Ireland's Labour leader quits after bad election

AP News
Posted: May 26, 2014 1:12 PM

DUBLIN (AP) — The leader of Ireland's Labour Party, the junior partner in government, announced Monday he is resigning after voters punished his party in local and European elections.

The decision by Eamon Gilmore, who is also foreign minister and deputy prime minister, raises new doubts about whether Ireland's two-party government can survive its full five-year term to 2016.

Gilmore, 59, announced he would quit after seven years in charge rather than face a no-confidence vote among Labour lawmakers. Gilmore said he intended to remain in Cabinet until Labour elects his replacement July 4. Labour is in a coalition government with the center-right Fine Gael party.

Labour's support collapsed to just 7 percent in Friday's vote for European Parliament and local council seats, a performance that would decimate the party if repeated in a national election.

Gilmore said voters punished Labour for its role since 2011 in bolstering a government that has imposed unpopular austerity measures, including a new property tax, as it guided the country last year out of an international bailout. Labour's working-class base switched support Friday to the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party, Socialists and other harder-left voices who promise to end austerity, block a new water tax and boost welfare benefits.

"We had a very bad day on Friday. We got a very loud message. We have got to recover and regroup," Gilmore told reporters.

Gilmore said he expected his successor to keep Labour in government and foresees no risk of instability. But analysts said the next leader would face pressure to break with Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose Fine Gael also is losing support because of austerity.

Ireland has slashed spending and raised taxes repeatedly since 2008 as it battles to reduce deficits below 3 percent of gross domestic product. Last year's deficit was 7.2 percent.