Tuesday 20 March 2018

Labour sharpens Seanad axe – but daggers for each other stay hidden

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

THERE was a bit of an elephant in the room – and it wasn't the svelte personage of junior health minister Alex White who positioned himself between his party leader and deputy leader.

The launch of Labour's referendum campaign yesterday was hopping with handlers and packed with press, and every eye was beadily focused on the Tanaiste and the Social Protection Minister.

Was there any visible sign of bad vibrations between the political pair? Were they having a bit of a domestic? Would Emperor Eamon carefully keep his back against the wall of the press conference, for fear he may discover a stiletto blade inserted into the vicinity of his shoulder-blades by the hungry Cassius of Cabra Road?

While there's nothing unusual about reports of tensions between political leaders and their second-in-commands, tales of tetchiness between Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton hang about like a posse of particularly persistent One Directon fans.

And the tales are back in the spotlight again this week, courtesy of a new political book which includes several anecdotes suggesting that Joan is not always best pleased with the boss.

For instance, Eamon was very proud of the 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' slogan before the last general election, and was surely dismayed to learn from Pat Leahy's book that his deputy leader's batch of these particular posters languished in her dad's garden shed rather than adorning the lampposts of Dublin West.

Therefore, close attention was paid to the decidedly self-conscious progress of Eamon and Joan as they made their entrance into the Wellesley Room of the Merrion Hotel (coincidentally adjacent to the room wherein the launch of the selfsame book had taken place the evening before).

But they were all business as they put their cases in turn for abolishing the Seanad. Joan declared that the Seanad was "past its sell-by date" and that it no longer had "a meaningful role to play".

And she also took the opportunity to spread a little cheer. The Upper House may be facing the death sentence, but the Irish economy is rising from the crypt. "Ireland is now firmly in recovery mode," she declared. "We're on the road slowly, but surely, to recovery."

Mighty, so we can all look forward to a grand giveaway Budget in four weeks, now that the job's oxo.

The Tanaiste tried to stick to the issue in question, and explained why Labour was gung-ho (well, some of Labour anyway) about axing the Seanad.

"I think it's fair to say that the economic crisis that we have suffered has caused us all to ask fundamental questions, particularly about public bodies – do you need two bodies where one is sufficient?" he wondered aloud.

At least it was assumed that the "two bodies" in question were the Seanad and Dail, and not those of a leader and an extraneous deputy.

Finally, after the elephant had tired itself out wandering about the room, the unspoken question was aired – is Eamon on the outs with Joan.

Huge smiles wreathed the visages of both, as their respective handlers hunkered down in chairs.

Eamon stood, head slightly to the side and smiled happily as Joan assured everyone that all was rosy in the Red garden.

"I have to say myself and the Tanaiste have an excellent working relationship. And the Labour Party is a political party, it's a political family and all families have discussions. So if I have points of view I will always express them and I'll continue to do that," she explained, adding: "Eamon has been extremely supportive of me, and I think since he was elected leader and I was elected deputy leader, we have worked very well together as a team."

Everything was hunky-dory? "I'm happy to say that the relationship is very positive and as I understand – I think that Eamon can speak for himself – I wouldn't dream of speaking for him!" she grinned as Eamon laughed heartily.

The handlers all guffawed and wiped their brows.

But there was one last question from the pesky press. To be sure, to be sure.

"Is the Tanaiste the best person to lead Labour into the next general election?" one reporter asked both Eamon and Joan, who were by now in fits of giggles.

"The answer is yes," smiled Eamon, before continuing to answer a second question from the floor.

Then the press conference wrapped. It was surely a mere oversight that Joan didn't step up and give a ringing answer in the affirmative.

Or maybe like all good drama-queens, Joan knows full well that the best soap operas always end with a cliffhanger.

Irish Independent

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