Labour leader says the party's whip in Seanad has his full support

Sat, May 5, 2012, 01:00

TÁNAISTE AND Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has come out in support of his embattled Seanad Éireann party whip Senator Susan O’Keeffe.

The party position of the former television journalist was the subject of a stormy meeting of Labour Party Senators at Leinster House on Thursday.

A motion of no confidence in Ms O’Keeffe as whip proposed by Senator John Whelan was withdrawn, but is due to be tabled again next week if she remains in the position.

When asked to comment on the row yesterday, Mr Gilmore said: “A whip’s job is never easy. There’s always a heave against the whip. The nature of the job invites it. “The idea that a whip is having difficulty with those being whipped is nothing new in a political party.”

When asked whether he believed Ms O’Keeffe should step down or not, he said: “The whip is the whip and the whip remains, and it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.”

Questioned as to whether she had his backing as party leader, he said: “Yes, she was nominated by the leader of the party in the Senate, and her nomination was agreed by the parliamentary party and that position stands.”

Pressed as to whether the Senator had his full support, Mr Gilmore replied: “Of course I support the whip, I support all our whips.”

Senior party sources said last night that the issue was related to the Government’s plan to abolish the Seanad, which is not favoured by a number of Labour members.

Ms O’Keeffe is considered by her critics to be too close to the leadership and inclined to play along with the official Labour Party line of accepting Fine Gael’s proposal to abolish the Upper House.

Most of Ms O’Keeffe’s critics are male, whereas her female colleagues are backing her for the most part.

In 1995, Ms O’Keeffe, then a World in Action ITV journalist, was threatened with prison for refusing to reveal her sources of information on scandals within the Irish meat industry.

She was elected to the Seanad last year on the agricultural panel. She was an unsuccessful Dáil candidate in the general election for Sligo-North Leitrim, polling 4,553 first preferences (10.2 per cent).

Ms O’Keeffe did not return calls yesterday.

Miriam Lord’s Week: page 8