Tuesday 20 March 2018

Kenny and Kelly lead rallying call to help save Burton

Mark CondrenJoan Burton on the campaign trail at Luttrellstown Community College, Clonsilla. Photo: Mark Condren
Mark CondrenJoan Burton on the campaign trail at Luttrellstown Community College, Clonsilla. Photo: Mark Condren

Kevin Doyle, Barry Lennon and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly have led the rallying call for Joan Burton amid fears she will lose her Dáil seat.

Labour is set to put extra focus on Dublin West after an Irish Independent/Millward Brown poll showed she was trailing Ruth Coppinger by 5pc for the final seat constituency.

Party sources say the results will "spur on" her supporters in the final two weeks of campaigning.

The poll showed Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin's Paul Donnelly are both on 20pc, followed by Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers on 17pc.

Ms Coppinger is in fourth place on 15pc, while the Tánaiste is languishing on 10pc.

Labour sources said they knew Ms Burton was in a battle but the poll has refocused everybody.

"It's difficult because she needs to be at national events every day and at the same time look after the constituency."

Reacting to the poll, Ms Burton pointed to the 14pc of voters who were undecided.

"I have said repeatedly to yourselves and others that, in terms of this particular election, I don't think a lot of people will make up their minds until very close to election day," she said.

"I'm told that I'm very transfer friendly. That's something that I've been told before."

She added: "Polls are part of life for a politician, I read them with great interest."

Ms Burton previously lost her seat in 1997 but insists she is "very confident" of retaining it this time round.

Her deputy leader, Alan Kelly, who has ambitions to be the next party leader, has jumped to her defence.

"Anyone who underestimates Joan Burton, does so at their peril," he said. "Joan Burton is one of the best political fighters that I have ever seen.

"She will win her seat, and she will lead the Labour Party into the next government, I have no doubt about that."

Mr Kelly tried to avoid questions about whether he would want to take over if the Tánaiste was not back in Leinster House after the election. "It's not going to be an issue, she will lead us into the next government.

"I'm telling you, can I be very clear about this... Joan Burton is not going to loose her seat."

However, he eventually added: "Everyone who walks into Dáil Éireann has aspirations to go as far in politics as they can, that's just a natural thing."

Speaking in Tuam, Co Galway, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ms Burton was "a fighter".

He praised her efforts at the Department of Social Protection, saying she had driven a transformation in its work from "just a list of people drawing the dole" to a "vibrant living entity" that helps the unemployed find work and training.

"I'm glad to see Fine Gael showing up well in that particular poll - not that I have any great belief in them [polls].

"It's the 26th is the day, and I expect the Tánaiste to fight her corner and fight it well."

Asked if he would encourage Leo Varadkar's supporters to vote strategically and ensure Ms Burton wins back her seat, Mr Kenny replied: "Obviously Fine Gael are advised to canvass the Fine Gael ticket, vote for the Fine Gael ticket - after that to vote for the Labour candidates.

The poll showed that 43pc of Fine Gael voters in Dublin intend to give their second preference to Ms Burton.

The curse of the Tánaiste

If Joan Burton loses her seat after the General Election, she will join an esteemed  group of former Tánaistí who befell a similar fate.

The outcome of the last two general elections do not bode well for Ms Burton's chances as she fights to save her seat in two weeks' time.

In 2011, Mary Coughlan saw voters in Donegal turn their backs on her as Fianna Fáil received a hammering in the polls in the wake of the financial crash.

Ms Coughlan was appointed Tánaiste by Taoiseach Brian Cowen when he took over the party from Bertie Ahern in 2008. The Donegal TD has not sought re-election since she was voted out of office.

Former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell was also given his marching orders by the electorate while holding the second highest office in government.

Mr McDowell's failure to get elected was a major surprise in the 2007 election which saw Fianna Fáil return to power.

The barrister resigned as party leader before the final count in the RDS in Dublin, and has also not returned to politics since.

Irish Independent

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