Street, Dublin; UCD (BComm); Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountants
Political: Dublin City Council member 1991-1999; Fingal County Council member 1999-2003; TD from 1992-1997 and 2002 onwards;
Minister: Junior Minister for Social Welfare 1992-1994; Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Justice 1995-1997; Minister for Social Protection 2011 onwards
Labour: Party finance spokesman 2002-2011, Candidate for Labour leadership in 2002.
Total poll: 2,720
Spoilt votes: 19
Total valid poll: 2,701
Burton, Joan: 2,094
White, Alex: 607
Joan Burton deemed elected.