Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has shrugged off the call from Labour MEP Phil Prendergast for him to step down as party leader and was adamant he would lead Labour into the next general election.
Mr Gilmore insisted he still supported Ms Prendergast in her bid to retain her seat in the Ireland South constituency of the European Parliament elections, and stressed that standing by each other was a core value of the Labour party.
The Tánaiste, asked whether there would be sanctions against Ms Prendergast - who had insisted her call was merely reflecting the views of party members at every level - said: “Look, I’m relaxed about it; sometimes people say things in the heat of an election campaign.
“As far as I am concerned, she is the Labour party candidate in Ireland South. I support her, the party supports her in her effort to be re-elected. A core value of the Labour party is solidarity: standing with each other through thick and thin in good days and bad.”
Pressed on the issue and on Ms Prendergast's suggestion of Joan Burton as the next party leader, Mr Gilmore acknowledged it was not helpful to engage in what was essentially "a family row" within weeks of an election.
“I don’t think that is wise and I don’t think it is helpful either for other Labour candidates who are contesting either the European or the local elections.
“I have a job of work to do. I have committed to doing that job, I intend to complete that job of work. I am leading this party and I intend to continue leading this party,” said Mr Gilmore, who was speaking in Athenry, Co Galway, at the opening of a HSE facility.
On the issue of Labour’s continuing drop in support in the opinion polls, the Tánaiste stressed he had seen opinion polls before and they were not elections.
“If I believed opinion polls, our candidate wouldn’t have won the presidential election in 2011. Opinion polls are, of course, important, and every politician does pay attention to them. But that’s why we have an election campaign - to take our case, to make our argument, to make our case to the people.
“The poll that matters is the poll when people mark their ballot paper on the 23rd of May. And between now and the 23rd of May the Labour Party will be taking its case to every individual in this country, stating clearly that what we have done over the course of the past three years is... taken this country out of the bailout, taken the country from the brink of bankruptcy, seeing recovery happening again - and we are going to complete that job.
“Completing that job means getting more people back to work, seeing living standards improve and seeing our public services improve. That’s what the Labour party is about and that’s what we are going to continue doing.”
Mr Gilmore acknowledged that, in government, the Labour party has had to take decisions that are unpopular, but insisted that, deep down, most people realised the decisions were necessary to ensure the country recovered.
“There is a problem however, in that that recovery isn’t experienced by many people. It’s one thing to hear about recovery - it’s another to experience it.
“So, the next phase of what we have to do is make that recovery real in the lives of people, that they get jobs, that people who have emigrated are able to return, that the problems of mortgages are being resolved, along with the problems of housing and our health services.”
Asked whether he was confident of leading the Labour party into the next general election, Mr Gilmore replied: “Yes, I am.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Ms Prendergast had said she believes Ms Burton should be the next leader of the Labour party and that the time had come to take "urgent action" within the political party.
“I do think we need change and I think this party is worth saving,” said Ms Prendergast. “We’re the longest established party in this State and we’ve always been a reforming and progressive party.”
She said Ms Burton’s positive action within Labour reflects the path the party needs to take.
“I think it needs a change in the direction and a change in the leadership and that will be positive for the Labour party,” she added.
Ms Prendergast admitted she had yet to voice her concerns to the Tánaiste, but had spoken to him about the “tough” conditions Irish people are living through.
“This is a crisis that’s gone on for a year and a half, we’re not making changes in the polls, we’re not getting the benefit of the positive changes that Labour has implemented in Government,” said Ms Prendergast. “I think now is the time to realise this and that we need to take urgent action.”
Senior Labour figures rallied around Mr Gilmore, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised Labour’s performance in the Coalition and said he was confident the Government would remain in office for the duration of its five-year mandate.
Asked this afternoon whether he had any concern that the situation within Labour could jeopardise the Coalition’s stability, Mr Kenny said both parties entered government with their eyes open.
“I commend the Labour party for the way they have stuck to the plan and the agenda of sorting out our public finances. It was never going to be easy. It was never a case of going into government to be loved and liked,” he told reporters at the launch of Fine Gael’s European manifesto.
“It was to go into government and make the decisions in the interests of our country and or people. And I’ve every expectation that Labour and Fine Gael in government will see this Government through to its end date and will have put our country back on a real platform for prosperity and full employment,” he added.
“And I commend each of the Labour Ministers for the difficult decisions that they’ve had to make along with the Fine Gael Ministers. This was not an easy prospect but it’s one that we undertook, being given a mandate to do so by the people - and we intend to fulfil that mandate completely.”
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said the Labour party had taken a “disproportionate share of the responsibility” for the cuts the Government had made.
When asked today whether he supported Mr Gilmore as party leader, Mr Rabbitte said: “Of course I do”.
The Labour Minister said he did not want to comment on Ms Prendergast.