Miriam Lord’s Week: Burton only Minister to tend to her roots
Labour's woes, rise of the rebel alliance and hacks in for a kicking
Lucinda Creighton and her exiled chums were treated to tea and biscuits by their fellow party members.
Is the Labour Party a grassroots movement?
When the top brass can’t be bothered muddying their city shoes at the Ploughing Championships in Laois, it’s time to wonder.
As the junior Coalition partner opted once again to ignore this three-day national event, there was strong criticism of the decision at the parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday.
Labour likes to dust down and fly the starry plough on ceremonial occasions, but it seems that’s where the association ends.
“It’s a huge error of judgment and an irresponsible move,” says Laois-based Senator John Whelan, who was the sole party flag-bearer for most of the three days. “Have they lost touch with their roots?”
Hordes of politicians descended on the Carter family farm at Ratheniska this week and put themselves about. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin took stands and plenty of people called in for a look. Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams made themselves conspicuous while Fine Gael ministers and Opposition spokespeople busily worked the showgrounds.
But, for the third year on the trot, there was no sign of Labour. They haven’t graced the ploughing since getting into Government.
It’s not that their deep-thinkers in Dublin are unaware of what happens outside their bailiwick. A number of deputies and senators, particularly the rural-based ones, urged the party last year to have a presence at this major agricultural, commercial and leisure event. The attendance figures are huge.
But despite promises, nothing was done.
At Labour’s think-in earlier this month, the importance of engaging with the public at the ploughing, which attracts a wide cross-section of Irish society, was stressed again.
The event was already in full swing when Tuesday’s parliamentary party meeting took place in Leinster House. It was held at an earlier time than usual because the Tánaiste was due to fly to New York for the UN general assembly.
But not before he heard furious contributions from members about this year’s no-show in Ratheniska. A party official said it would have cost €10,000 to rent a stand, which was too much.
While Eamon Gilmore was en route to America, a press release went out informing the media that deputy leader Joan Burton would be at the ploughing the following day. Tellingly, that statement wasn’t issued by headquarters but came from her Department of Social Protection.
Burton, who spent a long time touring the showgrounds during her high-profile visit, got a very warm reception from the crowd. She was accompanied by deputies Michael McCarthy from Cork, Arthur Spring from Kerry and Michael McNamara from Clare. These men wouldn’t be exactly enamoured of the party’s concentration on election prospects in Dublin.
On Thursday, a furious Senator Whelan said that apart from Burton’s welcome arrival, the only other Labour representatives who turned up were his colleague Denis Landy – a Senator based in Tipperary, where the party was founded – and Mountmellick councillor Lisa Delaney.
“People kept asking, ‘Where’s the Labour stand?’ All I had was brochures I got printed up myself. We hadn’t as much as a biro to hand out.”
He pointed out that Gilmore is Minister for Trade, as well as Foreign Affairs. As President Michael D Higgins pointed out at the official opening on Tuesday, the agri-business sector is worth more than €9 billion to the Irish economy.
“But no show from the Minister for Trade. And where was our Labour Minister for Energy and Natural Resources? Or our Minister for Innovation?” asked Whelan.
“If I was dropping below 10 per cent in the opinion polls and at 15 per cent personally, I wouldn’t be going to New York for five days.”