A champion of unions in touch with party’s grassroots

A staunch defender of Labour, in touch with the mood of the party’s grassroots, and a trade union supporter. Those were some of the descriptions of Galway East TD Colm Keaveney, who rebelled and voted against his party’s budget measures.

The 41-year-old former trade union organiser has, for many months now, expressed his concern about decisions being made by senior Labour ministers against a backdrop of falling support for the party in the polls.

Keaveney gained a substantial victory on his stances and for grassroots members when he was elected chairman of Labour at the party’s annual meeting in Galway in April.

The contest was dogged with accusations the leadership wanted younger contender Derek Nolan of Galway West elected to the position, and had arranged overnight for a swarm of new members at the meeting to support its preferred candidate in the vote for party chair.

There were even threats made about bringing the matter before the courts when Keaveney discovered the plot against him. Since those summer days, the father of three has spoken out openly against the direction in which Labour was going.

No doubt his defection yesterday, essentially to the opposition benches, will be a headache for party leader Eamon Gilmore but may also give the Tánaiste some relief. Without fail, Keaveney was popping up every Sunday in the newspapers. Only last week, he had made his discomfort on the budget cuts well known.

And, so it was, after this climb up the hill and talk of indecision on supporting the Social Welfare Bill, that the first-time TD yesterday lost the whip after voting against the measures. In a way, there was nowhere else Keaveney could have gone.

A former Labour youth activist from Keaveney’s college days said he had been very ambitious in his early days. “He used his union role as a platform for the region and also came to light as a figure through the student movement,” said the source.

Keaveney had attended St Jarlath’s College in Tuam and later studied at Letterkenny Institute of Technology and University College Dublin. He completed computer science studies in Letterkenny and gained degree in industrial law and economics from UCD.

His first unsuccessful Dáil challenge came in 1997 and he later contested the local elections. He finally secured a Dáil seat in February last year.

A former president of the Union of Students in Ireland, he was particularly vocal ahead of the budget about plans to cut child benefit and respite care grants. At one stage during the week, he tweeted: “Alea iacta est”, Latin for “the die is cast”. This led to speculation he would jump ship. But it was only at one of the final stages of voting yesterday he did in fact side with the opposition.

Certainly, he had openly told constituents in Tuam earlier in the week of his concerns.

Keaveney now joins a handful of TDs — including Roisín Shortall, Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan, and Patrick Nulty — on the Labour rebel benches in Leinster House.


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