Labour's thorn in side to stay for now

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

It’s all a little awkward in the Labour Party at the minute.

Chairman Colm Keaveney (he’s like Britain’s stance on the EU at the moment: in and out) is a continuing thorn in the side of the leadership, but there is precious little they can do about him for now.

Headquarters appear to have calmed down since the Galway East backbencher voted against the Social Welfare Bill and earned himself automatic expulsion from the parliamentary party.

Initial fury at having to tolerate this rebel chairing party meetings in Leinster House has given way to a temporary acceptance of the situation.

Keaveney – who was elected chairman by the wider party membership at their annual conference – has no intention of stepping down, but he has agreed to step out of Labour executive meetings when Government policy or parliamentary party business is being discussed.

Eamon Gilmore might have reasonably expected the problem to fizzle out, given that the brooding Keaveney would have a diminished role at Leinster House level, with the knock-on effect of less media exposure. He has also lost his place on three Oireachtas committees – his membership of the agriculture one appears to have been forgotten. All this leaves Keaveney with extra time on his hands, which explains why he was given so many committees in the first place.

As chairman, he recently visited a large number of branch agms around the country and got strong support at ground level. But might his supporters be talking this up? Not if this week’s stormy agm in Dublin North Central is anything to go by. Members unanimously passed a motion in support of Keaveney. It was opposed by sitting TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who called the chairman “a member of the Opposition”. Amid some muttering about “deselection”, Ó Ríordáin’s view was voted down.

Some Labour TDs and Senators, aware of the mood among the grassroots, are now tip-toeing awkwardly around Keaveney, who’s looking quite pleased with himself these days.

Independent TD Finian McGrath couldn’t resist a cheeky tweet. “I’m hearing Colm Keaveney very popular in DNC and Aodhan upset. Blood on the floor!”