A public threat to resign might have packed a greater political punch
The former minister of state will quickly realise that she has become yesterday’s news as, in the true nature of politics, talk had already begun on her replacement
THERE WAS a time when leaders in parts of the developing world could not afford to leave their home patch, even for a few days, because a coup would take place in their absence.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore must have understood their position when he heard in New York that Labour’s minister of state for primary care had resigned her position and indeed from the parliamentary party.
Gilmore got word at 6.45pm Irish time, which was 1.45pm at United Nations headquarters, where he is attending the general assembly in his capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Contrary to a claim by Labour’s chief whip Emmet Stagg that Gilmore was informed by email, Shortall in fact phoned the Tánaiste but he missed the call.
When he phoned her back, she told him the news, well-placed sources told The Irish Times. Ms Shortall had already issued her public statement announcing her departure.
The general reaction among backbenchers in Leinster House has been one of surprise, disappointment and personal, rather than political, sympathy.
Shortall is widely admired for her sincerity and commitment but there is a general feeling, even on the left of the party, that she should have stayed in the job.
Informed sources say Taoiseach Enda Kenny joined forces with the Tánaiste for a meeting with James Reilly and Shortall on July 24th, just as the summer recess was starting. The differences between the senior and junior ministers were starting to boil over and the two party leaders felt it was time to sort things out.
Staff from both the Taoiseach’s and the Tánaiste’s office were tasked with the job of resolving the fractious relationship between the pair but, as this week’s events have shown, their efforts were in vain.
The sense of loss at Shortall’s departure was palpable among members of the parliamentary Labour Party.
Like another Labour minister of state, Willie Penrose, she had also resigned the party whip.
Although seen as something of a “two fingers” gesture to the leadership, it was a common- sense decision, as there could be a cleverly worded Opposition motion on health issues, for example, where she would have found it impossible to support the Government side and this would have resulted in her losing the whip in any case.
Had Shortall threatened publicly to resign, she might have got more value out of it than from the course of action she chose.
Certainly, the element of surprise is always good from the point of view of maximising media coverage, but she might have rallied more support if she had sent out a clear signal that she was about to step down.
“She’s been hung out to dry,” was the reaction of one Labour left-winger who preferred not to be named. “The most robust support she got was from Leo Varadkar in Fine Gael.”
Another Labour dissident said the real loser in this episode was Gilmore, and that Shortall’s departure had “unnerved” the parliamentary party at a critical time leading up to the budget.
Given the nature of the political game, however, the talking point in the Dáil yesterday afternoon was who would replace Shortall, and the high-profile former junior minister may discover all too quickly that she has become yesterday’s news.