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Eamon Gilmore's 'job of work' is over, but what next for the Labour Party?

He agonised over it, but the Tánaiste realised that Labour would be best served by his departure. The question now is whether it is enough to save the junior coalition party.

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

Eamon Gilmore was flanked by his Labour colleagues at Iveagh House as he announced his resignation today. 

IT WAS, AS his rival Joan Burton said, a “shellacking” for the Labour Party which has forced Eamon Gilmore into drastic and somewhat unexpected action today.

The Tánaiste – and he remains in that position, as well as Foreign Affairs, for now – said as recently as Saturday night that there was no question of his leadership being in doubt, but in the 24 hours that followed it became apparent that Labour was and is in deep trouble.

There were few options available to the party that can save it from another shellacking at the next general election in two years time (or maybe even sooner). But of all of them this move is second only to pulling out of government.

A change of leadership rarely has a massive impact on voters, but it is a huge shake-up for Labour which the party hopes will result in a new leader with a ‘renewed’ (the buzzword right now) vision for the final years of this coalition.

Gilmore has for three years staunchly defended the government and the work it has been doing while never looking like someone who was truly enjoying to role but was just getting on with the “job of work”, as he so often referred to it, of getting the economy up and running again.

‘Job of work’

When TheJournal.ie spoke to him in June 2011, just four months after coming to office, he said the worst thing about being in government was the time or lack of it.

“I can safely say, I have never in my life worked as hard as I have in the last four months, and I think it’s going to continue like that for the next four and a half years, for the entire duration of government,” he told us.

Three years on, sitting in our offices in central Dublin last week (ironically the former Labour election HQ), on what turned out to be his last wide-ranging interview as Labour leader, Gilmore commented on how much he had enjoyed the work and the pay-off that had come at least economically with the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.

But even with all the seemingly good economic news, Labour faced constant accusations of having sold out all its principles in government.

The now infamous ‘Every Little Hurts’ poster has acted as a constant reminder of the promises made and broken.

The Joan Problem

https://vine.co/v/MwVmq3jn5Db

Add to all of that the constant tension with his deputy leader Joan Burton with relations between the pair cordial at best but the subject of constant rumour and speculation.

Pat Leahy’s revelation in his book about the first years of the coalition that Burton put those infamous ‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ posters in her father’s garden shed caused embarrassment all round.

Burton at all times referred to Gilmore as “the leader of the Labour party” expressing confidence in him but never with an air of wholeheartedness.

During one particular controversy last September Burton was asked three times if she would like to see Gilmore lead the party into these elections but she said that it was only what she expected him to do.

2014 problems

But one Budget wobble aside, the government was broadly seen to have maintained discipline up until the end of last year. However since the beginning of 2014 there has been crisis after crisis and problem after problem for both coalition parties, but particularly Labour.

Gilmore and his ministers maintained support for the embattled Alan Shatter even as he came under huge pressure, believing his social agenda was getting the stuff they wanted to see done done such as the same-sex marriage referendum next year.

Shatter was also a strong supporter of X case legislation last year – a big achievement for Gilmore and Labour in this government which should not be forgotten in all the post-mortems.

screenshot.1401122982.49637 Source: www.thejournal.ie

But Gilmore was badly undermined during the hours leading up to Shatter’s resignation as justice minister. He expressed confidence in him just hours before he resigned, seemingly oblivious to events and the contents of the damning Guerin report.

Labour was also annoyed that details of water charges were leaked to the media before they had been discussed at Cabinet and pushed forcefully for concessions on the issue.

But even some of the concessions Labour has gotten in government have been beset by problems. For example, the proposal for free GP care for under sixes was announced in the last Budget without any discussions with the doctors.

Labour widely spun this as one of its key achievements but having failed to talk it through with the GPs it’s not clear when it will actually be in place.

‘Agonised’

https://vine.co/v/MwVzDYaDahL

And so with various opinion polls putting the party on course for a bad election the air of resignation to an electoral bloodbath has been evident across the party and the country this past weekend.

In Dublin, MEP Emer Costello was conceding she would not retain her seat before we’d even had the results of the first count at the RDS last night.

Nationwide councillors lost their seats and while there were some small victories like in Ballymun, where Labour took two seats, but it wasn’t enough to change the narrative.

The irony is that there is a huge left-wing vote in Ireland right now but Labour is not benefiting from this at all. Gilmore said today that he “agonised with the decision” but said Labour would be best served by his departure.

That might well be true but whoever becomes leader now faces a huge challenge to save the party from another shellacking at the next election.

Read: Scapegoating, inevitable, the right thing to do – Everyone wants their say on Gilmore’s resignation

Read: Eamon Gilmore resigns as Labour Party leader

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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