Labour caught up in bitter internal row after Colm Keaveney defection over Budget

Fiach Kelly and Caroline Crawford

LABOUR has been plunged into bitter exchanges, as the fallout from party chairman Colm Keaveney's Budget rebellion continued.

Mr Keaveney is insisting he is staying on as chairman of the party, as Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore seeks to sack him, saying his position in untenable.

Mr Keaveney, a TD for Galway East, is Labour Party chairman but left the parliamentary party yesterday after voting against social welfare cuts in the Dail.

“The graceful thing to do is honour the mandate that I was given by the grassroots of the Labour Party,” he said.

In a stark warning to the party leader, Mr Keaveney added: “It is a gift of the members of the Labour party and not of the leader. I will put myself in front of a conference. If Eamon Gilmore thinks we need an early conference to talk about the chair I think we need an early conference to talk about the direction of the Labour party.”

Mr Keaveney was speaking on Galway Bay fm this morning where he apologised to his constituency for failing to defend the child benefit.

“I was sent to battle on behalf of my constituency and if that means that I have to make a sacrifice, whether it is public criticism by senior politicians on the radio this morning, so be it,” he added.

However, he refused to be drawn on criticism of his move by Pat Rabbitte and Labour Party National Executive member Ray Kavanagh, claiming they were trying to “antagonise a response”.

“I am not going to get involved in a Punch and Judy show about personality clashes. This is about the policy. We made a promise before the last general election that we would not cut child benefit, that is a promise that I fought to maintain,” he said.

Mr Keaveney described his decision to vote against the Budget as “the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life.” He revealed how he spoke with his family before taking the decision.

The Labour TD said he made “no apologies” for his actions adding; “I knew there would be significant consequences for Colm Keaveney.”

Mr Keaveney said he has not spoken to Eamon Gilmore since Wednesday but he insisted he would remain a part of the Labour Party.

“I can assure you I will be standing for the Labour Party in the next general election,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said this morning he had never seen so much "calculated venom" in party disputes as had occurred in recent weeks.

When pressed on who he was talking about on RTE's 'Morning Ireland', Mr Rabbitte blamed those "now outside the party". Dail debates on the Budget have seen sharp exchanges between Labour TDs and those who left the parliamentary party and joined the Independent benches, such as Roisin Shortall and Tommy Broughan.

Mr Rabbitte said now was not the time for “political narcissism” or “selfish acts of departure when the going gets tough”.