The Burton-Gilmore game is back on again

Impending reshuffle to blame for renewed sniping between senior Labour figures

Tensions between Joan Burton and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore have resurfaced due to impending Cabinet reshuffle. Photograph: The Irish Times

It's been a while since we've seen sniping between Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore, but the past 24 hours have reminded the Labour Party leader that his deputy leader hasn't gone away, you know.

Reports yesterday suggested Mr Gilmore would do a straight swap with Brendan Howlin in the Cabinet reshuffle expected later this year.

The move would see the Tánaiste come "home" from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, following numerous complaints from his TDs that his brief was taking his focus away from running the Labour Party.

However, backbench TDs taking a swipe at what department their leader wants is one thing, the deputy leader suggesting it would be “very positive” if he were to come home is another.


Remember, Ms Burton - and many others besides - felt she would get the Labour half of the divided Department of Finance when the Coalition was formed in March 2011.

The new position of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform went to Mr Howlin instead, causing much disappointment for Ms Burton.

It would seem she was slightly stung by the suggestion that Mr Gilmore and Mr Howlin would possibly be changing jobs in the upcoming reshuffle and decided to lay down a marker with her comments yesterday.

Any notion of a “stitch-up”, as one source put it yesterday, would just not wash with the Dublin West deputy.

As reported in The Irish Times this morning, Ms Burton wants to have a say in any reshuffle that could see her moved from the Department of Social Protection, with sources saying she "doesn't want a repeat of the shenanigans last time round".

"Last time round" Mr Gilmore was coming off the back of a thumping general election result. The polls now are poor for Labour, with last week's Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI putting it on 8 per cent.

While Ms Burton is not as popular within the parliamentary Labour Party as she is with the grassroots, Mr Gilmore is arguably not in the position of strength he was in 2011, or to basically tell Ms Burton what’s what.

He has appointed Burton as director of elections for the local and European elections, which means she will have to take some responsibility for what happens on May 23rd.

However, there is always the possibility that, in the event of an election disaster, Mr Gilmore’s leadership could come into question.

In the wake of last week’s poll, normally calm TDs last week said “all bets” would be off regarding the leadership in the event of a poor election.

Mr Gilmore could have more worries than picking a new portfolio, and involving Ms Burton in any reshuffle process.