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Interview with Colm Keaveney in the Mail… June 29, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

Conducted by Jason O’Toole there’s quite a bit in there. Some very interesting snippets, not merely about Keaveney’s own curious political journey, but also about internal LP politics. For here you will learn more about his concerns about abortion legislation, what appears to be an attempted push by the LP Central Council against the leadership, his thoughts on running as an Independent for Europe and a deep-seated antipathy to the current leadership.

Anyhow, it starts:

It’S been a long time coming since he lost the party whip last September for rejecting the last budget, but it still managed to send shock waves through the corridors of Leinster House last Wednesday when Labour chairman Colm Keaveney officially resigned from the party. For Keaveney, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ruairi Quinn failed to reply to questions the Galway East TD had asked the Education Minister.

No fan of Gilmore he:

‘I believe that Labour would benefit from a change of leader. In times of difficulty such as now, there is often talk of sacrifice. One sacrifice that may be demanded is that you, recognising your own limitations, should sacrifice the seals of office for the greater good. However, the question of Eamon Gilmore’s leadership now lies with the Parliamentary Labour Party and with the party’s membership.’

But as O’Toole notes pertinently:

Despite Keaveney’s apparent lack of confidence in Gilmore, there is an abundance of similarities between the two politicians. They both come from agricultural backgrounds in rural Galway East and were both elected as president of the Union of Students in Ireland. Both went on to work as trade union officials ‘in the same branch’ of SIPTU, which ultimately led them on their paths to achieving powerful positions in the Labour Party.

Still no fan though…

But that’s where any resemblance ends, as far as rebel TD Keaveney is concerned. ‘He wouldn’t have been an inspiration for me at all. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I didn’t know anything about Eamon Gilmore or his background,’ reveals Keaveney. And in a clear sideswipe, Keaveney points out that he was the first Labour TD ‘in the history of the State’ to get elected in their Galway East constituency. ‘Unlike Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte, they couldn’t or wouldn’t get elected in Mayo or Galway — they had to come to Dublin. I have the popular support of the membership of the Labour Party; they voted for me (as chairman). Unlike the leader of the Labour Party — he ran uncontested.’

And there’s more:

In retrospect, Keaveney believes it was a mistake for Labour to allow Gilmore to take over the reins from Pat Rabbitte as leader without a contest. ‘A contest is always to be preferred. It allows candidates to be tested in the crucible of a campaign and brings their strengths and weaknesses to the fore. The lack of a contest also means that the person has never had to lay out their stall and state the political values that they will stand by.’ There hasn’t been a meeting of minds between the two men since Keaveney was expelled from the parliamentary party for voting against the welfare Bill in the last Budget. He argues that he couldn’t stand over it because it broke some pre-election promises. ‘There’s no love lost between the two of us. He doesn’t like me. I’ve had a number of heated conversations with Eamon Gilmore,’ Keaveney says. Outlining his reason for quitting the party with a ‘heavy heart’, Keaveney sent a private email to party members explaining that he couldn’t remain on as chairman because he ‘can no longer reconcile my political beliefs with the current economic policies being implemented by the Government and, in many cases, by Labour Party ministers’.

The future looks bleak…

He adds: ‘Labour is now heading towards disaster. I am not referring to electoral disaster here but rather to one whereby the party’s elected representatives effectively abandon the policies of economic justice that have been at the heart of the party since 1912 and do immense damage to the social infrastructure of the country. The evidence for this lies all around us. I can no longer partake in any way in what has become a political charade.’ Despite internal pressure to get rid of him, Keaveney insists that he wasn’t pushed into resigning.

The following is interesting, particularly the second:

‘There are two main issues. The first concerned the practice of politics within Labour, where someone like myself is ignored and where dissent of any sort is simply not tolerated. It’s no way for a political party to conduct its affairs. ‘Secondly, there is the practice of politics by Labour within the national sphere. This has seen decisions taken, and policies implemented, that are contrary to the values Labour claims to uphold.’

Some background:

Keaveney originally joined Labour because he believed it to be the only party of principle — unlike Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael — not embroiled in tribunal scandal. Growing up as the youngest of six children in Tuam, he first became interested in politics after his five siblings were forced to emigrate.


His father was in the agriculture merchant business and ran a local pub, where Keaveney spent his summers working behind the bar — though he is now teetotal. ‘It’s not compatible with politics,’ he says of drink. He failed at his first two attempts to get elected to the Dáil, which he describes as a ‘dark moments before cracking the nut’ at his third attempt. He credits his wife Deirdre, whom he met through the students’ union movement, with giving him the encouragement to continue with politics. They married 13 years ago and have three boys, aged 12, nine and four. ‘She’s my soulmate, my best friend, my most trusted,’ he says.

