WHILE Clare TD Michael McNamara has backed Eamon Gilmore to continue as leader of the Labour party, he feels the party’s ageing front bench needs to be shaken up.
He has predicted that Labour will do well in the local elections in the Banner County, where, he says, their campaign is being well received.
Regarding the leadership of the party, which has long been the subject of debate and which was questioned again this week by European election candidate, Phil Prendergast, Mr McNamara said a change of leader wouldn’t make any lasting difference. “If you changed the leader, I’m sure you would get a bounce for a while, until the next leader had to make unpopular decisions and then you’re back to where you were.”
While he isn’t backing a change of leader, he does feel Labour has to make changes. “I don’t see an alternative to him (Gilmore) presenting itself at the moment and I don’t see an alternative to some of the difficult choices but I do think that Labour needs to be clearer on some key demands. I think that merely telling people ‘this is what we stopped’ doesn’t cut it. Who could possibly be impressed by ‘this is what we stopped’; we have to achieve things as well.”
New blood is needed at the upper echelons of the party, he added, saying it is more important than the leadership question. “I think, at a higher level, the Labour party is more damaged by the fact that our electorate is a young electorate with high expectations and we have an ancient front bench and junior ministry. They’re not in any way reflective of our electorate, the people we drew support from at the last election and who we hope to draw support from.”
Deputy McNamara said Labour needs to make it easier for people getting back to work and that there should be support for parents who want to take up a job. He noted if a parent is taking up a job, it can be difficult. “If they’re going back to work, they’ll be looking at maybe €250 in childcare a week and they may not be substantially gaining. If there was a free childcare system, as many countries have, it would also create a lot of employment, particularly for women. That’s an area I’d like to have seen greater emphasis on and Seamus Ryan is pushing it in Ennis.
“Free GP care for under-sixes, let’s see how it’ll be delivered. It’s a key test for Alex White and you’d have to say he’d be one of the people that would be in contention if there was to be a leadership contest – if there was and there isn’t at the moment.”
While he praised Joan Burton’s work as Minister for Social Protection, he said he would like to see further reform in this area. “I think something should be made available for every person. For every long-term unemployed person, something should be made available.”
While the polls predict a Labour massacre later this month, Mr McNamara said he is quite enthused by the reception Clare candidates are getting. “With regard to the locals, I’ve been out with all four of our candidates, two of whom are standing on their track records and two of whom are standing on their ideas and they both have a record of public service in a way. Seamus (Ryan, Ennis candidate) is a librarian, a public servant and is known for that in Ennis. Dermot (Hayes) is a long time community activist and we’re getting a very good reception and a fair hearing from everyone.
“I’m not predicting a calamity in Clare, by any stretch. I think we’ll win a seat in Shannon and a seat in Ennis, at least one in both, and I think we’ll be in with a shout for a second seat in both. That might come as a surprise to people but that’s what I’m hearing at the doors.
“I have to say, I’m not encountering any more hostility at the doors than in 2011, when we were supposedly on the crest of a wave. The electorate is more sophisticated than the media sometimes gives it credit for and I think the Clare electorate is a particularly sophisticated one, with a long track record of electing lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds,” Deputy McNamara concluded.
By Owen Ryan