Labour TDs voice alarm over scale of election losses
Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore set to meet this evening to discuss election setback
Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin, celebrates with parents Ken and Rita during the European election count in the RDS last night. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny this evening to try to formulate a response to the Coalition parties’ poor performance in the local elections.
With unrest developing in the Labour Party over the party’s disastrous performance in both the local and European election contests, Labour sources emphasised the meeting is designed to put in place a process for renewing the programme for government as well as a preliminary discussion of the Cabinet reshuffle.
It is now expected the reshuffle will be more extensive than originally planned with significant changes on both sides of the Coalition. There is strong speculation that Mr Gilmore will move from Foreign Affairs to Jobs and Enterprise and that Dr James Reilly will move from Health to another department with Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney taking over at Health.
The scale of Labour’s poor performance in the European elections was underlined last night when sitting MEP Emer Costello polled just short of 26,000 votes, while Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan was set to be the first to be elected in Dublin with 83,264 votes, less than 5,000 short of the quota. The leadership A number of Labour backbenchers contacted by The Irish Times last night said they wanted to see more extensive changes and an open debate on all issues including the leadership at Wednesday’s meeting of the parliamentary party.
Westmeath TD Willie Penrose, a respected senior figure in the party, said the “public definitely seemed to have lost confidence in the current leadership” but added that the leadership was more than just Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. The former junior minister said it was “members of the Government” as well as advisers, adding: “I would anticipate there would be a major reshuffle and not just a shifting of chairs. There needs to be wholesale change with new blood.”
Mr Penrose said “very serious reflection” was needed, adding that the parliamentary party and the membership would be looking for answers. New talent Clare Labour TD Michael McNamara said all the Labour Ministers with the possible exception of Brendan Howlin should be removed to make way for new talent. “Our frontbench has failed the party, our backbench cannot fail it now,” said the TD, who added that the party’s Ministers were “tired, bereft, out of ideas and out of touch with the generation that voted for us”.
Waterford TD Ciara Conway said Labour had lost some valuable councillors and had strayed from its core values. “The party is no longer the party I joined,” she said.
When asked about the leadership last night, chairman of the parliamentary party Jack Wall said that was an issue that would come up in debate.
Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan said there needed to be a “very open discussion on everything” at Wednesday’s meeting, including the party leadership.
While no direct threat to Mr Gilmore’s leadership has emerged to date, there was speculation that he could face a motion of no confidence at a meeting of the Labour central council in the middle of June. Any member of the central council, which has a total membership of about 80 made up of constituency representatives, councillors and TDs, is entitled to put down a motion of no confidence in the leader but a two-thirds majority is required for it to be carried.
Both Government parties suffered serious losses in the local elections with Labour getting just 7 per cent of the vote, half of that it recorded in the last local elections in 2009 and not much more than a third of the support it won in the 2011 general election.
Labour also had a dreadful showing in the European elections with the party set to lose all three seats it currently holds. Fine Gael is doing better in the European contest looking sure of three seats and in with a strong chance of retaining four. In the immediate aftermath of the result, Mr Gilmore insisted that he would remain in charge.
He said the people had “sent a very clear message to the Government and indeed the Labour Party” but said there was “no question” over his leadership. Lead a heave Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said Mr Gilmore still had her “confidence”. However, asked during the count if she might lead a heave against him she said she was “not going to call anything like that until we get the results in”.
Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Independents and smaller parties all capitalised on the weakness of the Coalition parties.