Pair at the helm of good ship Ireland have seen good, bad and inept moments over last two years
His predecessor Dick Spring also opted for Foreign Affairs but in the 1990s the Northern peace process was central to everything and that is no longer the case. EU issues are long longer in the Foreign Affairs remit since the Lisbon Treaty but have passed to the Taoiseach’s Department. It means that a lot of his focus is on international issues that have no direct bearing on the Irish political scene.
Gilmore is a better debater than Kenny. While that talent was more relevant when he was on the opposition benches it proved very important during the fiscal treaty referendum and will be vital when the next general election comes around.
He has a good relationship with the Taoiseach and has worked hard to ensure that the Coalition remains cohesive. That has ensured that relations at ministerial level have remained good and whatever tensions have emerged do not break along party lines.
Things have not gone as smoothly with the Labour parliamentary party and four of his TDs, party chairman Colm Keaveney, junior minister Róisín Shortall, veteran Dublin TD Tommy Broughan and newly elected Dublin West TD Patrick Nulty, have gone overboard.
His internal critics say the party is suffering from having its identity submerged in the Coalition. Labour didn’t help its cause by leaking its desire to increase the universal social charge for high earners in advance of the last budget which only highlighted its failure to achieve the objective.
That actually obscured the fact that Labour got a lot of what it wanted in that budget. It managed to have a 50:50 split between spending cuts and tax increases rather than the 2:1 ratio favoured by Fine Gael and that involved a range of tax increases for the self-employed sector.
Gilmore’s task is to find a way of claiming public credit for Labour’s achievements while not destabilising the Coalition. Ultimately his credibility will rest on whether the strategy of going into government to help rescue the economy is recognised by the public. Of particular importance is whether the party’s public sector support base decides to punish Labour for the latest round of reforms involving cuts in a range of allowances or whether it is prepared to give the party credit for protecting its core pay rates.