Wednesday 29 January 2020

Gilmore: Don't write off Enda Kenny just yet

Former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore reflects on the implications of Britain leaving the EU and bemoans the rise of 'slogan' politics, writes Cormac McQuinn

Eamon Gilmore: 'I think people want their politicians to be real people... Alan Kelly is somebody who says it as he sees it and that gets him into hot water from time to time. But I
think he’s got a very bright future.' Picture; Gerry Mooney
Eamon Gilmore: 'I think people want their politicians to be real people... Alan Kelly is somebody who says it as he sees it and that gets him into hot water from time to time. But I think he’s got a very bright future.' Picture; Gerry Mooney
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore says he "wasn't that surprised" at the decision by UK voters to leave the EU.

"I had felt for some time that it was a referendum that could go the wrong way," the ex-foreign affairs minister says.

But he adds that he does have "a sense of shock" at the implications of the Brexit vote - particularly for Ireland.

And he warns Britain and the EU that this country can block a deal if it hurts our interests.

"I think the piece of that equation people have forgotten about is that the withdrawal agreement will have to be voted on by the European Parliament and will also have to be ratified by the other 27 member states."

With issues like the Common Travel Area and the peace process in the North, Ireland is more impacted by Brexit than any other member state, Mr Gilmore says. "The British and indeed European negotiators cannot take it for granted that we will ratify, that this country would ratify a withdrawal agreement for Britain which would be damaging [to Ireland]," he warned.

On Ireland's response to Brexit, Gilmore doesn't second guess what others are doing. "If somebody wants to ask my opinion or advice I'm always quite happy to provide it.

"And from what I see and from what I know of the situation I think they're very much on top of it at Iveagh House," he adds.

Last week, Brexit's chief cheerleader - UKIP's former leader Nigel Farage - shared a stage with US presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Mr Gilmore says it proves that "the politics of Trump is the same kind of politics that gave you the result of the Brexit referendum.

"It's anti-immigrant, it's simplistic slogans substituting for policy or for solutions. It doesn't rely on fact. It's politics of the megaphone... It's not based on, is that idea a sound idea? Is it well-founded? It's how loud you can shout."

Unsurprisingly, Gilmore says he would like to see Hillary Clinton win the White House in November.

"I think what Trump represents is a kind of vulgar populism that is now in political fashion," he says.

"There's almost a kind of - the less you know about something the better."

He says such populist politics can also be seen across a number of European countries both on the right and left.

"In a way, what [Jeremy] Corbyn represents in the British Labour Party is the flip side of that coin. It's the left wing version of that kind of populism where it's about slogans."

Asked if he'd put AAA-PBP and Sinn Féin into the same category, Mr Gilmore replies: "I would actually. I think they're the left-wing manifestation of that kind of populism… where there are more slogans than solutions."

Mr Gilmore met Jeremy Corbyn once at a Labour Youth event here a number of years ago but says he'd vote for his rival Owen Smith if he was eligible to cast a ballot in the leadership election.

"I think Labour will not win an election with Corbyn as its leader. I mean, he is popular with the members.

"But in order to win an election you have to reach into the middle ground... and Corbyn is not doing that.

"I also think he showed a remarkable lack of leadership on the Brexit referendum. That lack of leadership on his part contributed to the outcome."

Former Dun Laoghaire TD Mr Gilmore (61) did not run in this year's General Election, where Labour returned with just seven seats. He has avoided the chaos of the current Dáil set-up that sees a minority Fine Gael government facilitated by Fianna Fáil.

He thinks under the new system "the Budget process will be fine" and that more debate about the contents of the Budget prior to its announcement is "good for politics".

But he raises concern about the dearth of legislation in recent months.

"You can last for six months without any major piece of legislation but government cannot and the Dáil cannot last for a full five-year term without serious legislation," Mr Gilmore says.

He has predicted the Government will last 18 months and says it will be the "unexpected" that will lead to its downfall. "It may turn out ... to be a minor enough event but something will trigger the putting down of a motion of confidence in a minister.

"Sometimes in politics you can get this kind of snowball effect… and that's probably where the risk to the life of the Government is."

Mr Gilmore describes Taoiseach Enda Kenny as "good to work with" and a "very pragmatic" politician.

On the recent questions raised about Mr Kenny's continued leadership of Fine Gael, he says: "I don't think anybody should write the script for that yet. He's around a long time and he may be around for a lot longer than people are predicting."

Mr Gilmore said his own party can only recover from its disastrous election if activists "get out there on the ground" to reconnect with voters. He says he remains involved at a local level.

"I intend to be active whenever we have the referendum on the Eighth Amendment", he adds referring to the law that gives equal status to the life of a mother and an unborn foetus which Labour wants to see repealed.

Mr Gilmore declined to give his assessment of his successor Joan Burton's time as Labour leader, saying: "I'm probably the last person in the world that should be asked to form a view on that."

He says this is because the comparisons have been made between his time as leader and Ms Burton's and adds: "I don't think I'm the person to comment".

He said: "What we have to do now, rather than dwell on the disappointing result is concentrate on what needs to be done to rebuild for the future. I have every confidence Brendan Howlin will do that."

He admits he was disappointed not to be kept on in Cabinet after Ms Burton took over, but says "That's her call and I accept that it's her judgment."

Mr Gilmore has previously spoken of how he supported the decision not to hold a Labour leadership contest to replace Ms Burton, a decision that frustrated one leadership hopeful, Alan Kelly. But Mr Gilmore thinks Mr Kelly has a bright future. "I think Alan is a very formidable politician and he's a very young man."

He doesn't believe Mr Kelly occasionally landing himself in trouble - as happened with the infamous 'power is a drug' interview - will hold him back.

"I think people want their politicians to be real people... Alan is somebody who says it as he sees it and that gets him into hot water from time to time ... I think he's going to be around for a long time and I think he's got a very bright future."

Since leaving Leinster House Mr Gilmore has taken on the role of an elder statesman. He is the EU's envoy to the peace process in Colombia, where a deal was signed between the government and the left-wing Farc rebels last week after a bloody war lasting more than 50 years. Though a part-time role, he has visited the country several times, and says he's proud to be associated with last week's peace deal.

On the Rio Olympics ticketing controversy, he said "the degree to which it overshadowed the achievement of Annalise [Murphy] and the O'Donovan brothers" was upsetting.

"It's a great pity there hasn't been more attention and more celebration of what the athletes achieved."

Aside from his role in Colombia, Mr Gilmore has also taken up a number of academic posts.

Does he miss life as a TD?

"No, I don't. Look, I did it for more than 30 years so that was a long stretch to be in politics. It's a great privilege to be elected by your people… I certainly have a great sense of satisfaction at having done it. But I'm not suffering withdrawal."

Irish Independent

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