The 26 County Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has been elected leader of the Labour Party to replace Eamon Gilmore, who resigned last month. The change has also brought an end to the political career of Labour’s Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, who resigned on Wednesday, with other changes expected to be announced in coming days.
Ms Burton is the first woman to lead the Irish Labour Party, and the third female Tanaiste [Deputy Prime Minister] in the history of the state.
Her widely expected election as leader came at the expense of junior Minister Alex White, her sole challenger for the leadership. She won the election with more than 2,000 votes out of the 2,720 cast by party members, giving her a mandate to effect significant changes.
Herlading these was the departure of Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, who resigned rather than wait to be pushed in the cabinet reshuffle next week.
Ms Burton, a TD for Dublin West, won the leadership of her party after its support had plunged to a historic low in recent local and European elections -- polling just 5%, and failing to retain a single seat in the European Parliament.
Ms Burton said she was delighted to win the trust of the Labour Party and hoped she could laso win the trust of the Irish people. She said she would put great emphasis on ‘social recovery’ specifically in regard to housing and health. However, the TD for Dublin West has already presided over some of the deepest cuts to social welfare in the history of the state. She is most associated with an extraordinary 47% cut in unemployment assistance for young people, the operation of the notorious ‘JobBridge’ workfare scheme, as well as explicit attempts to persuade the unemployed to emigrate.
Burton has been portrayed as having the potential to heal divisions between those members who remain self-identifying socialists and progressives as well as more reactionary and anti-republican elements associated with former members of Democratic Left, with whom the party merged in 1999.
Among the latter, Pat Rabbitte, the current Minister for Communications, is still defying pressure to step down ahead of his expected removal from office next week.
Brendan Howlin, Labour’s current Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, could retain his portfolio. Ruairi Quinn, the high-living Minister for Education who became deeply unpopular for implementing tuition hikes and cuts to teaching services, said on Wednesday he was stepping down “sooner than I would have liked”, without reference to the reshuffle.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is also expected to move against his most unpopular Ministers, including current Environment Minister Phil Hogan, responsible for the introduction of the hated new water and household taxes, as well as infamous Health Minister James Reilly, who has presided over a series of scandals, most recently the withdrawal of services from seriously and terminally ill medical card holders.