THE decision of Eamon Gilmore to resign as leader of Ireland's Labour Party has triggered a leadership race with Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton believed to be a leading candidate for the post.
At least seven Labour TDs were last night reported to be considering entering the race to succeed him ahead of nominations closing on June 3. A new leader is expected to be in place by early July.
Her Cabinet colleague Brendan Howlin is also reported to be considering the position, along with Junior ministers Alex White, Seán Sherlock and Alan Kelly and backbench TDs Arthur Spring and Dominic Hannigan.
Mr Gilmore, who is also Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, resigned as leader yesterday afternoon after it suffered huge losses in last week’s local and European elections. He made the announcement following a meeting with junior and senior Labour ministers.
Mr Gilmore told a press conference that his party suffered “a very bad day” as people went to the polls across Ireland on Friday and said he took responsibility for the results.
He added that he had “agonised” over his decision but concluded that Labour “must hear, heed and act on” the outcome of the local and European elections. This would be “best done under new leadership”, he explained.
Mr Gilmore’s decision to step down came just hours before seven TDs and one senator tabled a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
The news also comes as the Dún Laoghaire TD was in the middle of a Government review of Ireland’s Diaspora policy.
Becoming emotional as he made the announcement in Iveagh House at 4pm on Monday, Mr Gilmore said he informed Labour’s General Secretary of his decision at 10:30am that morning following discussions with his family and party figures.
His decision will take effect from the election of his successor following a postal ballot of all party members.
“I’ve had the honour and privilege to lead the Labour party for seven years,” Mr Gilmore said in a statement. “I asked party to take on responsibility of government. I believed as citizens and a party we had a responsibility to put the country first. I still believe that was the right the decision, and I’m proud of the progress we have made.”
Mr Gilmore acknowledged that his decision to enter a coalition with Fine Gael carried “a high political risk” and told reporters that Labour paid the price in the local and European elections.
“I deeply regret the loss of good public representatives and the defeat of outstanding Labour candidates last Friday,” he added.
With the vast majority of local election votes counted by Monday evening, Labour had won just 7 per cent of the first preference vote.
In a short statement, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Gilmore had given “outstanding service to the country as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs”.
“Eamon Gilmore and the Labour Party have been courageous in making the collective decisions that have pulled Ireland back from the brink of economic collapse and put the country on the path towards recovery,” he added.
A number of Labour TDs voiced concerns about Mr Gilmore’s leadership over the weekend, with one saying he had become a “lightning rod” for unhappy voters.
Among them were the seven TDs who submitted a no-confidence motion in their leader that was due to be debated at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary party on Wednesday.
But other backbenchers had spoken up for Mr Gilmore, with Dublin North West TD John Lyons saying: “The situation we are in would not change if we changed leader.”
Concluding his statement, Mr Gilmore said he intends to contest the next general election.
“The party, and the government, must move on,” he added. “We must, and we will, continue to put the country and the needs of the people first. There is more to do, and I intend to be part of it.”