Burton dismisses suggestions she is a maverick or not a ‘team player’
Some Labour Party colleagues have privately criticised her for pursuing her own agenda
Last year Labour Party officials organised a special photocall for Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Ms Burton, who is Labour deputy leader, at its annual parliamentary party think-in”in an effort to show that contrary to reports of a rift, they had a strong working relationship. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has dismissed suggestions she is a maverick or not a “team player” in the Government but accepts she is forceful in manner when defending the interests of her department and the people it represents. There has been a recurring focus on Ms Burton’s relationships with Cabinet colleagues, particularly Labour Ministers, since the formation of the Government. Some of her colleagues have privately criticised her for pursuing her own agenda.
Last year Labour Party officials organised a special photocall for Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Burton, who is Labour deputy leader, at its annual parliamentary party think-in in an effort to show that, contrary to reports of a rift, they had a strong working relationship.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Burton strongly defends her approach and responds to suggestions that she is a maverick.
“All I can say to that is that I was the recipient of praise and congratulations [from the Cabinet] in getting people back to work. I would not deny that I am forceful and passionate about things I believe in and would not be behind the door in putting forward things I believe in. I operate in a polite way and that’s an important skill.”
Outlining her approach, she says: “I travel around the country a lot and talk to people around the country. We have a problem with poverty in this country. Social welfare is terribly important to people in the country. Pensions are enormously important to people in terms of giving a decent life. I feel passionate about those issues and passionate abut getting people back to work.”
Asked about reports of conflict, she says: “Do I state [my views] quite forcefully? I do. I don’t apologise for that. I think I represent a lot of people who rely on social welfare income and put their case forward. The living wage and minimum wage are quite important in this context.
“The Taoiseach and I have done six public events together in terms of getting people back to work. We launched Intreo offices [one-stop shops where unemployed people can get social welfare payments but also advice on upskilling, training and job opportunities] and have met officials around the country.
“You have to look from where Ireland had been coming [before the economic crisis]. There were people who never expected to find themselves in a social welfare office but were there through no fault of their own. It’s economic recovery for everybody in the economy that I want to see and not just for rich people.”
Burton also confirms that child benefit is going to remain at the same level in next year’s budget. That, she says, is a dividend from the recent reductions in the number of unemployed people in the State.