Eamon Gilmore: ‘I never worked as hard as I did in the past three years’

Labour leader is proud of what went right and reflective about what went wrong

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore checking his phone at the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore checking his phone at the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:00

It is before noon. Eamon Gilmore is nursing a glass of water in his office in Iveagh House on St Stephen’s Green. You couldn’t describe the atmosphere as being that of the dressing room of a defeated All-Ireland team, but it is ever-so-slightly muted.

This will only be Gilmore’s office until July 4th, when he formally steps down as Tánaiste, Minster for Foreign Affairs and leader of the Labour Party. He is in effect working out his notice.

As we are speaking, Alex White and a coterie of Labour parliamentarians are walking across Rosie Hackett Bridge. White has just announced his candidacy for the leadership. For Gilmore, politically, the baton has already been passed.

In an interview with The Irish Times, he is relaxed and reflective, more candid and open with his views than the slightly guarded persona he maintained in office.

In the month that remains, he has said he will concentrate on two areas within his portfolio: the opportunity to make progress in the Northern talks as part of the Haass project, as well as the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US. “I will gave that one more shot,” he says with emphasis.

A week ago, Gilmore saw the highpoint of 2011 and his party winning a historic 37 seats being undone by an electoral meltdown. The percentage support figures told a tale: 19 per cent in 2011; barely 7 per cent this year.

He could see his time was up and he had to go. The unexpected decision was made over the course of a difficult weekend.

The motion of no confidence in him tabled by seven TDs and one Senator was unrelated to his decision, he maintains. It was drafted after he had made up his mind. Sure, his leadership was damaged by the elections, but it is moot now whether others in the party would have rallied around White and the younger TDs who put their names to it.

‘Don’t hold grudges’

As to his feelings on those who were behind the motion, he is relatively stoic: “Well, they have all talked to me about it and as far as I am concerned it is over and done with. It’s more important that we move on from it. I don’t hold grudges, we move on.”

Former leaders Ruairí Quinn and Pat Rabbitte have had careers post-leadership. Gilmore also envisages some future role but says it is too early. “The new leader of the party should have the absolute freedom to make the decision. I’m not going to seek to influence that. I’m not going to talk to the new leader or ask for something on my own behalf. They have to make those calls independently.”