Labour TDs say party should try to bargain hard with Fine Gael

Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 00:00

THE LABOUR Party should seek to strike a hard bargain in any negotiations over a future coalition with Fine Gael, a number of its TDs said yesterday.

The party should not presume its only option was to go into government with Fine Gael, Dublin Mid West TD Joanna Tuffy said.

Calling on the party to play “hardball” in any talks, Ms Tuffy said she would not be happy unless Labour was able to say after five years of coalition government that it had made a real difference.

“It can’t be a Fine Gael-driven government, it has to be a Labour-driven, social democratic government,” she said.

Dublin South Central TD Eric Byrne said his party had a patriotic duty to go into government “but not at any cost”.

“The country is in ruins. It has to be rebuilt from the ashes but the pain has to be shared fairly,” he said. Mr Byrne added that there was no reason why a coalition shouldn’t last two terms if the right programme is agreed.

Seán Kenny, returned in Dublin North East, said Labour needed to look at the national interest and protect the people it represented. They would suffer the consequences of a harsh right-wing government if Labour was not involved, he said.

Robert Dowds, the party’s new TD for Dublin Mid West, said there was an onus on the party to influence what happened in government.

Ger Nash, newly elected in Louth, said he would consult local party members before making a decision on any deal. He also wanted to “look behind the numbers” in the election to discern what message voters were sending out to the party.

With 19.4 per cent share of the vote, Labour’s result was the best in its 99-year history. It final seat count, likely to be 37, exceeds the 33 it obtained under Dick Spring’s leadership in 1992.

The party picked up two seats in six constituencies and won seats in Clare, Cork South West and Carlow-Kilkenny. More than half its seats were picked up in Dublin, where it obtained 29.3 per cent of the vote. However, this was marginally behind Fine Gael’s vote.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said yesterday he was willing to sit down with Fine Gael to discuss a coalition but added there had been no contact yet. It was Fine Gael’s “call” whether to contact Labour because it had other possibilities, he said.

To begin talks, the party leader must make a proposal to Labour’s central council. While no meeting of this council has been called, it can be convened at short notice.

If the parties open talks on a programme for government, it is likely the party leaders will meet before appointing negotiating teams. Labour would entrust negotiations to a three- or four-person team of elected politicians and party staff. Labour sources say if talks go ahead the party is anxious they be concluded quickly.

Under the party’s constitution, the leader is required to bring any proposed programme before a special delegate conference for ratification. Delegates are nominated by party branches according to the branches’ size.

Next Sunday is being pencilled in as a possible date for such a conference, though this obviously depends on a deal being finalised.

LABOUR PARTY

Projected seats:37 (2007: 20)

Share of first preference vote:19.4% (2007: 10.1%)

NEW TDs

Eric Byrne (Dublin South Central)

Michael Conaghan (Dublin South Central)

Ciara Conway (Waterford)

Robert Dowds (Dublin Mid West)

Dominic Hannigan (Meath East)

Kevin Humphreys (Dublin South East)

Alan Kelly (Tipperary North)

Seán Kenny (Dublin North East)

John Lyons (Dublin North West)

Eamonn Maloney (Dublin South West)

Michael McCarthy (Cork South West)

Michael McNamara (Clare)

Gerald Nash (Louth)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central)

Ann Phelan (Carlow Kilkenny)

Brendan Ryan (Dublin North)

Arthur Spring (Kerry North Limerick West)

Alex White (Dublin South)