LABOUR leader Eamon Gilmore has defended his party in the wake of a flurry of defections by disaffected members.
Over 25 councillors have now broken ranks as the party faces into a tough local and European election campaign.
Three council stalwarts, including former Lord Mayor Paddy Bourke, quit the party within the past week alone.
The Tanaiste yesterday said he would "rather not lose anyone", adding that he does not believe voters will punish Labour at the polls.
And he urged other elected members to "show courage" as senior party figures brace themselves for more defections over the coming months.
"The vast majority of the public representatives of the Labour Party showed great courage and great determination to get this country out of the mess we inherited and I am praising those members that are sticking with the Labour Party," he said.
"They are showing courage and determination at a very difficult time.
"But the vast majority of members are determined to stick with it.
"I would rather not lose anyone...but we have had a difficult job to do and will continue to do it," he added.
Mr Gilmore also insisted he is happy staying at the Department of Foreign Affairs, despite Labour politicians pressing him to transfer to a domestic economic ministry.
The Dun Laoghaire TD angrily turned on critics who blamed his overseas ministerial work as being a factor in the Labour Party's collapsing poll fortunes and the decision by over 28 elected officials to quit since 2011. "What I am doing is central to this country's economic recovery...let's be clear about this," he said.
"We have had a job of work to do. When we went into Government two-and-a-half years ago, we were referred to as one of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain).
"Our standing in the world was in tatters...our reputation was ruined.
"We had to restore that and that was primarily my job as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I am very glad we have restored it," he added.
The Herald revealed last month that Mr Gilmore was told "in no uncertain terms" that he must quit the Foreign Affairs portfolio ahead of next summer's local elections.
But speaking in Cork, Mr Gilmore defended his ministry.
"The Department of Foreign Affairs is a domestic ministry. The job of work that we have had to do over the course of the last two-and-a-half years has been to rebuild the country's reputation," he said.
He also refused to be drawn on the timing or detail of any Cabinet reshuffle.
"It is something that the Taoiseach and I will address in due course.
"It is something I will address," Gilmore said.
Labour TD Ciaran Lynch yesterday backed the leadership and warned that it was time for party members to stick together.
"We have taken the tough decisions ... it is vital that we stick to the course and do what is right for Ireland and for the party," he said.