Keaveney's slow exit is bad news for Gilmore
Colm Keaveney’s Tale of the Unexpected took everyone by surprise.
Except his party leader, who went out of his way to look anything but surprised.
As the Dáil waited with bated breath to see if Labour’s party chairman was going to drag his heavy heart through the Opposition lobby, Eamon Gilmore flicked slowly through the pages of a document, engrossed in its contents.
Far too engrossed, given the events unfolding around him. But the Tánaiste never lifted his head to steal a look.
That might convey the impression that he was bothered. Another defection? No big deal, was the unspoken message. As he said later, Labour will struggle on to restore Ireland’s sovereignity. And when they succeed, the likes of Keaveney will be barred from the celebrations, cast forever in exile by their treasonous actions.
Right to the closing chapter, his party held the line while shipping heavy fire in the Dáil trenches. But if the last week hasn’t been easy, an end was in sight.
Then came the twist. Keaveney finally made good on his fighting words and voted against the Government. The deputy for Galway East had marched his indignation up to the top of the hill on so many occasions, only to slide back down again, few believed he would break ranks on the budget welfare cuts.
It was the vote on the reduction in respite care grants which proved an imposition too far. But during yesterday’s electronic vote, it still took a few seconds before people realised he had pressed the red light.
Colm? Nah, he’ll never do it.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. He came into the chamber well in advance of the vote, sitting in the back row and looking deeply conflicted.
Then again, that wasn’t particularly unusual either. Since he arrived in Leinster House, Keaveney has proved himself partial to theatrics. His heart is tacked to his sleeve as he worries about the future of the party he loves.
The atmosphere changed instantly in the chamber when the defection was confirmed.
Some of Keaveney’s colleagues – mostly the new intake, we didn’t see any of the Ministers offer soothing words – shook his hand.
When Fianna Fáil called for a traditional walk-through vote, Colm sat in his place, looking shell-shocked. His erstwhile parliamentary party colleagues had already skipped up the steps to the lobbies, leaving him with Róisín Shorthall, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty, three of Labour’s growing band of five exiles.
Finally, he rose and made his way to vote, turning right and heading away from his party. He was sandwiched between Gerry Adams and Peadar Tóibín of Sinn Féin, with Tommy and Róisín walking behind. He looked thoroughly miserable. One more vote, one more walk through. He seemed more relaxed at the second time of asking.