Gilmore beats ‘we’re doing a good job’ drum

The Labour think-in cast a wary eyein the direction of the budget

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD, talks to the media on the second day of the Labour’s parliamentary party annual think-in at Johnstown House in Co Meath yesterday. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD, talks to the media on the second day of the Labour’s parliamentary party annual think-in at Johnstown House in Co Meath yesterday. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Wed, Sep 18, 2013, 01:00

Labour’s parliamentary party meeting in Enfield, Co Meath, this week marked the beginning of the second half of its term in Government.

To say the comedown from the high of the party’s best ever general election performance two years ago has been testing would be an understatement.

Support for Labour has more than halved in the polls. Politicians have fled the ranks at local, national and European level due to austere decisions taken in Government. Many supporters feel aggrieved for the same reasons.

The party faces many challenges but, surprisingly, the mood at this week’s “think-in” at the Johnstown House Hotel was not altogether gloomy.

Party leader Eamon Gilmore set the tone with an opening address which urged his charges to better communicate to critics the fact that “by any standards, Labour has done a good job in Government”.

Achievements
The Tánaiste hailed improving jobs figures, legislating for the X-Case and passing the children’s rights referendum as achievements Labour should be proud of.

However, further causes for disenfranchisement will emerge when the third Fine Gael-Labour budget is announced next month.

In Enfield, party figures were keen to impress that Labour has moderated Fine Gael in Government, and that things could be much worse but for its influence.

Minister of State Sean Sherlock said junior coalition parties always came “under the cosh” and the budget would be “crucial” for Labour with local and European elections looming in 2014.

“I think the storyline or choreography of the budget has to be such that we have to be seen to be giving a little bit back or trying to ease the burden in some respects for people who are struggling.”

A “modest”, as Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White put it, rollout of a free GP care programme will be a likely attempt at doing this.

As Labour’s popularity has declined, Gilmore’s leadership has come under fire, but he and his alleged rival, Joan Burton, this week stood side by side and respectively said their working relationship was “excellent” and “very good”. Their body language portrayed a different message.

Labour members said any leader was bound to face disquiet when a party was struggling, but Burton was unlikely to move against Gilmore. “Joan is happy to keep the pot boiling without taking the lid off,” said one.

Gilmore insisted he would lead Labour into the next general election. He hoped the polls, which also show a Fianna Fáil resurgence, will not be replicated at the ballot box.

‘Real election’
“I believe that when a real election is held, the Irish people will not, as some opinion polls appear to be suggesting, reward the party that got us into the crisis and punish the party that solved it.”

In a private closing message to his parliamentary party, Gilmore was said to have told them “history will be kind” to Labour’s participation in Government but that as practising politicians “we can’t wait for that”. They won’t have to wait too much longer. The second half begins today.