It’s all to play for as virtuous reality is the name of the Labour game

Joan says the people have reached their limits, but has she too?

Happier times: Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore at Labour’s manifesto launch in 2011. Photograph: David Sleator

Happier times: Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore at Labour’s manifesto launch in 2011. Photograph: David Sleator

Thu, May 29, 2014, 01:00

Some higher level maths first. It may be a little difficult for the youngsters to get their heads around. H =EMC 2. This is the equation: Howlin equals Economic Management Council, squared.

Once Howlin is squared, Joan Burton will not have the influential Minister for Public Expenditure running against her in a leadership contest.

Brendan Howlin has lost out twice over the years in his quest for the top job in Labour.

Is he minded to take a third tilt at the crown, when the next generation is baying for new blood and he already has a very important job on the Government’s all-powerful Economic Management Council? He isn’t.

Brendan told the parliamentary party yesterday he will not challenge Joan for the job she has been angling after for some time now. Last night in Leinster House, all indications were that she may have her wish.

The Tánaiste, meanwhile, has been keeping a low profile around the place. This was in stark contrast to the rather frantic manoeuvrings of the rest of the party, as TDs and Senators took positions and sounded each other out.

Eamon ventured outside in the late afternoon to make his way to the party rooms for their meeting. He was in pointedly good form. What to say? Sorry for your trouble? A merciful release? You’re better off out of it? People from all parties were stopping him to shake his hand.

He found it amusing. “They keep offering their sympathies and condolences,” he laughed, looking like he might click his heels in the air and make a giddy dash for freedom.

“I’m fine!”

Gilmore might be gone, but the manner of his parting left a cloud for many in the party.

Upset colleagues

The main talking point was the way the gang of seven first-time TDs called for his head while the wreckage from Labour’s election crash was still burning. Their swift action upset colleagues who felt they should have given Gilmore – who brought them into the party – some space to announce his decision in his own time.

They were also furious they didn’t tell him first before demanding his removal. It’s not the Labour Way of doing business, apparently.

Although Labour’s Way, as steered by Gilmore, is what prompted them to act in the first place.

In the fraught aftermath of his departure, at least two of the deputies – Jed Nash and Arthur Spring – have gone to Gilmore to clear the air.

Back in the Dáil chamber, it was business as usual. These days, this mainly consists of the Taoiseach continuing to stonewall about his highly suspicious reluctance to say what transpired at the recent meeting he had with one Minister and two senior public servants which resulted in the Garda commissioner stepping down from his post.

After-hours visit

The first time in 35 years such a thing has happened, said the Fianna Fáil leader. Hardly a minor matter. “My concerns and my anxiety” is the best excuse the Taoiseach can come up with for why he dispatched Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell to commissioner Martin Callinan’s house after hours to have a word.

Which, no matter how many times Enda repeats this feeble line, sounds like a complete load of pollock – very, very fishy.

Micheál Martin demanded the full story. Kenny continued to hide behind the Supreme Court judge he appointed to find out, in the fullness of time, what he said at a meeting just two months ago with three high-ranking servants of the state.

Martin, with the flimsy evidence supplied by the Taoiseach, tried to work out what the secretary general said to Callinan to make him step down.

As far as he could make out, Enda told Brian Purcell to “Please go to the Commissioner and tell him – ‘The Taoiseach is filled with anxiety’ ”.

Enda was cheesed off by the Fianna Fáil leader’s line of questioning. “”I don’t have authority to sack anybody.”

Speaking of anxiety and concerns, that statement should come as good news to his Ministers as they await the Taoiseach’s big Government reshuffle.

Succession stakes

Back outside, the succession stakes were in full swing. No sign of Young Alex though – the white-haired boy of the new generation hoping to wrest control of Labour’s future from the old guard.

He’s the gasun to take them forward, they say. Unconfirmed but as yet uncontested rumour has it that junior Minister White had threatened to add his name to the Motion of No Confidence drawn up by the first-timers if Gilmore refused to resign.

But not a as much as a gurgle out of Young Alexeen (55) yesterday.

In fairness, he was probably having his afternoon nap, or busy chewing on a Farley’s Rusk.

Joan made her bid on the plinth in brilliant sunshine. She was surrounded by three backbench TDs, a couple of female senators, family members and a healthy representation of grassroot councillors and former councillors.

The age question was brought up, particularly in the light of statements from a number of the new generation of TDs who say they want a younger face to front Labour.

Dominic Hannigan is one of them. Yesterday morning, he said he might throw his hat in the ring. He pointed out that Barack Obama had no executive experience before he got the big job in America.

And why not? If Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, who nobody knew from Adam, can top the poll in the European elections, the lesser heard Dominic Obamigan might be in luck.

Junior Minister Alan Kelly has also expressed an interest. Though he could be hampered by his crippling lack of modesty.

He wasn’t on the plinth to see Joan perform. He was probably hemmed into a corner somewhere by all those people who he says have been begging him to come forward.

“I’m aware that somebody who is slightly older than me, Hillary Clinton, is talking about running for presidency of the United States,” Joan said. “Now I know that being president of the United States is probably a bit easier than being leader of the Labour Party, but all I can say is: I’m up for it.”

Joan says the people have reached “the Limits of Austerity” and she wants the country to go from “a vicious circle of decline to a virtuous circle of recovery”.

It’s the bit where those two circles overlap that might cause a problem.

But that’ll be Brendan Howlin’s problem, now that H = EMC2 is solved. He can deal with Michael Noonan. And Joan expects to get on grand with Enda. Once things go from vicious to virtuous, within the limits of austerity.