Last Cabinet meeting a far cry from first

Taoiseach thanks Gilmore for his ‘courage’ and thanks all Ministers for their work

Former Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore: He said he had no regrets and “he would do again what had to be done. He said the people hadn’t voted for the Labour Party to stand aside.” Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Former Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore: He said he had no regrets and “he would do again what had to be done. He said the people hadn’t voted for the Labour Party to stand aside.” Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 9, 2014, 01:01

The backdrop to this Cabinet’s last meeting yesterday could not have been more different to the atmosphere on the day of its first.

A new Tánaiste, a serious setback for both parties in recent elections and a warning from one of their elder statesmen that Fianna Fáil could yet again reap the rewards their work – it was a far cry from their first Cabinet meeting on March 9th, 2011, with the “democratic revolution”, a huge parliamentary majority at their backs and Fianna Fáil thought to be left for dead.

Some Ministers described the meeting as a “little emotional” while others, like Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton, disagreed. He did concede, however, that it was “unusual”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny thanked Eamon Gilmore, the now former tánaiste, for his service in government.

“The Taoiseach paid tribute to Eamon Gilmore and his courage in taking the decisions he did and his contribution to the Government,” one Minister said. “The Taoiseach then made a sweeping, general statement about the Cabinet and thanked everyone for their work.”

Mr Gilmore, still sitting at Cabinet as Minister for Foreign Affairs, replied, saying he had no regrets about leading the Labour Party into Coalition with Fine Gael, an experience that has proved electorally disastrous for the junior party. “Eamon replied and said he had no regrets, and he would do again what had to be done. He said the people hadn’t voted for the Labour Party to stand aside.”

Another source said: “Eamon spoke also, [he had] no regrets about leading Labour into government. He did it knowing the consequences.”

When Mr Gilmore finished speaking, Ruairí Quinn, the outgoing Minister for Education who last week announced his intention to step down from Cabinet after the reshuffle, asked to speak. Mr Quinn, a veteran of number of Coalitions, attempted to inspire his colleagues.

“Ruairí Quinn said he had been in three Fine Gael-Labour cabinets. Each time we saved the country and handed it over to Fianna Fáil to reap the benefit,” a Minister said. “The new Cabinet’s job is to break that cycle and secure the future.” Another source said Mr Quinn told the meeting he had seen Fine Gael and Labour fix “Fianna Fáil’s mess” on numerous occasions, only to be rejected by the electorate. “He said it was up to the incoming Government to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

Mr Kenny’s spokesman afterwards said the Taoiseach thanked Mr Gilmore and the other Ministers for their work during the Government.

Mr Bruton said the meeting was a “somewhat unusual” occasion. “It wasn’t your typical Cabinet meeting and I think everyone realised that. It’s a tricky time. We work very close together, there is a sort of a personal relationship built up among Cabinet members. There’s always unease about the future, for both yourself and others.

“We are a team, we work as a team and obviously that team is going to be changed. It is a time when people do, rightly, mark what has been achieved. The distance we have travelled, from where we were to where we now are, is a very significant achievement.”

The Opposition and others may quibble with that statement, but the Coalition has travelled a long distance from the highs of the 2011 general election. The new Cabinet, expected today, can only hope to claw some of that popularity back.