At the 2011 general election he led the Labour Party to its best electoral performance, with a record 37 Dáil seats. Labour entered government in coalition with Fine Gael, with Gilmore being appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs he led Ireland's seventh Presidency of the European Council during the first half of 2013, and took on the role of chief negotiator for the Council in talks with the European Parliament on a €960 billion EU budget for the period 2014–2020. Throughout 2012, he held the role of Chairperson-In-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Born in County Galway, Gilmore graduated from University College Galway, becoming President of the Union of Students in Ireland. Later, he entered local politics as a trade union organiser. As a Democratic Left TD, he helped to negotiate that party's merger with Labour. He was beaten by his colleague Pat Rabbitte in Labour's 2002 leadership election, following which he was appointed as the party's Environment, Housing and Local Government spokesperson. Gilmore was elected unopposed as Labour Party leader in 2007; he resigned the post in July 2014, and was succeeded by Joan Burton.
Eamon Gilmore was born into a small farming family in Caltra, County Galway in 1955. When he was 14 months old his father died, leaving his mother to run the mixed farm and raise Gilmore and his younger brother John.
Gilmore received his primary education in Caltra, in a small two-teacher national school. He was taught there through the medium of Irish, and he is a fluent Irish speaker to this day. Following his sixth-year state primary exam, he qualified for a scholarship from Galway County Council which enabled him to attend secondary school. He entered Garbally College, Ballinasloe as a boarder in 1967.
Availing himself of a third-level grant to fund his degree, he went on to study psychology at University College Galway (UCG). He was an active member of the Drama Society at the university, where his contemporaries included the theatre director Garry Hynes and actor Marie Mullen who both went on to found the Druid Theatre Company. He also took part in the university debating scene, mainly through the Literary and Debating Society.
A threat from the Psychology Department to scrap the psychology course altogether because of a funding shortage, and transfer the students to University College Dublin, propelled Gilmore towards student activism.
He was elected class representative and later, at the age of 18, was elected President of UCG Students' Union in which position he served from July 1974 to June 1975. In 1975, towards the end of his term of office, he joined the UCG Republican Club which was affiliated to Official Sinn Féin; that party was subsequently renamed Sinn Féin – The Workers' Party, and later still became the Workers' Party. In recent years he has been accused of being evasive on the subject and of trying to play down that he had joined the Official Republican Movement; he has stated that the party "was in the process of becoming the Workers' Party at that time, I can't recall exactly the dates". Using both names, the Workers' Party's links throughout the 1970s with the Official Irish Republican Army, a proscribed paramilitary organisation, are well established.
From 1976 until 1978, Gilmore served as President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
Prior to establishing a career in politics, he worked as a trade union organiser. He joined the Irish Transport & General Workers' Union (now SIPTU) in 1978 and, after brief spells in Dublin No. 4 (Hotels & Catering) and Dublin No. 14 (Engineering) Branches, was rapidly promoted to become Acting Secretary of the Galway Branch (1978–79), Secretary of the Tralee Branch (1979–81), and of the Professional & Managerial Staffs Branch (1981–89). He was heavily involved in organising tax protests in Galway, and resisting redundancies and closures in Kerry.
Gilmore has described the driving factors which have informed his working life, whether as a trade union officer or public representative. "I like advocating. I love to share in the joy people get out of cracking it, getting the job or getting some right they should have. I get huge satisfaction out of working for improvements and seeing those come through".
He met his wife Carol at university. They have lived in Shankill, Dublin since 1979, and have two sons and one daughter. His brother, John, is a television producer in Washington D.C.
He described his beliefs during an interview, saying, "I'm agnostic. I doubt rather than I believe, let me put it that way". He also said "I'm pro-choice" when asked during the same interview if abortion should be legalised.
He published a book in November 2010 entitled Leading Lights: People Who've Inspired Me.
Gilmore was elected to Dún Laoghaire Borough Council, and also to Dublin County Council, on 22 June 1985. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1989 general election as a member of the Workers' Party for the constituency of Dún Laoghaire, and was re-elected at every subsequent general election until his retirement from the Dáil in 2016.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was linked with Proinsias De Rossa in attempting to jettison some of the Workers' Party's Marxist aspect and to move the party towards an acceptance of free-market economics. Media accusations had once again surfaced regarding the continued existence of the Official IRA who, it was alleged, remained armed and involved in fund-raising robberies, money laundering and other forms of criminality.
