Gilmore says Keaveney an 'Opposition TD'

 

A meeting of Labour’s executive board chaired by party chairman Colm Keaveney was suspended yesterday after Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore described the rebel deputy as “effectively an Opposition TD”.

Mr Keaveney voted against the Government over the most contentious budget measures last week and lost the party whip. He has defied calls from the party leadership to relinquish his position as party chairman.

A party spokesman said last night the party’s executive board “met briefly today but it soon became clear that it would be very difficult to conduct its business under the chairmanship of somebody who was effectively an Opposition TD”.

Earlier, at a meeting of the parliamentary party, Mr Gilmore conceded it would be “tricky” for Labour to have Mr Keaveney continue as party chairman.

He told TDs and Senators he discussed parliamentary party business at meetings of the executive board, which are presided over by the party chairman. He told them this situation could not continue with Mr Keaveney in the chair.

He said he would consider how the matter might be resolved, although he stressed no “hasty” action would be taken.

Veteran Labour TD Jack Wall said the general feeling at the meeting was the matter had to be addressed. He believed it was ultimately a matter for the executive board.

“It’ll be very awkward and actually impossible for the situation to continue, with someone outside the parliamentary party by his own decision. It’s a matter for the national executive . It will be their call as to how the matter is addressed.”

The executive board which meets once a month oversees, directs and co-ordinates the organisation and affairs of the party. Also on the board are the deputy leader Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, senior officers of the party and ordinary members elected at party conference.

Mr Keaveney said he made clear he would not be resigning “under any circumstances”. He said it was not “in the gift” of the executive or the leadership.

Meanwhile, Labour Senator James Heffernan is the latest member of the parliamentary party to vote against a piece of Government legislation with his opposition to the Social Welfare Bill in the Seanad last night.

Announcing his intention shortly before the vote was taken, he said he was opposed to the cuts in child benefit and the respite care grant.

Recalling that Labour made a “solemn pledge” not to cut child benefit at the time of the general election, he commented: “That pledge is now broken.”

The Bill passed committee stage by 31 votes to 28 with Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke abstaining, in line with custom.

Senators said it was the first time they had seen every member of the 60-strong chamber present for a vote.

Opposition Senators sought a vote on an amendment opposing the cut in the respite care grant and complained afterwards that the Minister had “talked it out”, with the result that the entire Bill went through on a guillotine vote.

Independent Senator Sean Barrett had voted for the Bill at second stage the previous evening but last night voted against, because he felt the Minister had ignored appeals to modify the cut in the respite care grant.

“She rammed it through on the guillotine: that’s not good enough as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, who previously supported the Bill, voted against it last night.