Phil Prendergast’s intervention has galvanised Labour party behind the leader

‘Gilmore is down at the moment, and you don’t kick someone when they’re down’

Phil Prendergast MEP and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin  pictured on a visit to Carlow College yesterday. Photograph:  Dylan Vaughan.

Phil Prendergast MEP and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin pictured on a visit to Carlow College yesterday. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 08:34

There is no question of Eamon Gilmore’s leadership of Labour being threatened before the local and European elections, and yesterday’s events have caused two schools of thought to emerge on whether it will be threatened at all.

Some TDs last night maintained that what was universally described as a foolish intervention by Ireland South MEP Phil Prendergast had galvanised the party behind Gilmore and meant the likelihood of a leadership challenge had decreased.

“Gilmore is down at the moment, and you don’t kick someone when they’re down,” said one TD. “That’s what she’s done.”

In contrast, others, speaking privately and publicly, said the leadership issue will have to be discussed in the aftermath of polling day on May 23rd.


‘Sliding down’
Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan, who is close to Prendergast, said: “There are questions; we’ve been sliding down in the polls. If we do badly in the elections, there will be questions about the leadership. That’s what leadership is about. I will go into the election with Eamon as leader, but if we do badly, then we have to face reality.”

If there is to be a leadership contest within the Labour Party, it will not be a quick process. Unlike Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, where a motion of no confidence can be tabled and the process is wrapped up in days because it is TDs and senators who decide, all Labour members are given a vote, a process that could take weeks – six weeks minimum, by one TD’s reckoning last night.

The names often mentioned as possible candidates are Joan Burton, Brendan Howlin, Alex White and Alan Kelly, Minister of State for Transport.

Speaking on Tipp FM, his local radio station yesterday, Kelly said: “Anyone who was ever elected as a TD for the Labour Party, if they didn’t have leadership ambitions well then they shouldn’t possibly be TDs. Of course you have leadership ambitions and that’s totally for a different day, I’m 38 years of age, I’m happy in the job I’m in.”

He is not the only one keen for leadership, but Burton would still be seen as the front-runner. Those close to her haven’t ruled it out in the event of disastrous elections; those close to Gilmore aren’t stupid, you can imagine they are prepared for some form of challenge.


Easter break
The Parliamentary Labour Party meets tomorrow and it is certain this issue will be discussed at that forum when TDs return from their Easter break.

Jack Wall, the chairman of the parliamentary party, said he expected Gilmore would address it in front of his TDs and Senators.

As an MEP, Prendergast is entitled to go and directly say to Gilmore what she has said in various media outlets. While standing by her comments last night, she said she had not decided whether to attend the meeting. Don’t hold your breath.

While senior figures in the party do not want to make a martyr of Prendergast, it is hard to see TDs, councillors or activists canvassing hard for her now.

She has effectively damned the leader they are canvassing for, nobody is going to die in a ditch for her now. “They will drop her like a hot scone,” said one deputy.

It was already happening – and was going to accelerate – but the party’s European hopes are firmly fixed on Emer Costello in the capital.

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