Thursday 19 April 2018

Burton takes over as Labour leader

Joan Burton has taken over the reins of the Labour Party
Joan Burton has taken over the reins of the Labour Party

The new leader of the Labour Party Joan Burton has said her priorities in Government are matching social recovery with economic revival.

The Social Protection Minister secured a landslide victory of almost four votes to one to become the first woman to hold the position.

Talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny on a looming cabinet reshuffle are expected early next week but Ms Burton refused to be drawn on her ministerial choices.

The Dublin West TD said she would like to keep her welfare portfolio and that she was delighted at the level of trust Labour members have shown her.

Ms Burton is expected to focus on housing issues, education, health, wages and other social reforms.

One of her biggest tasks will be to build a similar kind of goodwill towards the party among the electorate after it was dealt a hammering in the local and European elections in May.

"My job now is not just to lead the renewal of the party but to ask the people of Ireland to have trust in the Labour Party," she said.

"I'm very conscious that routed in the history of the party, right from the time of Connolly and Larkin, has been to be striving for progressive policies and for making Ireland a better place for all its people, not just the comfortable and better off."

Ms Burton said as leader her relentless focus will continue to be getting people who lost businesses and employment back to work.

She added: "We are now in a better place. If this trend continues it will allow us to invest in housing, in education and key social services such as health."

Tipperary North TD Alan Kelly is expected to be formally confirmed as the new deputy leader.

Ms Burton was first elected to the Dail in 1992 and elected deputy leader of the party in 2007.

Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, who resigned in the wake of crippling election defeat, formally stepped down as Tanaiste as the Labour result was confirmed.

The move clears the path for Ms Burton to be nominated by the Taoiseach - and be only the fourth woman to take that job after Mary Harney and Mary Coughlan.

Mr Gilmore thanked Mr Kenny and said it had been "a privilege and an honour to work with him in the leadership of Government during a very difficult time in the country's history".

Speculation has mounted since his resignation as leader that he is in line for a European commissioner role but he declined to comment.

Ms Burton will reflect over the weekend on nominees to cabinet ahead of meetings with the Taoiseach on Monday or Tuesday.

She declined to say whether Alex White, junior minister in the Department of Health and her only challenger for the leadership, would be promoted, demoted or retain his job.

More than 3,200 Labour members were eligible to vote in the election over the last few weeks with the votes counted at the Mansion House in Dublin.

Ms Burton's support prompted the announcement earlier this week from Ruairi Quinn that he was retiring from politics. The outgoing education minister revealed his departure amid speculation of an overhaul of the Labour ministerial team.

Other party veterans have also been said to be in the firing line, including former leader and current Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte.

According to Independent TD Shane Ross rumours have been circulating in Leinster House that Senator Ivana Bacik is in line for a position, an unusual move to have someone in the Seanad at such a high level in government.

The Taoiseach later confirmed Ms Burton as Tanaiste. "I look forward to working closely with the Tanaiste and her colleagues in the Labour Party as we build on the solid foundations that have been put in place by the Government in the past three years.," he said. Mr Kenny also paid tribute to Mr Gilmore.

"He and I have had to deal with many difficult decisions arising from the economic recession and I have always found him both understanding and courageous in standing up for our people," Mr Kenny said.

Press Association

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