Monday 18 December 2017

Gilmore: 'We still have a distance to go, but the future's positive'

In an interview with the Labour leader ahead of the party's national conference, Group Political Editor Fionnan Sheahan finds a politician in optimistic mood

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore

HE doesn't want to exaggerate it. And he certainly doesn't want to hear anybody talking about 'turning a corner'. But Eamon Gilmore feels the country and the Government has passed a certain point on the road to recovery.

The exit from the bailout and the creation of 1,000 new jobs a week has created a slightly more optimistic mood.

Ahead of this weekend's Labour Party national conference in Killarney, the Tanaiste feels it's a moment to take stock.

"We are now at a point where we can put our head above water again, look around, look at a more positive future.

"We still have a distance to go. A lot of people are still coping with very difficult circumstances, trying to juggle all of the different pressures that are on their lives, trying to make ends meet. They have a distance to go.

"Our job as a Government is to complete that journey with them. But I think we are now at a point in that route that things are looking more positive.

REALISTIC

"Economic recovery and getting out of the recession is not something that is a theoretical possibility anymore. It is now something that is actually happening. But we still have a distance to go with it," he said in an interview with the Irish Independent.

The deputy leader of the Government says the public doesn't want to be lectured about better days to come, but want to see the evidence in their own lives.

Given his past record on keeping promises, he knows people are realistic and respond to what they see.

"People want to experience it. They don't want to hear about it. They want to see an improvement in their own lives, in their own incomes, in jobs and what have you," he said.

Speaking of keeping the head above water, Mr Gilmore could easily be talking about his own position and his own party.

His members are desperately seeking signs that entering into coalition with Fine Gael in the midst of an economic downturn actually has an electoral purpose. Aside from the economic indicators, there are slight chinks of light for the embattled junior coalition party.

Following a constant line of in-fighting and a stream of defections from the party, Budget 2014 passed without any losses.

After a steady slump in support among the electorate pretty much since the General Election, a poll last weekend showed Labour support rising.

Mr Gilmore's political prospects are attached to an economic recovery.

This week, he is trying to offer some hope to hard-pressed working families by talking about tax cuts in the coming years.

"It's not enough to hear the Government's balance is improving. You have to see your own balance improving," he says.

Beyond the bailout, the Government will publish its economic plan for the coming year. Mr Gilmore wants to see full employment (regarded as unemployment dropping to 4pc) by the end of the decade, at least, being a set target.

"The economic target that I believe that we should now be aiming at is full employment. I think it's been absolutely necessary to deal with the Budget deficit and get that down.

"We have a pathway for that and we have also shown our determination to meet that. But economic strategy is not just about getting down deficits and it's not just about having deficit targets.

"It's about having targets in real economic terms in the real economy and, for me, the employment target has to be front and centre," he said.

Mr Gilmore is certainly dodging any questions about Labour's target in next year's local and European elections.

"Our electoral outcome in 2009 was 14pc. Last weekend's poll was 12pc. So we're not that far off what the actual outcome was in 2009," he said.

He says it's difficult to compare the 2009 and 2014 elections due to the redraw of constituencies.

This weekend, Mr Gilmore will also point to another polling day on the distant horizon as he will be able to record the agreement to hold a same-sex marriage referendum -- a long-term ambition of Labour.

He is cautious at this stage and says there's a lot of work to be done before the question can be put to the people.

"What sometimes can look like a winnable referendum can turn out to be something a bit more difficult.

"We saw that, for example, with divorce, which required two referendums," he added.

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