Keaveney's Julius Caesar moment was enigmatic and surprising
AnalysisFor Latin scholars who vote in Galway, the significance was not lost: Keaveney was about to rebel
The lead-up to Colm Keaveney’s defection from the Labour parliamentary party was as enigmatic as it was surprising.
Using a modern form of mass communication, Twitter, he chose an ancient and dead language, Latin, to signal his intent. Shortly before the first vote on the Social Welfare Bill was taken on Wednesday night, Keaveney tweeted: “Alea iacta est”, translated as “the die has been cast”.
The Roman historian Suetonius attributed the words to Julius Caesar just before he and his army crossed the Rubicon. The river marked the border to Italy and by crossing it, Caesar knew he was defying Rome and beginning an insurrection. The act precipitated a long and bloody civil war.
For all the Latin scholars who vote in Tuam and Galway East, the significance of the phrase was not lost. Keaveney was about to rebel.
But then he voted with the Government. At that moment, it seemed that despite all the difficulties both parties (especially Labour) had experienced with the budget, the Coalition had got it through in its entirety with no defections.
‘Deeds, not words’
Overnight, Keaveney changed his mind. He said yesterday he could not sleep. And so he chose another Latin phrase on Twitter, “Acta non verba” – “deeds, not words” – shortly before the vote on an amendment relating to respite care. The first most of his colleagues knew about it was when they saw a red light rather than green for his Dáil seat on the electronic map.
The impact of Keaveney’s defiance will come as another serious body-blow for the Labour Party, bringing to five the number of TDs who are now outside the parliamentary party. Besides Willie Penrose, who resigned over a constituency matter, the other three, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty and Róisín Shortall acted in protest at what they saw as Labour betraying its principles in Government. Keaveney joins that disgruntled group.
Colleagues yesterday accepted privately it would have a big impact. His departure will raise new questions about Labour’s performance and reinforce the view that Fine Gael holds sway.
Labour had put a lot of stock into getting a 3 per cent rise in the universal social charge for those earning over €100,000.
Eamon Gilmore’s sense of betrayal at Keaveney’s action was evident in his statement last night. He deliberately did not mention Keaveney by name and stated bluntly there was no way back for anyone who has crossed the lobby.
As party chairman, Keaveney is in a slightly different position from other exiles. The only way he can be removed is by members at party conference. He is adamant he won’t resign. It will make for an awkward situation.