Keaveney resists pressure to step down as Labour Party chairman

Fri, Dec 14, 2012, 00:00

Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney today reiterated his intention to stay on in the role and called for an early party conference to decide his fate and the party's future.

Mr Keaveney voted against the Government on the Social Welfare Bill last night and was expelled from the Labour Parliamentary Party.

He is the only Government TD to vote against the Budget, despite days of disquiet among backbenchers.

Speaking on Galway Bay FM this morning, the Galway East TD defended his desire to stay on as chair.

“The graceful thing to do is to honour the mandate I was given by the grassroots of the Labour Party and I said I would honour Labour values. It is a gift of the members of the Labour Party and not of the leader,” he said. “I will put myself in front of a conference if Eamon Gilmore believes that we need an early conference to talk about the chair. I think we need an early conference on the direction of the Labour Party,” he said.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said last night Mr Keaveney's position was untenable, a view echoed today by Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg. “He comes out against the Government and against the Labour Party in Government,” Mr Stagg said. “I don’t think it’s a tenable position, I think he should quit the position forthwith.”

Mr Gilmore last night said Mr Keaveney should not continue as party chairman. “I don’t think it’s tenable for somebody who’s out of the parliamentary Labour party to hold a senior office in the party," he said.

Speaking in Brussels, Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed confidence in Mr Gilmore's leadership of Labour, though he noted that the internal affairs of a party are matters for the party itself.

He said Mr Gilmore was "absolutely focused on working with the Fine Gael party in government, as a national government to deal with our nation's problems that we received a mandate to sort out in respect of which we are signed up for the programme for government.

“The internal matters of the Labour Party belong to them, and I'm very happy that the Labour Party leadership, the Tánaiste, and all his Ministers are focused on dealing with sorting out our problems, restoring a sense of structure to the way we do business, providing the opportunities for investments, for jobs, for careers. That's where the future of this country lies,” he said.

Mr Kenny also said he was confident the Social Welfare Bill would pass in the Seanad.

Mr Keaveney becomes the fifth of the 37 TDs returned for Labour in the general election to lose the party whip since the Government was formed just 21 months ago, joining Róisín Shortall, Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty, all of whom have been similarly expelled.

After Mr Keaveney voted against the Government, Mr Gilmore released a lenghty statement sending out a strong signal that there would be no easy way back into the parliamentary party. His  annoyance at Mr Keaveney’s action was illustrated by the fact that he never referred to the Galway East TD by name in the statement.

Describing yesterday as a “difficult day”, Mr Gilmore made a pointed reference to Mr Keaveney’s future relationship with the party.  “We are either shaping the solution or we are watching it from across the lobby. And whichever we choose, it is from there we’ll be watching the recovery too,” Mr Gilmore said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Communication Pat Rabbitte said a minority of Labour TDs appear more suited to the advocacy of opposition rather than life in the Government.

Mr Rabbitte said now was not the time for “political narcissism” or “selfish acts of departure when the going gets tough”. Labour TDs who voted for the budget were “courageous”, he insisted.

“Any single member of the Labour parliamentary party could have gone pirouetting on the plinth (in front of Leinster House), parading their struggle with their conscience and saying: 'watch me now as I agonise about this decision'.

“Any one of them could have done that. Instead they took the hard decision to bring in the Budget. Nobody wants to make those difficult decisions,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte added that he did not see “any logic” in Mr Keaveney remaining as chairman after leaving the party. “I can’t see any logic in a man walking away from the parliamentary party wanting to cling on as chairman,” he told RTE's Morning Ireland.

The dramatic development yesterday afternoon plunged the party into crisis just when the Coalition appeared close to concluding a difficult budget process without a split.

Mr Keaveney voted against the Social Welfare Bill that cut child benefit, reduced the respite care grant and abolished the PRSI exemption. He said he had “deep misgivings” about these aspects of the budget.

He also said he was “appalled” that Labour’s budgetary proposal for a 3 per cent increase in the universal social charge for those earning €100,000 was rejected by Fine Gael. Labour’s Coalition partner was seeking “to become an Irish Tory party”, he claimed.

Mr Keaveney was strongly critical of the four-man Economic Management Council which agreed the bulk of the budget. "The failure I believe emerged from the Economic Management Council. They sprung an odious budget on people like me who are new to the Dáil, new to budgets," he said. "I wasn’t elected for this and it isn’t what I promised."

The council comprises Mr Kenny, Mr Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

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