‘We are now a country that is treated with respect’
Gilmore insists Foreign Affairs brief compatible with role of Tánaiste
Eamon Gilmore: “We will take our case to the people.” Photographer: Dara MacDónaill
Two weeks ago Eamon Gilmore was unable to vote in the Dáil on the final stage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill because he was on a trip to the US. The Government jet’s departure time was moved back several times to facilitate his making the crucial vote but had to leave for Washington when it became clear the debate would continue all night.
Incidents such as this have fuelled the view, held by some in the Labour Party, that the post of party leader may not be compatible with the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs. However, Mr Gilmore is adamant that he did pick the right Cabinet post in 2011.
“Yes, it is possible to combine the roles,” Mr Gilmore said in an interview with The Irish Times. “If you look back over the past 2½ years, this country’s standing is in an entirely different place than it was. Two-and-a-half years ago we were one of the Pigs.
“We had very few friends around the table in Brussels. That has changed dramatically,” he said. “We are now a country that is treated with respect but we are also seeing that translating into increased inward investment,” added Mr Gilmore, who said that, while it was important that other EU ministers had changed their view of Ireland, what really mattered was the perception potential investors now had of this country.
Ireland’s handling of the EU presidency in the first six months of this year was widely hailed as a success, with a comprehensive agreement on the EU budget for the next seven – known as the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) – the outstanding achievement.
The Tánaiste is acutely aware that this foreign policy triumph might not cut much ice with the electorate. “I don’t think that the MFF is the subject of conversation at checkouts in Blackrock or Ballybrack,” he conceded.
However, he pointed to the critical importance of the country’s reputation on every level.
“We achieved results during the presidency of the EU which are very much in line with our national priorities. Our national priority is to shift the political centre of gravity in Europe much more to the jobs and growth agenda and we have done that successfully during the course of the presidency.”
He also pointed to the fact that funding for the Common Agricultural Policy is now secure until 2020. “Eighty-five per cent of the money that comes to Ireland from European budgets comes through the Cap. There is now certainty about that and about the money that is available for investment in research and innovation.”
He said that the agreement on new EU cohesion funds would not benefit Ireland directly but would create potential opportunities the for Irish engineering, architectural and construction firms in eastern Europe.
“If you think of it in terms of stimulus, the size of the MFF is five or six times the size of the Marshall Plan. So it is the single biggest financial commitment to European economic recovery,” he added.
The Tánaiste refused to accept that the latest defections from the Labour Party over the past week, including MEP Nessa Childers, will undermine morale.
“I have never been under any illusion about the job of work we have to do and never been under any illusion about how difficult that was going to be for ordinary people and the adjustment they have to make in their family budgets.”
He says he never had any illusion about the political challenge that would pose for the Government and the Labour Party in particular.
“I referred to that on the day we had our conference to enter Government. What I am pleased about is that the overwhelming majority of the members of the Labour parliamentary party, TDs and Senators, MEPs, the overwhelming majority of our public representatives throughout the country, and our members, have shown enormous courage and enormous fortitude in doing what is the right thing and supporting that in very difficult times.
“In every battle there are deserters and we have had a few,” he adds.
He pledged that Labour would mount a very vigorous campaign in the European and local elections next June. “We will take our case to the people.”