The Irish Mail on Sunday
A fractious marriage
Fine Gael will be forced to make concessions to a wounded and newly
THE stunning results from Friday’s elections raise some profound and unsettling political questions. The most obvious one is whether Eamon Gilmore will now face a challenge to his leadership of the Labour Party. The fact that the Tánaiste has already signalled a desire to move out of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Government reshuffle due later this year tells us that he wants to concentrate on domestic politics. It also tells us that he realises that his leadership will be subject to heavy criticism in the wake of this week’s elections and that he is already preparing his political lines of defence.
But defence against what? At best, Gilmore faces a bruising election postmortem when Labour’s shell-shocked parliamentary party next meets. At worst, he may face an outright challenge to his continued leadership of the junior Government party.
That challenge could take the form of a full-frontal attack by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton. Alternatively, Ms Burton could allow a cohort of backbenchers to initiate the challenge.
That would have two advantages. Firstly, if the challenge against Gilmore were to fail, it would leave open the possibility that Joan could retain her Cabinet post.
Secondly, it would be easier to limit the media damage that open political battle could cause Labour if those who oppose Gilmore are low-profile backbenchers rather than the high-profile Social Protection Minister.
Regardless, the mobile phones of members of the Labour parliamentary party will be busy this weekend as the party’s TDs and senators confer on how best to move forward. This is the time when political careers can be made or broken. Remember summer 2010 when Richard Bruton launched his abortive attack on Enda Kenny’s leadership? In an effort to win over someone identified as a Bruton