Keaveney was accused of nepotism in September last year when it was revealed that he had hired his wife as his parliamentary assistant. At the time, he insisted it was just a temporary arrangement while he sought to fill the position. Keaveney now reveals that he believes sections of the Labour hierarchy leaked the story to undermine his credibility. ‘It was funny that the information was brought in the public domain when a third of the Dáil hire their spouses. Why would you pick one randomly in 166?’ he says.

No fan of Pat Rabbitte either:

Keaveney feels he has been ‘singled out for some special treatment’ since losing the party whip. ‘The ongoing public attacks by senior ministers — Pat Rabbitte in particular — is as a consequence of a desire for me not to be chair of the Labour Party. Pat’s a great man for playing rough football. I really don’t lose sleep about Rabbitte.’ Keaveney clearly has no time for the Communications Minister, who accused him of ‘pirouetting on the plinth’ after voting against the budget. ‘Pat skirted around the fact that we abdicated from the core value of income equality. We broke trust,’ he says.

This is of particular interest:

Labour has other problems as well, however, with the latest opinion poll placing the party at an alarming low 9 per cent. Keaveney points out that he is now unable to put down a motion of no confidence in Gilmore because he is no longer a member of Labour — but as ex-chairman of the party, he presided over the Central Council that does have ‘the formal power’, as he says himself, ‘to remove a party leader’ at one of their quarterly meetings.

And what of this?

He exclusively reveals that the Central Council had contemplated ousting Gilmore recently. ‘It is true that some members of the council did approach, inquiring about the procedure for such a motion, but they decided not to go head with it at the time,’ Keaveney says.

And note that this is directly after the above:

He adds: ‘The polling numbers, but also, and more significantly, Labour’s fourth place behind Sinn Féin, should be a source of worry.

What’s odd is that while that should be concentrating minds in the LP it doesn’t appear to be yet.

However, from discussions with members they are less alarmed by the polls as they are by the actual policies being implemented by Labour in Government. The combination of both low numbers and dissatisfaction with policy is leading to significant pressure within the party.’

And can the following be true?

He doubts Gilmore will survive if the party has a disastrous local election next year, as is widely predicted by political pundits.

Perhaps it is me but I find it inconceivable that the LP would jettison Gilmore short of the next election. Still… for a party he’s no longer in he’s exercised by it no end:

‘Certainly there is a large pool of younger members of the party that need to be heard and have their views taken on board. The latter will be crucial in rebuilding the party and will need to be engaged as early as possible,’ he says.

And what of his, to many, unexpected policy thoughts on abortion in recent weeks.

It was reported earlier this week that Keaveney is one of a handful of Fine Gael and Labour TDs looking to join forces to seek enough signature of pro-life TDs and senator to force a little known Article 27 of the Constitution that can prevent the President from signing the legislation into power and even force a referendum on the controversial bill.

He says…

… that ‘95 per cent’ of the legislation is welcome, but explains that he is ‘disturbed’ there will be ‘no time limit’ for abortion. He argues the legislation ‘will provide for pain of the child in a termination of pregnancy in late term’. Keaveney says: ‘It’s more liberal than the most liberal regime in the world because even in the United States they say you can’t have abortion after this limit. There is no limit provided for in the legislation. It’s a bit more than crazy because it’s a human rights issue here.’

And then it appears on closer consideration that his 5 per cent from 95 per cent is a fairly significant 5 per cent… I mean of course that 5 percent left over after the ‘welcome’ 95 per cent.

He is also against the legislation providing for abortion on the grounds of suicide. ‘I would be loathe to normalise suicide in any legislation as a justifiable ground,’ he says.

There’s more:

He also claims the Government’s campaign to abolish the Seanad is a sideshow to sidetrack the public from the real crisis issues such as the economic crisis. ‘The proposals on the Seanad are simply being used to distract attention from what are our ongoing serious fiscal challenges. ‘As it stands I will not be supporting any means by which accountability is further weakened and will be opposing the amendment.’

As to the future?

The conversation moves onto his own political future. It was first reported in the Irish Mail on Sunday recently that Keaveney is now considering running as an independent in the European elections next May. Keaveney says he’s tempted to run for Europe because ‘the answers to our problems don’t rest in the Dáil anymore’ and he argues that Brussels is the best place to be ‘seeking justice for the Irish people’ over the bailout. ‘Did something illegal go on? Did the ECB twist an arm? Did the Commission twist somebody’s arm? Why is there no record? And where did the money go? ‘But was something done to twist the arm of the Irish government to break a law? And if a law was broken that resulted in exposing the Irish taxpayer to €61billion, then I think that it warrants an investigation. ‘There’s a lot of unknowns still about it. I would see a role for the European Parliament to try and secure justice for the Irish people around the taxpayers’ money on the night of that bank guarantee.’ But he admits that he will not run if his own internal polls are not encouraging. ‘

Leaving us with this parting shot:

Everything is possible in life. You have to have some degree of flexibility — and I really don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. I would never rule myself out of any election if I believed it could serve to secure my political values in the implementation of public policy.’


