Eamon and Joan – Labour’s golden couple of the Omnibabble

Both are unconvincing in their insistence that they get on marvellously well together

It seems leader Eamon Gilmore and his deputy Joan Burton do not enjoy the most harmonious of working relationships. Joan, say some, is after Eamon’s job. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

It seems leader Eamon Gilmore and his deputy Joan Burton do not enjoy the most harmonious of working relationships. Joan, say some, is after Eamon’s job. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 01:00

And with summer’s end came the Omnibabble, when Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil held forth as one with a triple whammy of political think-ins.

Not many noticed. Or cared.

Fortunately the weather turned chilly, thus countering the harmful effects of having such a huge volume of hot air released into the atmosphere in a concentrated blast.

Three pre-parliamentary, parliamentary party meetings in the one day – a trinity of procedural talk. That’s the stuff of recurring nightmares: wandering for eternity from one wretched election workshop to another.

The Taoiseach held court in Portlaoise. The Tánaiste rallied the troops in Enfield. And the leader of the Opposition mustered his wayward little flock in Waterford.

Thanks to gossipy nuggets in Pat Leahy’s new book on the first two years of the Coalition, Labour has been providing early entertainment in the run-up to the new political season this week.

It seems leader Eamon Gilmore and his deputy Joan Burton do not enjoy the most harmonious of working relationships. Joan, say some, is after Eamon’s job.

Both are unconvincing in their insistence that they get on marvellously well together. The tempestuous two are being compared in some quarters to the former British prime minister Tony Blair and his deputy and eventual successor Gordon Brown. To put it mildly, the pair did not get on.

But this is not the case between Eamon and Joan, insist both sides. Think more John and Yoko than Tony and Gordon. We’d rather not.

The happy couple were duly produced for the cameras after they arrived at the Johnstown House Hotel. Joan wore trousers too.

Eamon did his decisive thing, outlining the hard work done by the junior Coalition partner to lift “the very big burden” carried by the Irish people in the past five years.

“We’ve knuckled down, we’ve rolled up our sleeves, we’ve got to grips with the country’s problems.”

He could have talked into next week about stabilising the economy (Joan could have talked into the next century) but he settled for trying to expand on the topic until the press briefing could be brought to a conclusion.

No chance.

What about the future? Whither Eamon and Joan? Can they remain together? Or will destiny tear them apart?

During the general election she hid those mortifyingly wide-of-the-mark “Gilmore for Taoiseach” posters in the garden shed. Are they still there?

The ill-fated poster boy, smiling like his life depended on it, turned to hear his deputy’s answer. She had one all prepared and ready to go.

What happened was that the posters weren’t supposed to go up until the final week blitz, so she put them in her late father’s shed to keep them safe but “by then the campaign strategy had changed and they were not relevant and at that point in time...”

Eamon’s smile remained firmly in place, clearly cemented into position by the same brickie who fixed the determined smiles on the rest of the Labour people enduring these rather awkward exchanges.

The journalists wouldn’t let up. So did Joan burn the posters in the end on a bonfire?

“Oh, no, you’re not allowed, I’d be arrested…” she replied, before muttering something about county council rules.

Joan pressed on with her efforts to convince that she did everything she could do for her leader. “We organised huge meetings for Eamon in hotels…” Not only that, but “there was quite a lot of Eamon on posters in Dublin West…”

He stood there quietly, listening to Joan as she answered the questions put to her about him. All the handlers and politicians were smiling too because this is the way to react when you are trying to dismiss simmering tension at the top of your party as mere political soap opera.

So does Minister Burton now accept that Tánaiste Gilmore will be the person leading Labour into the next election?

“That’s a decision for Eamon himself, and Eamon has just given you, I think, a very strong answer.”

So that would be a no, then.

Eamon must have had his serene smile Botoxed on before arriving at the hotel.

“Tánaiste, how would you describe your working relationship with Minister Burton?”

“Excellent!”

“And Minister Burton, how would you describe your relationship with the Tánaiste?”

“Are we in a competition of superlatives? Eh, very good.”

Finally, loved-up John and Yoko and the fraught looking handlers took themselves and their frayed bonhomie to lunch.

Then they got down to business in the afternoon with an opening address from Gilmore followed by a discussion on election strategy.

Eamon and Joan sat at the top table, although they were separated by a Wall. Probably a sensible move. Jack Wall, party chairman, to be precise.

The deputies and senators will discuss the budget this morning. If there is to be trouble, this is when it will happen. No doubt Gilmore and Burton will pull together to quell any outbursts. From their separate sides of the Wall.

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