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Rebels manned the barricades in quest for 'airport vote'


Ministers Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern in 1989

Ministers Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern in 1989

Ministers Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern in 1989

There was more than a clue in the constituencies that Labour's original 'Aer Lingus Eight' represented.

Manning the barricades for Aer Lingus workers and getting unsurprising support at the Labour conference in Killarney 12 weeks ago were deputies Joe Costello, Dublin Central; Michael McNamara, Clare; Eamonn Maloney, Dublin South-West; Seán Kenny, Dublin North-East; Dominic Hannigan, Meath East; Brendan Ryan, Dublin North; Robert Dowds, Dublin Mid-West; and John Lyons, Dublin North-West.

Most are close to Dublin Airport and all are feeling the chill winds of a hostile general election campaign in the offing. Michael McNamara, the party's first TD in Clare since Dr Moosajee Bhamjee's surprise election in the 1992 Spring Tide, was naturally enough flying the flag for Shannon.

Their quest for the most part was the 'airport vote'. Dublin Airport does not pack the political punch it used to do in the glory days of Ray 'Rambo' Burke of Fianna Fáil, who used it as his political cornerstone in Dublin North. But it is still a force - and votes are scarce for Labour next time.

There is nothing snide meant by any of that. It is a politician's job to represent his or her constituents and it would be a poor politician indeed who was not interested in getting votes.

But this one is also a subset of the Labour crisis right now. Three of the eight constituencies - Dublin South-West, Dublin North-West and Dublin Mid-West - returned two Labour TDs. Eamonn Maloney, John Lyons and Robert Dowds, respectively, were the second party TDs elected.

There are of course some ideological reasons why Labour generally, and specific party TDs, would rally to the cause of State ownership.

The party long ago adopted a pragmatic case-by-case approach to privatisation. But Labour still leans heavily towards the State and semi-State sector. And this is reinforced by the presence of large numbers of unionised workers in the last bastion for the trade unions.

Labour was often under pressure from Fianna Fáil for this vote.

These days in Dublin North the pressure is coming from its left flank and Clare Daly, who has not missed an opportunity to remind us of her background as a former airport worker and union activist.

So, having flown the rebel flag up to about 9.30pm on Tuesday night, the question now is was that enough to secure at least some of the 'airport vote'?

The Labour rebels' hasty retreat, amid claims that their demands have been met, has not enthused the trade union leaders involved. There was a notable failure by Jack O'Connor of Siptu to endorse Labour's role in the events of recent weeks. It would appear to be yet another chapter in the long record of how the unions are permanently critical of Labour in government.

But the Aer Lingus decision concerned many other airport workers, and those who depend on a thriving airport for their living in spin-off businesses.

Many workers reading the coverage will be more than a little impatient at the reassurances offered the Aer Lingus workforce.

In Ireland's post-recessionary workplaces few workers would get these. That reality will weigh also with all politicians, including those from Labour.

The destination of the €335m, swelling government war chests, may be of more interest.

Irish Independent