Labour beginning to savour political freedom of single life


CONFERENCE SKETCH:There was no sign of regret among delegates at the definitive end of the Mullingar Accord

THE MULLINGAR Accord was well and truly buried in Kilkenny at the weekend. Last year's pre-general election pact between Labour and Fine Gael is just a distant memory as far as Labour is concerned. The party is going it alone between now and the next general election.

There was no sense of grief among the upbeat and optimistic delegates at the passing of the putative coalition. Labour is more than happy with the single political life again.

The irretrievable breakdown in the relationship became evident throughout the debates.

Party president Michael D Higgins advised those in Irish politics pursuing Tory policies to go to Britain and converse with the party which would lose the next election there.

The significance of his remarks, coming some days after the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, visited London to meet the Conservative leader, David Cameron, did not go unnoticed.

Higgins, always a big conference favourite, got his inevitable standing ovation.

Siptu president Jack O'Connor was loudly cheered by delegates when he advised the party not to have anything to do with Fine Gael on economic policies.

Veteran Siptu delegate Paddy Behan declared that "red doesn't match blue". Kilkenny-based school principal Seán Ó hArgáin warned Fine Gael to back off the ordinary decent public servant represented by the people in the hall.

The final blow was struck by Eamon Gilmore in his leader's address on Saturday night, when he said that Fianna Fáil did not have the answer to the State's problems. "And neither does Fine Gael," he added. There was more applause. The usual format, of the parliamentary party sitting behind the leader, was dispensed with for Gilmore's address.

His Oireachtas colleagues sat in the body of the hall, as Gilmore stepped off the main stage to another rostrum nearer his audience. As the most popular party leader in the State, Gilmore is Labour's most marketable asset.

Members of Labour Youth triumphantly waved "Gilmore for taoiseach" posters every time there was applause.

Inevitably, the Florida hairdo surfaced. Health spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said that Mary Harney "should hang up her boots and take her p45, not because of her hairdo but because of the disastrous mess she has made as Minister for Health".

Conference chairman Brian O'Shea inadvertently referred to Joan Burton as "Jane" when he called on her to speak. The party's deputy leader, who had been to the hairdresser, remarked: "And Brian, I hope you like my hair as well." Senator Alex White had observed what was on offer in the nail bar in the Hotel Kilkenny where the conference was held. An express manicure cost €35, he noted, while a luxury spa pedicure, with hot paraffin wax, could be had for €60.

One delegate, relaxing on Saturday night over a drink, and fingering a copy of Gilmore's speech, remarked that she might just try the manicure.

"After all, our priority is to claw our way back to power," she said.