Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dithering Gilmore 'fails to deliver at Cabinet'

Tanaiste is branded 'indecisive and quiet'

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore: 'failing to assert himself'. Photo: Damien Eagers
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore: 'failing to assert himself'. Photo: Damien Eagers

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore is failing to assert himself at the cabinet table since Labour entered coalition with Fine Gael six months ago, according to coalition insiders

His fellow ministers have been surprised by the rare number of contributions from the Tanaiste at their weekly meetings, the Irish Independent has learned. Mr Gilmore is said to come across as "indecisive", "unsure of himself" and "quiet", while others in the party are carrying the can for him.

"He is very unsure of himself on cabinet issues and rarely contributes," said one senior minister.

"He can't make his mind up about anything without Mark Garrett (his chief adviser) telling him. He is just unsure of himself."

This account of Mr Gilmore's performance is supported by other ministers, one of whom said: "I can't get over him. He is very quiet at Cabinet. He's afraid to take positions."

The revelations come as the Labour Party today prepares for its annual think-in ahead of crunch pre-Budget talks. But the party is floundering at 12pc in the polls after dropping in popularity since the general election.

Although the Government has enjoyed a relatively easy run since coming to office, the Coalition is now heading into a difficult three months preparing the Budget.

Mr Gilmore's lack of engagement at Cabinet is apparent to ministers in both parties and now pops up repeatedly in conversations among coalition colleagues.

One minister said: "Who is the person in the Labour Party who would bring it (a policy) across the line? It definitely is not Eamon Gilmore. He doesn't command authority."

Labour colleagues Brendan Howlin, Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn often step into the breach and are viewed as the influential voices for the junior coalition partners.

The trio of veteran ministers, who have previous experience of sitting at the cabinet table, fill the void when Labour needs to provide guidance to Fine Gael on its policy positions.

They are described as a "stabilising force in the Government".

Mr Rabbitte makes up for his lack of impact in his own department by working well with Fine Gael ministers, with whom he is popular.

Attorney General Maire Whelan's role is also cited as important in the Labour set up.

Nonetheless, Mr Gilmore has a good relationship with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with the pair meeting regularly and enjoying strong lines of communication.

Mr Gilmore has established the office of the Tanaiste and has his own secretary general in the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure his party's influence is not weakened.

Thus far, no major personality clashes have emerged around the cabinet table. But many ministers are reserving judgment on colleagues until after the looming Budget talks.

"They're talking the talk, but we won't know if they walk the walk until the budget," a cabinet source said.

Meanwhile Alan Shatter, Michael Noonan and Phil Hogan have emerged as the heavy-hitters on the Fine Gael side. Mr Shatter is highly regarded by colleagues for his contributions on issues and grasp of his own portfolio.


Ironically, he gained added respect from fellow ministers for his attack on the media, which was viewed as brave.

Mr Noonan is regarded as effective in his position as Finance Minister.

And Mr Hogan's cuteness in ensuring policies get passed smoothly is contrasted with the less politically aware approach of Richard Bruton and Jimmy Deenihan.

Mr Bruton is seen to quietly go about his business without milking issues for publicity, or going for eye-catching foreign business trips for the sake of it.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney's no-nonsense approach to reversing bonus payments to state agency bosses was viewed as well-handled.

The two youngest ministers in the Government are establishing reputations as safe pairs of hands in their briefs.

Frances Fitzgerald has gained more credibility with her response to the Cloyne Report, which has boosted her prospects of making progress with a children's referendum.

And Mr Howlin's comments about some ministers not measuring up in providing potential cuts is being interpreted in various different ways.

Some see it as a targeted dig at Joan Burton for her social welfare proposals; others perceive it as a dig at everybody for not coming up with enough options for cuts.

Others interpret it as a sign Mr Howlin is backing off from playing up his spending review of all government expenditure as the solution to budgetary woes.

Labour's support has dropped substantially since the election, the latest opinion poll shows.

After getting 19pc of the vote in February, the party is now on just 12pc, according to a 'Sunday Times'/ Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll.

Fine Gael has risen to a record poll rating of 44pc, up a staggering eight points. Fianna Fail is on 15pc, Sinn Fein on 13pc and the Independents are 12pc.

Irish Independent

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