Friday 20 April 2018

Joan Burton faced with Mexican standoff after next election

TIME TO SING FROM THE SAME HYMN SHEET: Tanaiste Joan Burton TD with the Department of An Taoiseach staff choir during the annual lunchtime recital of Christmas carols at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
TIME TO SING FROM THE SAME HYMN SHEET: Tanaiste Joan Burton TD with the Department of An Taoiseach staff choir during the annual lunchtime recital of Christmas carols at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Infighting and media saturation cause concern for Labour as judgement day nears, writes Philip Ryan

'It's been quite a long time, a lot of jobs, there's no need for this. Let's just put our guns down, and let's settle this with a f***kin' conversation."

Fans of Quentin Tarantino's early '90s' film noir Reservoir Dogs will know the above quote is from the movie's climactic final scene which sees three gangsters locked in a Mexican standoff following a botched diamond heist.

However, you would be forgiven for thinking the line came from a recent Parliamentary Labour Party meeting.

In the Tarantino classic, three of the gang's remaining crew square off against each other with guns drawn as the film comes to a bloody end.

In the past week, several leading lights in Labour let Tanaiste Joan Burton know they have her firmly in their crosshairs after weeks of bitter infighting and dismal opinion poll results.

Unsurprisingly, environment minister Alan Kelly was first out of the traps telling Marian Finucane that as a young and ambitious TD it was only natural that he would one day like to lead the party.

Public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin refused to rule out another run for the top job last Sunday.

Then business and employment minister Ged Nash, who sounds like a character from a Tarantino movie, threw his hat in the ring and was followed by education minister Jan O'Sullivan.

Communications minister Alex White was also pushed into admitting he might run again.

Declarations of ambition from nervous Labour TDs could be dismissed as posturing ahead of the general election.

TDs know it will do them no harm at the polls if voters think they are voting for a future party leader.

But it certainly does not give the impression of a cohesive party rallying behind the leader as it faces into a difficult election.

Joan can't complain.

The Labour boss set her sights on Eamon Gilmore from the moment he appointed her to the Department of Social Protection rather than the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Eventually, she sent Gilmore packing after the party's disastrous result in the local elections.

With Gilmore ousted, there were high hopes in the party and Burton was heralded as the shining light to guide Labour from the abyss and back into the loving arms of the public.

This has not happened and frustration over dismal poll results has led to obvious tensions and unseemly bickering at the top table.

Burton's strategy in recent months is to appear at every public event possible to ensure that voters do not forget about Labour's role in Government over the last five years.

Officially, Labour ministers will say how they are struck by the Tanaiste's interpersonal skills with voters who seem to be unable to resist her charms.

But privately there is growing frustration with her campaign to over saturate the media with the 'Joan Show'.

It's a topic that has been discussed on more than one occasion at Labour's election strategy meetings.

"She keeps showing up to things but has nothing to say - it doesn't do us any good," a senior Labour source said.

"Joan thinks just being out there is all it takes but when you are party leader, you need fewer appearances and clearer messaging," another key party figure said.

"Less is more but she's not easy to rein in," the source added.

Last week, the Tanaiste seemed to cut back the public appearances and was not seen cutting a ribbon for almost seven days on the trot.

However, she did a round-table interview with political reporters which will ensure plenty of "the Tanaiste said this and that" stories over the Christmas break.

Then there's the ongoing breakdown in relations with Alan 'AK47' Kelly.

Speaking to RTE last weekend, Kelly insisted he is not gunning for Burton, and even went as far as to say that they get on like a house on fire.

This is believable in that no-one wants to be in a house when it is on fire, and some Labour ministers would agree with this sentiment

Kelly recently broke down at a party meeting amid accusations he leaked details of internal Labour election analysis. Some say it was theatrics, others say the strain of being isolated within his own party took its toll. Either way, Burton took great pleasure in Kelly's discomfort and had a pop at "emotional Labour party members" at the next parliamentary party meeting, which the environment minister did not attend.

She took another swipe at him last week, when he was again away. This time she joked about Kelly and Alex White being able to stand each other long enough to pose for a picture at the climate change conference in Paris.

The comment was in jest but senior party members are growing weary with the never-ending conflict.

"There is no need to make gratuitous cuts at him. His stock has fallen and she should just leave it alone at this stage," a source said.

After the final shoot-out in Reservoir Dogs, Mr Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, sneaks out from under a staircase and runs to freedom as the others are left to die.

It is unfair to sound the death knell for Burton before the votes are counted, but if Labour fare badly, sights will be set on the leader.

It is too early to say who will emerge from under the stairs in this scenario but Burton and Kelly risk cancelling each other out as the party grows tired of their fighting.

The real winner may even be one of the few Labour members who have so far not publicly announced their ambition to lead.

Sunday Independent

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