|Eamon Gilmore discusses the Algerian hostage situation on Irish TV|
I was in a hotel room in London last week, and switched on the TV for the news at the time the Algerian hostage crisis was being covered. Half way through the bulletin, I see Eamon Gilmore being interview by a press pack in his capacity as Foreign Affairs Minister. My first instinct was to think, "Oh yeah, that guy. What ever happened him?"
For a while now - specifically, since February 2011 - that question has been reverberating round my head. "What ever happened to Eamon Gilmore?". Or indeed, "What ever happened to the Labour Party?". Despite their best ever showing in an Irish election ever in 2011 they have since gone into hibernation, choosing to prop up the political status quo by going into coalition with Fine Gael rather than taking their place, for the first time ever, as Ireland's main opposition party. Now, you might say that nobody achieves anything in opposition, but then again they haven't achieved anything in power either. Seriously, can you think of anything worthwhile Labour have done in the last two years? Answers on a postcard please.
Their choice to take the leather of ministerial Mercs and office chairs poses a serious problem for the party in this, the year of their 100th anniversary, and indeed beyond. As people cast their minds back to the nostalgia-doused heroism of Connolly and Larkin, today's Labour top brass will look all the more ridiculous and feckless. And as for the next election, the problem gets more serious. If Labour couldn't properly assert themselves with 37 seats at the height of their powers, how will anyone believe they can get anything done after five risible years in power and an inevitably diminished parliamentary presence?
At this stage, there seems to be only one option, one that isn't all that palatable to some, but it's not like Labour have a choice: alliance with Sinn Fein. It won't be easy for the ex-Stickie dominated Labour to countenance a move jokingly referred to as a "Guns & Roses" coalition, but ultimately what choice do they have? The long wished for unification of the left in Irish politics should and could have happened a few times over in the last two decades, but for Labour to maintain any relevance in the next decade and beyond, they need to become a senior partner in a cogent force advocating genuine social democratic principles. Once the old embarrassments of the Sinn Fein parliamentary party finally stand down, and it's only a matter of time before they do, the only obstacle remaining will be outright snobbery. But if Labour can't detach themselves from their death grasp with Fine Gael for the "politically naive" or "economically illiterate" Sinn Fein, then pride will surely come before a very large fall.