Breakdown in communication amid Labour battle of the generations

"The senior people get the senior positions. It’s the nature of politics," Labour’s chief whip, Emmet Stagg, mused on RTÉ radio the night of his party leader’s resignation. "The younger generation have to serve their time."

Breakdown in communication amid Labour battle of the generations

His comments were symptomatic of a generation gap in the party — between the office-holder class who’ve been in Cabinet for the past three years, and its younger, ambitious TDs — an aspect which was central to the decision of Eamon Gilmore to announce he was stepping down.

A group of seven TDs — all elected for the first time in 2007 — and one senator signed a no-confidence motion in the leader on Monday morning following weekend discussions over the disastrous election results for the party.

Their actions were immediately dismissed by their seniors as a sign of inexperience; a hot-headed panic following the electoral drubbing over the weekend.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn echoed the views of Mr Stagg yesterday, saying he resented the way the no-confidence motion was placed without those who did so having the “decency or courage” to tell Mr Gilmore what they were planning.

“He was due the courtesy — by being the most successful electoral leader of the Labour Party — of one of the eight to actually have the courage to pick up the phone and say this is what we are doing,” Mr Quinn said.

However, many in the group of eight — which comprises TDs Ciara Conway, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McNamara, Ged Nash, Derek Nolan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and Arthur Spring, and senator John Gilroy — complain that they were the victims of a lack of communication from the top, not the other way around.

They say the logic that they should have waited for Mr Gilmore to make his own mind up does not make sense, because they never knew he was even considering stepping down.

“Had I known that Mr Gilmore was going to resign, obviously I would not have put the motion down,” said Waterford TD Ms Conway. “I felt he was a voice that would not be listened to anymore.

Responding to Mr Stagg’s comments, she told the Irish Examiner: “I am as entitled to my opinion as everybody else regardless of my age and my gender. It is not something that I did lightly.”

Ms Conway also complained about “condescending language” used to described them, language she said “I’ve been used to as a new member of the Labour Party”.

As a result of this failure to listen, issues such as medical cards and the housing crisis were flagged by Labour backbenchers well in advance, but not dealt with by the party’s senior ministers, said Ms Conway.

While Mr Stagg believes that the younger members should have to wait their turn — just like his generation did — many of the younger members unsurprisingly disagree.

They say the party needs a fresh public face instead of its current cabinet members who are almost all in their 60s, or close to what would be retirement age in normal jobs.

The battle to lead Labour might come down to a battle of the generations.

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