Labour demise and Sinn Fein rise tells poll story

Eamon Gilmore
Wave goodbye….Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore in happier times, attending the inauguration of President Michael D Higgins.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The weekend was, as they say, a target-rich environment when it came to politics. For political junkies, elections are like All-Irelands. At every other time, you are mainly talking about possibilities, maybes and humming and hawing. But with elections you have only definitives.

And so this weekend, without equivocation, we knew who was up and who was down – a massive victory for Sinn Féin; a meltdown for Labour; Fine Gael in the relegation zone; Fianna Fáil and the Greens out of the naughty corner.

And the smaller parties and independents are all winning the junior and intermediate finals.

The picture was slightly complicated by the fact that there were three elections – the Europeans; the locals; and the by-elections.

With so many contests, parties can usually find a little consolation elsewhere – if you did badly in the locals as Fine Gael did, you can always point to the solid success of Gabrielle McFadden easily getting across the line in Longford/Westmeath.

But you would have had to have been an anchorite living on Oileán Mhic Dara for the last month to have avoided the two big narratives – the rise of Sinn Féin and the demise of Labour.

To reinforce the woes of the junior coalition partner, Eamon Gilmore surprised everybody by announcing on Monday that he was standing down. The last person to do that was Michael Noonan who resigned in 2002.

Let’s look at the Labour crisis first. The letter from the youth brigade of the parliamentary party did not trigger Gilmore’s decision to step down but I’m sure he was aware that something was in the offing. He had essentially made up his mind some 24 hours before the letter was conceived by the group of eight.

The composition of the group was interesting. Only one of the party’s awkward squad was among the signatories and it excluded others like Senators John Kelly and John Whelan. What was interesting is that many of the younger TDs who put their name to it were among Gilmore’s strongest defenders since 2011.

They included some of its brightest, like Galway West TD Derek Nolan, Aodhan Ó Ríordáin, Ciara Conway, and Gerald Nash.

It’s clear that they had become disillusioned with Gilmore’s style and manner of leadership and the roots of the discontent were probably apparent since the debacle surrounding the Meath East by-election last year.

That gave the party a clear shot across the bows that a change of style, direction and awkwardness was needed. The tail needed to be shown wagging the dog. Gilmore had to hand back his Aer Lingus frequent miles cards and concentrate on home. More Labour messages; more darned Labour-backed policies had to get through the door.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.