TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore had an announcement to make at the Labour Party's think-in event in Meath. He was going to travel around the country to talk to Labour councillors ahead of next year's local elections.
But Social Protection Minister Joan Burton quickly chipped in to make it clear she had beat him to the chase. She told Labour TDs and senators she had been touring the country for 18 months talking to Labour councillors and party members.
It was a perfect example of the rivalry between Labour's two most senior figures.
It is frustrating for the Labour TDs and senators loyal to Mr Gilmore (pictured), with one saying there was growing anger in the party about how disloyally Ms Burton was behaving.
"It's driving Gilmore's people mad because they can't shake it off," said a Labour TD.
Others can see the political motives behind her actions. Ms Burton has positioned herself as the clear replacement for Mr Gilmore should Labour's fortunes continue to deteriorate.
When Labour senator James Heffernan was about to vote against last year's social welfare cuts in the Budget, he was urged by people he viewed as close to Ms Burton to hold off. The message was to stay in the party so there would be enough numbers to challenge the leadership.
But where did the bad blood between Mr Gilmore and his deputy leader come from? Ms Burton was disappointed when he appointed Brendan Howlin as Minister for Public Expenditure – she had served as the party's finance spokesman for nine years. Others say she has never forgiven him for taking the party leadership when Pat Rabbitte stepped down in 2007.
But party sources say there have been longstanding differences between 'Old Labour' members such as Ms Burton and those like Mr Gilmore and Mr Rabbitte who were once in the Workers' Party. They split off to form Democratic Left and joined Labour in 1998.
One party member said there was still resentment within Old Labour about the "reverse takeover", which saw first Mr Rabbitte and then Mr Gilmore winning the Labour leadership.
There is no obvious co-ordination between the five Labour TDs who are former Workers' Party members – Mr Gilmore, Mr Rabbitte, Eric Byrne, Kathleen Lynch and Anne Ferris. But Labour TDs joke that former Workers' Party members tend to back each other at parliamentary party meetings.
One Labour source said some of these former Workers' Party members would be shuffling papers and moving seats if Ms Burton started talking about finance issues rather than social welfare issues at Labour parliamentary meetings.
Mr Gilmore has a particularly strong bond with Mr Rabbitte, who dismisses Mr Gilmore's critics with stinging soundbites. He accused rebel former Labour chairman Colm Keaveney of "pirouetting on the plinth" in Leinster House. He dismissed a group of departing Labour politicians as "pavilion members". And when questioned this week about the relationship between Ms Burton and Mr Gilmore, he said he had no comment to make about "the lady".
Labour critics of Mr Gilmore claim the Workers' Party culture of obeying the leader without question has been transfused into the Labour Party. They say this has made life more difficult for Ms Burton, who grew up in a party famous for its endless debates, rows and outbursts.
To be fair to Mr Gilmore, he has allowed for plenty of Labour dissent in the Seanad referendum, with as many TDs and senators campaigning to save the Seanad as abolish it. But it is interesting to note that one of those rallying to his cause in the televised debates on the Seanad is former Labour TD Liz McManus, who joined with him from Democratic Left.
One obvious benefit for Ms Burton in distancing herself from Mr Gilmore relates to her seat in Dublin West. She has painful memories of losing it in 1997 – after the Spring Tide went out – to Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins. He will be competing again with her in 2016, as will former Labour TD Patrick Nulty who quit Labour over Budget cuts only weeks after winning a by-election for them. "She is protecting her back," said one Labour TD.
WHEN Ms Burton was in school in Stanhope Street in Dublin, she was so tall that she was always the one who carried the flag during its annual May Procession. After the events of the past week, Mr Gilmore will still have to be on his guard against her deciding that she wants to carry the Labour flag going into the next general election.
She is every bit as tough and ruthless as her opponents, and she is extremely skilful at diverting blame for unpopular social welfare cuts on to somebody else, such as Fine Gael or the troika.
But Labour TDs still doubt if she will ever challenge for the leadership due to the high risks involved. Taking over to lead Labour into a possible electoral meltdown is not a very attractive prospect.
Unlike Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, Labour has no recent tradition of party heaves. The past three leaders – Dick Spring, Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte – all resigned in the wake of electoral disappointments.
Either way, Mr Gilmore is not going to hand over the leadership to Ms Burton if the party has a dreadful result in the local and European elections next year. He has won more seats than any previous Labour leader, has presided over a presidential election victory and the country is on course to exit the troika bailout. Unsurprisingly, he has proclaimed his determination to lead the party into the next general election.
His handlers insist there is no heave from Ms Burton or anyone else on the cards, and so far they are probably right. There is no clearly identifiable "Burton" camp in the party, and there is a belief that installing a new leader would only lead to a short-term gain in the polls. Even rebel Labour senator John Kelly said this week that he was not convinced Ms Burton was the answer – as he called on Mr Gilmore to go.
But the risk for Mr Gilmore is that his strategy of telling beleaguered Labour TDs to stay the course while the economy improves could backfire. There are lots of positive signs, but if growth does not come quickly enough and the opinion poll ratings continue to slip, previously loyal backbenchers could start to reconsider their support for him.
It should be remembered that when Labour suffered its last big electoral wipe-out in 1997, it had just presided over a return to economic growth and a budget surplus in coalition with Fine Gael. The risk this time around is that voters will once again be lying in wait – to punish Labour for breaking some of its promises.
A few Labour TDs will tell you they are not worried about losing their seats. They firmly believe in what one Gilmore critic calls his "kamikaze politics" – crashing the Labour aeroplane into the ground for the good of the country. But the Labour conference in November will be a test of whether the party membership wants to "drop the pilot" or continue on the current course into the next general election.