Sunday 15 December 2019

Kevin Doyle: Labour are victims of a war voters asked them to enter

Eamon Gilmore
Eamon Gilmore
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Remaining neutral at a time of economic war could well have placed the Labour Party in poll position to lead the next government.

The past three weeks might have seen lampposts adorned with 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' posters, and this time the pundits would be taking them seriously.

Instead, Mr Gilmore hasn't been seen for dust and his replacement Joan Burton is just about keeping her head above water.

Party members will wonder why so many of the 431,796 people that gave them a first preference in 2011 have turned against them. The reasons are many - but a lot of those people, who say Labour discredited its own ethos of fairness and balance in government, are themselves being somewhat unfair to the party.

Before going into Coalition, senior party members privately warned Mr Gilmore not to settle for just any deal with Fine Gael. The demise of the Green Party and before it the Progressive Democrats weighed heavy, but the election result meant Mr Gilmore had little choice but to shake on it with Enda Kenny. It was as close to a national government as the country had ever come.

Labour moved quickly to convince Fine Gael to restore the cut to the minimum wage and took on 'Frankfurt', albeit without being able to burn the bondholders.

But over the course of three Budgets water charges were introduced and botched, other taxes were raised, and public services were reduced.

By the time Mr Gilmore took to his feet at the party's conference in February 2014, austerity fatigue had set in.

Yet Mr Gilmore warned his TDs there was "still a long way to travel".

"But, if we stick to the task, if we are clear about our destination, then there is hope again. Our job is not yet done. Our mission not yet complete," he said.

The then Tánaiste said it would be "the most important year since the crisis began".

"Because the choices we make now, as we leave the bailout behind and as we embark on recovery: these are the choices that will shape our future, this year, next year, and for years to come," he added.

Of course he was sacrificed a few months later after the disastrous local elections - and the journey continued without him.

The party had long believed that the destination was this election and that by now the choices they made since Mr Gilmore's conference speech would have won voters back.

There is plenty of evidence that Irish voters are an unforgiving bunch when it comes to junior coalition partners. We don't give them all of the power - but we do expect them to deliver most of their pre-election promises.

We believe they should be able to continuously hold the moral high-ground in a world where a lack of ruthlessness is a sign of weakness.

So a question worth asking today is 'does the Labour Party really deserves to be totally obliterated'?

They did manage to force Fine Gael's hand on marriage equality and legislation for the X case.

In the Department of Social Protection, Joan Burton did stop cuts to most benefits for the unemployed and the Troika has left the Merrion Hotel.

And Dick Spring's argument that you'll never get credit for the things you stop also holds true.

The Labour rose has been wilting for five years and may well shed its final leaves today.

If that happens they will be the victims of an economic war they could have watched from the sidelines. Would we have thanked them for that?

Irish Independent

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