Saturday 7 December 2019

Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny to hold crisis talks today

* Kenny and Gilmore meet today to reverse nose-dive
* Pressure grows for axe to fall on Labour old guard

Fionnan Sheahan, Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore will hold crisis talks today to find a way to win back middle Ireland in the wake of disastrous local elections for both government parties.

Tax cuts, a new approach to medical cards, the housing shortage and the cabinet reshuffle will be on the table as the Coalition tries to halt its nose-dive in the 18 months before the general election.

Mr Gilmore is also coming under particular pressure to axe key allies from the Labour old guard, such as Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Jan O'Sullivan and Joe Costello, and bring in fresh blood.

Alex White and Alan Kelly are among the names being mentioned for promotion.

Younger TDs believe a number of veterans won't even be running in the next general election – but continue to hog the ministerial positions.

Sources close to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton say she "will not precipitate" a move against Mr Gilmore.

The demands from the Labour backbenches come in the wake of dramatic gains by Independents, Sinn Fein and smaller parties, which leave the junior coalition partner set for annihilation in the general election.

Fianna Fail is also on the brink of becoming the largest party in local government, taking the title from Fine Gael.

The final results will signal a radical change in councils across the country.

Local and European election counts are continuing across the country and just two-thirds of the seats have been filled.

The government parties' support was down substantially on the last local and European elections, while Sinn Fein and Independents were up dramatically and Fianna Fail and the Green Party saw a massive increase in seats.

* Fine Gael's vote was down 8.2pc to 23.8pc from the 2009 local elections.

* Fianna Fail's vote was the same as the 25.2pc in 2009.

* Labour is down by 7.6pc to 7.3pc.

* Sinn Fein is up 8pc to 15pc.

* Independents and smaller parties are up 7.9pc to 28.4pc.

The Taoiseach and Tanaiste spoke by telephone yesterday and will hold a meeting in Government Buildings this evening.

Labour is now demanding a renewal of the Programme for Government, which will include a focus on medical cards and housing.

Party sources say that a new Programme for Government, which will be described as a "renewal", must be followed by a "family-friendly" Budget, which contains a raft of tax cuts.

However, Fine Gael sources say there won't be a new Programme for Government.

"The word 'renewal' is a signal for focusing on areas where we could do better. In terms of disposable income, we have to see what we can do on the tax side.

"On the medical cards, Reilly and health was left hung out to dry in the estimates process. The fear factor was caused by the letter going out," a senior party source said.

The recriminations in Labour have already begun and go beyond just Mr Gilmore's leadership. Labour backbencher Michael McNamara called on the entire party frontbench to go as they were jaded and out of touch and a new leader was needed.

Mr McNamara followed party backbencher Arthur Spring in publicly expressing question marks over Labour's direction.

Mr Kenny blamed the Coalition's poor performance at the polls as a direct consequence of being forced to sort out the country's finances.

"The situation that has been put in place by the people yesterday is a stark reminder of frustration, impatience and anger and a wearing-out process," he said at the Ireland Midlands-North-West count centre in his home town of Castlebar, Co Mayo.


Mr Kenny acknowledged the Government had promised to inform the people of the average for metered water before the local elections.

"We have been listening but we're not by any means perfect.

"At the end of the day, what the Government have to do is look after those who are vulnerable to the best extent possible," he said as he responded to the issue of medical cards.

"What we want to do is take away the fear and anxiety of what people have about losing the medical cards. We live in 2014 – we have to have a sense of Christian compassion in taking care of people," he added.

The Taoiseach recognised that there had been a "major shift here in people voting for the Independents and Sinn Fein party", in the last two days.

"The decision made by the people stands," he said, but he insisted the Labour Party and Fine Gael "went into Government with our eyes wide open".

"The Government stepped up to the mark. No politician wants to say, 'I've got to make a tough choice here'. We've come a long way in three days."

Mr Kenny appeared to appeal for assistance in making those "tough" decisions.

"If anyone else has a better idea," he said.

"We have been very clear with the people that there is no pot of gold," he added.

Irish Independent

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