“There are two in that inner circle: Aoife and Pat”

Joan Burton’s family her closest advisers

Joan Burton with  her daughter Aoife and husband  Pat at the Mansion House yesterday. Photograph: Collins

Joan Burton with her daughter Aoife and husband Pat at the Mansion House yesterday. Photograph: Collins


Joan Burton’s inner circle consists of two people – her husband and her daughter, according to those who know her.

“There are the hired advisers, there is the wider network around Joan and there is the inner circle, and there are only two in that inner circle: Aoife and Pat,” said one person close to her.

“They are very much a political unit, but a private one,” says another person familiar with the Tánaiste, her husband, Pat Carroll, and their daughter, Aoife, her two closest advisers.

The relationship between husband and wife is cast in the same light as the one between another couple at the top of Irish politics, Enda Kenny and his wife, Fionnuala.

When asked who might expect preferment under a Burton leadership, one of those closest to her said: “The only people who know that are up on the Old Cabra Road,” a reference to their family home on Dublin’s northside.

Carroll, originally from Dundalk, met Burton through involvement in Labour and they were married in 1975, less than a year after they first met. He ran for the Dáil twice, in Dublin Cabra in 1977, when he came fourth in a three-seater, and in Dublin Central in 1981, and was an alderman on Dublin City Council between 1975 and 1983, but he took a back seat as Burton began her long march to the position she now holds.

‘Thoughtful and measured’

“Aoife would spend more time in Leinster House than Pat,” said one Labour source.

He is also described as “her director of elections for every campaign she’s run” and his increased presence around Leinster House in the immediate aftermath of Eamon Gilmore’s resignation bore that out.

“He comes across as quiet but he is thoughtful and very measured,” said another familiar with the pair.

“He is essentially a wise counsel. She’s more of a people person.”

Another said: “They are the most political people I’ve met. Even when they’re relaxing they’re talking about politics. It’s like one permanent campaign; Bertie was a bit like that.”

Those who work closely with Burton say Carroll’s influence on her thinking can be identified in how she addresses certain issues.

“He has a very long-term view of things. He can spot things that could cause problems months down the line.”

Both Burton and Carroll felt in recent years that she would have made a “better leader than Gilmore”, and could see mistakes being made by Labour.

“She has wanted this for the longest time but she never really decided how she was going to get it. There was no plan laid out.”

Visible support

Aoife Carroll

Burton has been heard to refer to her daughter as her “in-house legal adviser” and she is said to provide a younger perspective on issues for her mother, as well as a contact with the legal profession.

Burton’s image changed slightly when she was elected deputy leader of the party in 2007, and her daughter’s influence is largely credited for this. She is also a very public advocate for her mother, frequently defending Burton and Labour through social media.

Programme manager

Brophy (45), a corporate lawyer and economist from Donnybrook in Dublin, worked for Arthur Cox solicitors and utility company Endesa before taking up a position with Burton in Government. He became involved with Labour during Pat Rabbitte’s leadership between 2002 and 2007, working on economic policy for the party in opposition.

Part of his role in Government was acting as a bridge between Gilmore’s office and Burton, particularly during moments of friction as she positioned herself as a semi-independent member of the Government.

Brophy’s main task now is to liaise with the chief advisers in the Taoiseach’s office and ensure the smooth running of the Coalition after the fractious few months between the bailout exit and the recent elections.

One of Aoife’s closest friends, Karen O’Connell, will take up a political advisory role, liaising with the parliamentary Labour Party.

O’Connell, a Dubliner, previously worked for Alan Kelly during his time as an MEP, and has also worked in party headquarters in the run- up to the last general election.

Burton’s communications adviser, Paul O’Brien, a former political editor at the Irish Examiner, is tipped to take over as deputy Government press secretary.

O’Brien, from the north side of Cork city, is known for his attention to detail and calm under pressure, and could alternatively take up a different role on Burton’s staff.