Eamon must up his game as Joan of Irk readies for battle

The red carpet had been rolled out to greet Labour’s big guns, but a sudden storm saw it rolled back up and left looking soggy and forlorn — a fitting metaphor for the party’s experience in government really.

Eamon must up his game as Joan of Irk readies for battle

Then an icy wind swept through the conference hotel — yes, Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore had arrived in the same room and their fixed, fake smiles for each other were failing to ignite the experience.

But if Ms Burton wanted to warm up the meeting, she could always have set fire to all those “Gilmore For Taoiseach” posters she famously stashed in her late father’s shed.

Whatever had become of them, Joan was asked, had she, indeed, had a bonfire of Eamon’s vanities?

“You’re not allowed,” she laughed, “I’d be arrested!”

Arrested by whom was never really made clear, but judging by the look in the eyes of Mr Gilmore as he stood next to her, he would not mind being first in the queue and serving the warrant.

Then, as with most guilty parties, far too much detail was given to why the posters ended up in the now most famous shed in Irish politics.

“The Gilmore — those posters — were sent, the last election was in the snow, the posters were sent out three weeks early with an instruction not to be used until the last week of the campaign, by then the campaign strategy had changed and they were not relevant at that point in time.

“There were quite a lot of posters of Eamon in Dublin West, just not those particular posters.”

Well, no, not those ones, because those particular ones were dumped in a shed at the time.

When each was asked to sum up their working relationship in a word, Ms Burton looked uncomfortable, musing: “Is it a competition in superlatives?”.

He said: “Excellent.” She said: “Very good.” The body language said: “Dire”.

Side-stepping the question whether she expected Mr Gilmore to lead the party into the next election, Ms Burton said: “That is a decision for Eamon himself,” which clearly it is not if she decides to challenge him after what is expected to be a Labour wipe-out in next year’s Euro and local elections.

With the parliamentary party now split into Joanettes and Eamonites, the gathering did not have the Labour air of bonhomie of old.

More than one Eamonite bemoaned the fact that Mr Gilmore needed to up his game if he was to beat off the expected attack.

Yet a lone delusional optimist tried to insist if Gilmore and Burton were a band they were so solid they would be One Direction — the reality is Ms Burton’s group would really operate under the name Joanette and the Black Marks (she has against Eamon).

Fears among supporters that Mr Gilmore is living in the past and failing to face up to the future were only compounded by the backdrop banners proclaiming “Labour Centenary 1912-2012” — erm, it’s 2013, and 2014 could well be the year of living dangerously for the Tánaiste’s leadership, as Ms Burton will be 67 at the next scheduled general election and knows that while opinion polls may be on her side, time is not.

As the TDs moved into private session to look down the barrel of next year’s disaster elections, the red carpet was taken away — but the Red Queen has yet to make her move.

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