Gilmore rules out FF coalition


Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore has categorically ruled out a coalition between his party and Fianna Fáil after the next general election even if he were in a position to become taoiseach.

Mr Gilmore has also predicted his party is well-positioned to win at least a seat in each of the country’s 43 constituencies and two in some constituencies in Dublin, Cork, other urban areas and commuter-belt counties. In all, he said the party has the potential to win 50 seats or more.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Irish Times, the Labour leader twice said that a coalition between his party and Fine Gael was the most likely outcome after the next election.

Asked would he rather serve as tánaiste with Fine Gael than as taoiseach with Fianna Fáil, he said: "I want to be absolutely clear. I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about this. Fianna Fáil must be put out of government at the next election."

Mr Gilmore said the party is taking on extra staff, setting up a new campaign unit, and has set up a "winning the west" strategy to make gains in constituencies where Labour has had a marginal or no foothold before. Most of these are along the western seaboard. "In Connacht-Ulster, you see that Labour is at 19 per cent or 20 per cent [in opinion polls], as against 5 per cent in the last general election."

As a consequence of much higher expectations for gains, the party expects to run 65 candidates with the aim of winning 50 seats or more.

To the suggestion that this seems unachievable, he responded: "I think it’s very doable. [The next election will be] very much an election about change."

Such advances for Labour would eclipse the November 1992 election, when the party, led by Dick Spring, won 33 seats.

"If you think about it, opinion polls are such that Labour would win a seat in every constituency. That’s 43 for a start. There are constituencies where we are stronger and where we can win more than one," he contended. Mr Gilmore also said his party supports the Government target of cutting €3 billion in this year’s budget and its wider aim of reducing the deficit on the General Government Balance to 3 per cent by 2014.

"We did so as an Opposition party because we felt that it is necessary that message is communicated to the wider world that Ireland is serious about getting its public finances in order," he said.

"Even with a change of government, dealing with public finances responsibly will be a priority for the alternative government." However, he said the party’s approach to securing the €3 billion in savings would be very different from the Government’s.

He ruled out a property tax and water charges, the latter on the basis of the cost of installing meters. He said it was too early to specify where the savings would be made but argued that ending property and pension reliefs had the potential to yield up to €1 billion.

Mr Gilmore also responded strongly to the claim that his party’s strategy has been to adopt populist stances opposing Government policies, without offering substantive alternative policies. He has cited some 45 policy documents produced by his party since 2007, in addition to 35 private members’ Bills.

"The 'no policy' attack is a Fianna Fáil attack. It’s inevitable that they will have a go at a party which is increasing support. It is simply not true," he said. On the issue of jobs, he has said the party has forwarded two proposals; a strategic investment bank funded by €2 billion from the pension reserve fund and a jobs plan with a budget of €1.15 billion, funded from exchequer savings and some new taxes.

However, unlike the Government or Fine Gael, he has not put a figure on the potential number of jobs that can be created. "I'm not sure that it’s possible to do that. It makes for headlines, so many jobs," he said. "It is always a bit hazardous when you are putting numbers on jobs that you might create."

He also dismissed the contention that Labour has been damaged over the Croke Park deal. The Government accused him of sitting on the fence so as to not alienate public sector workers, a vital constituency for his party. "I said I was not going to interfere in the ballot. That was the right decision to make," he responded, arguing that turning the process into a political football would have been inappropriate.