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Eamon Gilmore

Eamon Gilmore

Eamon Gilmore

EAMON Gilmore had a decision to make over the weekend:“Should I fight off all-comers or should I pass on the baton?”

Ultimately, the 59-year-old decided to pass on the baton, bringing to an end his seven-year tenure as leader of the Labour Party.

Under his leadership he led the party to its best ever electoral performance, winning a total of 36 Dail seats, including 18 in Dublin in the 2011 general election, which saw Labour overtake Fianna Fail and become the second biggest party in the State.

His party’s candidate also won the Presidential election, with Michael D Higgins getting the top job.

Hammering

But that success was before the government bedded in and had to deliver a succession of austerity budgets.

Now, Labour has gotten a hammering by the electorate in the local and European elections.

Mr Gilmore has been a TD for Dun Laoghaire since 1989. Originally from a farming background in Caltra in Galway, Mr Gilmore attended secondary school in Ballinasloe before studying psychology at University College Galway.

It was here that the dad-of-three first cut his teeth in electoral politics, becoming president of the college’s students’ union in 1974 and later president of the Union of Students of Ireland.

He then worked in the trade union sector. He was first elected to Dublin City Council in 1985 and won a seat in the Dail four years later for the Workers’ Party.

He was among the six Workers’ Party TDs who formed Democratic Left in 1992. Mr Gilmore became a minister of state at the Department of the Marine during the rainbow coalition with Fine Gael and Labour from 1994 to 1997.

He was a central figure in the talks that led to a merger of Democratic Left with the Labour Party in 1999.

In 2007, he took over from Pat Rabbitte as Labour leader.

Electoral success followed in the local and European elections in 2009 with Labour winning three European Parliament seats.

With the country in a bail-out programme when the 2011 general election came around, slogans such as “Gilmore for Taoiseach” appeared around the country.

He declared that Labour would re-negotiate the EU-IMF bailout deal.

The election was a success for Gilmore and he settled into his role as Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. In more recent times, some party colleagues believed that this role was causing him to be out of the public eye when it came to domestic affairs.

The party’s acceptance of the EU-IMF programme’s austerity measures effectively caused support for the party to fall off a cliff.

The electorate didn’t take too kindly to having their expectations raised before the last general election, only to see them dashed by the implementation of the Government’s fiscal policy.

Many didn’t appreciate being hit in the pocket with the introduction of water charges and were angered by the withdrawal of medical cards for vulnerable people.

Losses

Perhaps inevitably, the end of Mr Gilmore’s leadership came quickly after heavy losses over the weekend.

Younger Labour party TDs in particular were anxious at the prospect of facing the electorate again in the next general election with the same line-up at the top of the party.

And as Mr Gilmore admitted himself: “We had a very bad day on Friday, we got a very loud message.”

However, the Labour leader did give an insight into what he felt had been achieved during his tenure, in his resignation speech.

He said a lot of progress had been made in the last three years, getting out of the bail-out, seeing the economy beginning to grow again and jobs being created - although he conceded that recovery was still fragile.

His stint at the helm of Labour is coming to an end though he will stay on until the next leader is appointed.

However, it’s by no means the end of Eamon Gilmore in the political arena. He has already signalled his intention to contest the next general election.

fdillon@independent.ie


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