1. rockroots - June 29, 2013

You have to see certain parallels between Labour now and FF 3 or 4 years ago, with TDs and councillors seeing the writing on the wall come the next election and recognising that the party logo will cost them votes. I’d like to hope there’s a bit more principle involved in the decisions of ex-Labour members over the last few months, but we’ll see. The question would be if there would be any rapprochement with the rebels under a changed leadership.


WorldbyStorm - June 29, 2013

It sure feels like the last days of FF, though with such a majority the government is safe, though stats thoughts below are interesting.

I think some of the rebels might walk back in under a new leadership, but would Keaveney?


2. Nessa Childers MEP (@NChildersMEP) - June 29, 2013

For me there would be only rapprochement if Labour left government and the minster for social protection refused to cut her budget. In addition the relationship to meps would have to change.


3. stats or nonsense - June 29, 2013

okay crazy conspriacy moment.

FG believe Labour are about to implode and leave shortly. They will implode also at the election losing heavily. Big threat is a resurgent FF. In order to stem the FF rise and allow FG to regain that vote a certain influential person has an informal chat and Paul WIlliams gets tapes. FF spend the next 6 months in the docks with Anglo Irish reports plastered on the news. FF fall in the polls. Election comes and FG which has managed to hold onto just enough seats to deal with indos etc stays in govt. FF dont quite bounce as high as they might have and labour . Well at that point nobody cares.


WorldbyStorm - June 29, 2013

Have to agree, FG have been the big winner from the tapes. No question about it. That said, FG would have to do a lot better than currently to be able to get a coalition together with Indo’s (and in a way would they really want to have to deal with Lowry, McGrath etc?).


4. smiffy - June 29, 2013

On the ‘no limit’ abortion thing, perhaps Colm would like to tell us at which point during a pregnancy the woman’s life ceases to matter. 12 weeks? 16? 24? Whatever is most likely to save his seat?



5. PartyInsider - June 29, 2013

I usually don’t comment on internal party dynamics, but in this case, I will.

Let’s be clear that Keaveney left because of the X case legislation, no other reason, and it’s not because he has a particular problem with it – his arguments simply do not stand up in terms of suicide and in terms of term limits and he knows that. He did it to shore up his electoral chances, because he’s looking to run for Europe and because he knows he will be running as an Independent in the next General Election, where his chances are slim enough as it is. Quinn cuts announcement last week merely gave cover to him to go on a reason that concerned economic matters, not merely the X case legislation.

It is worth noting that while the leadership are jumping for joy at his departure, his supporters are very, very bitter that Keaveney quit the way he did and he had very little support from them – this is because he slapped the membership in the face on a policy that the vast majority of the party supports (X case legislation) and because he was the last serious chance at deposing the leadership of Gilmore.

There was an attempt to initiate a heave via the central council, which failed because it couldn’t attract enough parliamentary support, but what isn’t referred to here is that there was a second attempt by Central Council (this was in Phoenix recently) that failed, again because it failed to attract parliamentary support. The difference between the two is that on the first occasion, the parliamentary party were still prepared to give Gilmore a chance, but on the second occasion, it failed because the parliamentary party feels now is not the right time. Gilmore is on his last legs, the only question is when he will be told to go. I think the key factor here is the Troika. Once they are done, things will start to develop.

As for Keaveney himself, he played a blinder initially, and there is no doubt at all that he had Gilmore and his people on the run, but since he broke the whip he had become very erratic in terms of his judgement. As he became more and more detached from the party, he also became increasingly self-absorbed, and that can be seen in the last part of the interview quoted above.

In short, Keaveney fucked up royally with what has been a very poor bit of political judgement.

Also, I don’t believe that we will be leaving Government, short of some sort of breakdown in trust. The vast majority of the party would prefer not to be in Government at all, and this group is split down the middle – those who never wanted to go in, and those who decided it was best to go in to try and stop the worst of Fine Gael. Only a small minority wanted to go in for the sake of it, and of that minority, quite a few have changed their minds.


WorldbyStorm - June 30, 2013

Interesting analysis partyinsider. Not least in your concluding paragraph.


6. Wendy Lyon - June 30, 2013

It’s more liberal than the most liberal regime in the world because even in the United States they say you can’t have abortion after this limit.

This is flatly wrong. Roe v Wade says that there is no right to abortion in the third trimester and states can prohibit it then if they wish. It doesn’t say they have to, and not all of them do. Canada furthermore has no time limit on abortion.


Wendy Lyon - June 30, 2013

*not all of them do. [Comment above corrected for you — Tomboktu]


WorldbyStorm - June 30, 2013

In a way that’s no surprise, though important to get it clarified, incorrect and self-serving is the impression that comes across in relation to the quotes above about abortion. Difficult not to agree with party insider about the erratic nature of matters since he lost the whip.


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