Nulty feels Labour is now a ‘bad brand’

Dublin West deputy is first TD to leave Labour Party this term

Labour leader  Eamon Gilmore  outside the  party’s offices in Dublin city centre. Three elected members resigned from the party today. Photograph: PA

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore outside the party’s offices in Dublin city centre. Three elected members resigned from the party today. Photograph: PA

Fri, Jun 21, 2013, 11:44

Patrick Nulty appeared to detach himself from the Labour Party with unseemly haste just six weeks after winning a Dáil seat in the byelection brought about by the death of former finance minister Brian Lenihan.

The newly-elected deputy for Dublin West, and former running mate of Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, was expelled from the parliamentary party after voting against the Coalition’s first budget back in December 2011.

Arguing that no-one had been elected “on the basis of reducing fuel allowance, or of cutting disability payment,” Nulty denied he had deceived the electorate in his constituency.

But colleagues who voted reluctantly for the budget grumbled that Nulty should have been well aware Labour TDs would have to stand over unpopular and unpalatable measures, with Burton said to be particularly displeased.

Nulty was not the first man overboard. Labour had returned a record 37 TDs in the February 2011 General Election.

Willie Penrose was the first casualty. He stepped down from his “super junior” ministry in November 2011 and resigned the whip in protest at the closure of an army barracks in Mullingar in his Longford-Westmeath constituency.

Tommy Broughan was the second one to jump. Broughan, who represents Dublin North East, lost the whip in early December 2011. The issue was a procedural motion on the Order of Business as the Opposition demanded longer time to debate the extension for another year of the bank guarantee.

Broughan would go on to coin the phrase “the magnificent seven” to describe the seven members of the Labour parliamentary party who went outside the fold. The other four are Róisín Shortall, Colm Keaveney, Senator James Heffernan and MEP Nessa Childers.

Nulty has today taken things a step further, giving up his decade-long membership of the party entirely, citing his disgust with the announcement that children with special education needs will get reduced resource teaching hours come September as his primary reason.

As is customary in such circumstances, he paid tribute to the party’s “decent, hardworking” grassroots members, “who share my thirst for a better Ireland”.

But he does not spare the party’s five senior ministers when he sternly criticises “the leadership of the party, and in particular the cabinet ministers who have sacrificed core social democratic demands for their own personal political ambitions”. Those ministers “have brought the entire political system into disrepute,” Nulty claims.

Interestingly, Nulty calls for “new ideas and social movements that are accountable to citizens, not powerful interests”. Other constituencies will undergo radical changes in advance of the next General Election, but Dublin West retains its four-seat status and gains territory. Many TDs therefore face greater electoral challenges than Nulty next time round, and might be more motivated to go it alone.

But Nulty clearly feels that Labour is now a “bad brand”. Will he fade into obscurity as a back bench maverick, or will he and other former party figures band together to be part of a radical new “social movement” with a shared value system? Would the electorate share his “thirst” for such a movement?

With the whip system under intense scrutiny at present, a more pointed question might be: what effect will Nulty’s defection have on discipline within the wider Labour Party?