Age-old question for Labour-saving Joan

In the 1980s when Labour was having another of its bruising internal upheavals, then leader Frank Cluskey noticed Michael D Higgins was absent. On hearing the TD had gone on an emergency mission to Nicaragua, Cluskey is reported to have said Higgins was taking the easy option of "saving the world over saving the Labour party".

Age-old question for Labour-saving Joan

In a similar manner, deputy Labour leader Joan Burton brushed aside questions yesterday about her age, referring to former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

“I’m aware that somebody slightly older than me, Hillary Clinton, is talking about running for the presidency of the United States. I know that being president of the United States is probably a bit easier than being the leader of the Labour party.”

It was a smart answer. But it is a genuine concern that the younger TDs now have about the future of Labour after the mauling it received in the local elections: the age factor of Labour ministers and the need for fresh faces and ideas.

More importantly, coalition partners Fine Gael will be scrutinising Ms Burton’s every word, after she launched her leadership bid on the plinth of Leinster House yesterday, to ascertain if the Coalition will remain stable with her at the helm of Labour.

Ms Burton arrived accompanied by five Oireachtas members, a cohort of Labour councillors, as well as family and friends. The limited number of parliamentary members was noticed. But we can expect some of these to declare their positions in the coming days. The vote for leader, after all, is weeks away.

What was more important was the Social Protection Minister’s double message to not only hurt Labour supporters but also any Fine Gael sceptics who are nervous about her becoming tánaiste.

During her leadership pitch, she mentioned the importance of “values” several times and the need to build a recovery from the middle out, rather than the top down.

“The next phase is the care and repair of our society,” said explained.

A bit woolly maybe but it was clearly targeted at Labour loyalists. She again stressed that people had not felt a recovery in their lives.

This appeal for Labour supporters saw her reiterate comments she made to the St Vincent de Paul last year: that Ireland has “reached the limits of austerity”.

For Fine Gael sceptics, the message was also clear: no default, continue the recovery and stay on track.

She committed to staying in government for the full five-year term, to stay focused on job creation and economic recovery and most importantly to reach an agreed target of reducing the budget deficit to 3%.

Will this assure Fine Gaelers cognisant of Ms Burton’s changeable relationship with Taoiseach Enda Kenny?

Her first job will be to gain the majority backing of the party’s 5,000 members.

A bigger problem may be uniting her fractured party.

There will be time for all sides to think over the June weekend. Any challenger to Ms Burton’s bid will surely strike by then. We’ll see.

But amid the bitter postmortem on the outcome of the elections, she will have to come up with a credible plan on how to save Labour.

Spring seeks advice from uncle

By Juno McEnroe

Backbencher Arthur Spring has said he got advice from his uncle, former Labour leader Dick Spring, ahead of an Oireachtas gang-of-eight tabling a motion of no confidence in Eamon Gilmore.

The Kerry TD said his uncle shared his thoughts that Labour was “in crisis” and the new leader would need a strong plan and not just a personality.

Arthur Spring said he himself felt there was the possibility Labour might have to pull out of government after its dismal results in the local elections.

Dick Spring was the leader of Labour for 15 years, served as tánaiste in three governments and oversaw the ‘Spring tide’ where the party managed to increase its Dáil seats from 15 to 33 in the 1992 general election.

The former politician and businessman has in recent years remained silent on Labour’s woes.

But Arthur Spring told RTÉ’s Late Debate he had spoken with his uncle after the dismal election results and ahead of being involved in the planned coup against Mr Gilmore.

Asked if he had sought his uncle’s advice about what to do regarding Labour’s future, Arthur Spring said: “I’ve spoken to him. He was at the count in Tralee on Saturday and Sunday.

“I think he’s probably of the same opinion as myself, that would be that there’s a crisis here and we’re going to have to get stuck in immediately.

“There’s going to have to be a comprehensive response to it. We’re going to need a leader that’s going have to have a plan, not only a personality.”

He said this week he is considering a bid for the leadership of the party.

Dick Spring could not be contacted yesterday.

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