Sunday 21 July 2019

Labour rebels to fight Burton's plan for FG vote transfer deal

Joan Burton
Joan Burton
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White
Dominic Hannigan

Niall O'Connor and Sam Griffin

Labour backbench rebels have fired a shot across the bows of party leader Joan Burton over her plans for a General Election vote transfer pact with Coalition partners Fine Gael.

The Tánaiste is risking the threat of a rift within the party as she embarks on one of the greatest gambles of her political career in her bid to persuade party members that they should endorse an agreement.

Labour figures believe Ms Burton will have "no option" but to resign as leader if the transfer agreement fails to save the party from electoral meltdown.

Meath East TD Dominic Hannigan last night warned that the latest pact proposal would be strongly resisted by the Labour grassroots.

"It would be unbecoming of the leadership to try and push this through without listening not just to TDs, but to our members as well," he told the Irish Independent.

"Our members don't want a pact, our voters don't want a pact and that should come before individual calculations of how particular ministers can try and salvage their seats," he added.

The party's Dublin Bay North branch, whose sitting TDs are Áodhan Ó Ríordáin and Seán Kenny, is set to follow the example of Labour's Fingal branch by calling for the party not to enter into a pre-election pact with Fine Gael.

The Fingal branch, represented in the Dáil by respected deputy Brendan Ryan, recommended the party campaigns on its own record in Government and draws up a manifesto based on its "own distinct principles and values".

After consulting senior party colleagues, including deputy leader Alan Kelly and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, Ms Burton has confirmed that she will seek support for a pact at the party's think-in next week.

Ms Burton will tell her TDs and senators that the party will adopt a unique and independent manifesto which will focus heavily on policies in line with Labour values.

Among the issues that will form a central plank of the Labour manifesto is a further liberalising of the country's abortion laws.

However, Ms Burton faces the prospect of a difficult think-in as opposition remains within the party to such a pact.

Communications Minister Alex White last night said the pact proposal "makes sense" as Labour tries to ensure it wins "as many seats as possible". But he admitted that TDs wanted to ensure the agreement was "distinguished very clearly from the Mullingar Accord" which was agreed between Labour and Fine Gael in 2004.

"The Mullingar Accord was predicated on policy agreement, this isn't," Mr White told the Irish Independent.

The 2004 Mullingar Accord failed miserably for both FG and Labour and many within Labour believe any such agreement should be approached with caution.

Galway Labour senator Lorraine Higgins backed Ms Burton's stance, saying the party must maximise its vote.

"We have to capitalise on bringing the country from the financial Armageddon we inherited in 2011 to the fastest-growing economy in Europe in 2015, so it would be ludicrous not to have an electoral strategy in place that would optimise both parties' votes," she said.

"We are separate parties with separate policy platforms and priorities and we have proven we provide stable government. So we need to ensure we secure the economy in the next term so it would be foolhardy if we jeopardised it by not implementing these voting measures."

Ms Burton will formally table the pact proposal at Labour's think-in in Wicklow next Monday. Labour's Alan Kelly yesterday said the agreement was merely about asking Labour voters to give their lower preferences to Fine Gael.

Irish Independent

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