Departure of Childers from Labour parliamentary party comes as no surprise

Ireland East MEP had been putting pressure on party through public pronouncements

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore with Nessa Childers (on left) after her election as an MEP in 2009. Photograph: Eric Luke

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore with Nessa Childers (on left) after her election as an MEP in 2009. Photograph: Eric Luke

Sat, Apr 6, 2013, 05:00

The departure of Ireland East MEP Nessa Childers, a serial political bed-hopper, from Labour’s parliamentary party should come as no surprise.

All Irish political leaders hope for allies in Europe, but Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has not been so blessed.

Childers, who did not agree with Labour going into government in the first place, has been attempting for some time to put political pressure on the party through her public pronouncements.

The daughter of the late president and Fianna Fáil minister Erskine Childers began her own political career in the Labour Party before the 2004 local elections. When she failed to get a nomination to run for a council seat, she switched to the Greens and was elected as a councillor for that party.

Four years later Gilmore invited her back into Labour and she fought the European elections successfully. Yesterday she said she was undecided whether she would contest again in a revamped constituency and referred to the huge resources required to mount a campaign.

However, she was certain that she had seen Labour’s current problems coming.

“I was one of the ones that knew what would happen to the party. I felt they should’ve stayed in opposition and formed an alliance on the left,” she said.

Childers’s close colleague and fellow MEP Phil Prendergast, who represents Ireland South, has been muttering darkly about the junior coalition partner “writing its own obituary” if it continues on its present course, but has indicated she is staying within the fold for now.

All political parties have a personality, and Labour’s is skittish. Its representatives have an unfortunate inclination to panic over opinion poll results and were understandably shaken by the party’s poor showing in the recent Meath East byelection.They cannot be blamed for feeling disgruntled that voters appear to be giving Fine Gael a free pass to implement tough reforms while Labour seems to be the dog that they want to kick.

Gilmore will have problems with some of his male Senators but retains the support of his ministerial colleagues, those who are sometimes crudely referred to as the “sunsetters” in Cabinet. His predecessors as party leader, Pat Rabbitte and Ruairí Quinn, continue to hold him in esteem for his tremendous achievement in returning a record 37 Labour TDs after the general election of 2011.

A small band within the party rank-and-file believe Joan Burton could transform the party’s fortunes if she were to push for the leadership, and Brendan Howlin is also said to believe he deserves a shot at the top job.

Calmer heads within the party are urging their colleagues to keep their cool.