Tánaiste says Labour paying for decisions that ‘saved State’

Gilmore does not agree that party will suffer collateral damage at the next election


The Labour Party has suffered a disproportionate share of the flack for the difficult decisions taken by the Government and internal critics must share some of the blame for that, according to Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Speaking on the eve of the Labour Party annual conference in Killarney which begins tonight, Mr Gilmore conceded that being in government during the crisis had been very difficult for the party.

“I think we have attracted probably a disproportionate share of the flak for the difficult decisions the Government has had to take over the past three years. I think some of that may have been due to the defections and criticism of the party coming not from the Opposition but, as the public would see it, from people within our own fold. I think that has been very damaging,” he said.

Mr Gilmore added that party members and the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party, its public representatives, had been remarkably courageous in staying with what has had to be done.

“They have known and understood that very difficult and very tough decisions had to be taken in order to save the country from ruin. Some of those decisions were particularly difficult for the Labour Party but I think now that we are seeing that those decisions are bringing about the desired results like the exit from the bailout and employment being created. I think we are now in a space where we can start to look forward and look at what needs to be done in the period ahead.”

Mr Gilmore said that when Labour went into Government at the beginning of 2011 the State was on the brink of failure. “We had two big objectives. One was to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and then exit it. We have done that. The second was to create jobs because we have always argued that the recovery would have to be grounded in a growing economy and one that was generating employment and we are doing that.”

He said latest figures showing a 3.2 per cent increase in employment showed that the country was on the right path. “To have moved from a situation prior to the election where 7,000 jobs would be lost every month to one where 5,000 net jobs a month would be created is a very dramatic turnaround.

“We have to continue that momentum and the focus in 2014 will be to continue to attract the investment to grow exports and to encourage in every way we can increased employment.”

‘Economic diplomacy’

Mr Gilmore strongly rejects views from critics who say that he opted for the wrong job in Government as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, saying that engaging in “economic diplomacy” was a key part of restoring the country’s reputation and was crucial for economic recovery.

He said that restoring the confidence of EU institutions and other EU member states in the Irish Government was one aspect of the challenge and persuading the international financial press that Ireland was a good country in which to invest was another.

He also points to his role as Tánaiste which has given him a direct involvement in key economic decision making through the Economic Management Council (EMC) along with the Taoiseach, Ministers for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

“Sometimes the impression is created you are constantly in the air or constantly abroad. I spent more time over the last three years in the Sycamore Room [in Government Buildings] than in Brussels.

“I have two roles in government. One is my role as a line Minister and the other is my role as Tánaiste and member of the EMC. In a Coalition Government where you have two large parties, in effect every Government decision comes across my desk.”

Mr Gilmore refused to be drawn on whether he wants to remain as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for the rest of the Government’s term or whether he will opt for another department in the reshuffle expected next year.

“We haven’t had that discussion yet. Our concentration up to now has been the crisis and getting us out of the crisis. The exit from the bailout is great news for the country but it is too soon to start celebrating it as recovery has yet to be experienced by the people who have endured suffering in their own lives as a result of what happened.”

A big worry for the Tánaiste is the situation in Northern Ireland. He said that while it is a much better place today than it was five years ago the resurgence of dissident violence could have devastating consequences for the people of the region.

He said that the continuing problems arising from the flags process was another worry. But he expressed confidence that the process being undertaken by US envoy Richard Haass could get the political parties in the North to agree among themselves on a way forward.

Electoral confidence

Mr Gilmore expressed confidence that in spite of the difficult decisions taken in Government the Labour Party will hold its own in the next election.

He said Labour needed to be in a position to say to voters that the country is “in a better place than we found it and be able to show that in real terms and to have a programme for the period ahead.

“I think this is a good Government. There are few governments that have had to take on the responsibility of government in the awful economic circumstance we found ourselves in and do so much in such a short period of time. Obviously, we are quite a distance out from an election but I don’t believe that when people come to mark their ballot paper in 2016 they will reward the party that got us into the crisis, Fianna Fáil, and punish the party that got us out of it, the Labour Party.”