In an attempt to address these issues Gilmore and De Rossa along with their supporters sought to distance themselves from alleged paramilitary activity at a special Ardfheis held at Dún Laoghaire on 15 February 1992. A motion proposed by De Rossa and general secretary Des Geraghty sought to stand down the existing membership, elect an 11-member provisional executive council and make several other significant changes in party structures was defeated. The following day at an Ard Chomhairle meeting, Gilmore resigned from the Workers' Party and joined with Proinsias De Rossa and five other Workers' Party TDs to create a new political party, Democratic Left (originally known as New Agenda).
In the 'Rainbow Coalition', between 1994 and 1997, Gilmore served as Minister of State at the Department of the Marine where he is credited for overseeing major reform in port ownership, investment in port development, banning nuclear vessels from Irish seas and restricting dumping at sea.
With Labour's Brendan Howlin, Gilmore was a central figure in the negotiations that led to the merger of Democratic Left with the Labour Party in 1999 under the Leadership of Ruairi Quinn.
After Quinn's resignation in 2002, Gilmore unsuccessfully contested the Leadership won by former student union and political colleague Pat Rabbitte.
From 2002 to 2007 he sat on the Labour Party front bench as Environment, Housing and Local Government Spokesperson.
Around this time, Gilmore voiced his support for the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which campaigns for democratic reformation of the United Nations, and the creation of a more accountable international political system.
Following Pat Rabbitte's resignation as party leader in August 2007, Gilmore announced his candidacy for the leadership. He received support from senior figures such as Michael D. Higgins, Ruairi Quinn, Willie Penrose, Liz McManus and Emmet Stagg, and did not have to contest a ballot, being formally confirmed as leader on 6 September after being the only declared candidate. He is the tenth leader of the Labour Party.
From early on in his Leadership Gilmore insisted that Labour should aspire to lead the next Government and set about building Labour as a third option for voters. At the local elections of 5 June 2009, the Labour Party added to its total of council seats, with 132 seats won (a gain of 31) and by July 2010 had gained an additional six seats from councillors joining the party since the election. On Dublin City Council, the party was again the largest party, but now with more seats than the two other main parties combined.
At the 2009 European Parliament election held on the same day, the Labour Party increased its number of seats from 1 to 3, retaining the seat of Proinsias De Rossa in the Dublin constituency, while gaining seats in the East constituency with Nessa Childers, and in the South constituency with Alan Kelly.
Initially Gilmore was in favour of the 2008 first Lisbon Treaty referendum. When it was lost, he declared that the "Lisbon Treaty is dead". According to a wikileaks cable dated 23 July 2008 and released in 2011, he told the US ambassador privately that he would support a second referendum. The ambassador reported that: "He explained his public posture of opposition to a second referendum as 'politically necessary' for the time being". In 2009 the Lisbon Treaty proposal was passed by the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.
In September 2009, at the Labour Parliamentary Party Meeting in Waterford, Gilmore categorically ruled out a coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next general election, reiterating what he had said in earlier interviews.
In his leader's address to the 2010 Labour Party Conference (17 April 2010), Gilmore outlined his vision that the Labour Party should lead the way in building 'One Ireland'. In this speech, he listed the Labour Party's policy priorities as Jobs, Reform and Fairness. He also said he was determined that the Labour Party would run enough candidates at the next general election to enable the Irish people to make Labour the largest party in the Dáil and to lead the next government.
In July 2010, Gilmore again ruled out a coalition between his party and Fianna Fáil after a general election, even if such a coalition would put him in a position to become Taoiseach. Gilmore also said his party was well-positioned to win at least one seat in each of the country's 43 constituencies, and two seats in some constituencies in Dublin, Cork, other urban areas and commuter-belt counties. In all, he said the party had the potential to win 50 seats or more.
Throughout his political career, Gilmore has worked for peace in Northern Ireland. Along with other prominent figures including Proinsias de Rossa and Eamon Dunphy, Gilmore was among the first organisers of the 'Peace Train' campaign which was started in 1989 in response to the repeated bombing of the Dublin to Belfast railway by the Provisional IRA. Northern Ireland was also a priority for Gilmore as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade during which time his efforts to reach out to the unionist community in particular were acknowledged.
Gilmore also played a leading role in the modernisation and liberalisation of Ireland's social legislation, most notably on divorce and abortion, and has been to the fore in the campaign for gay marriage. He is often quoted for citing gay marriage as "the civil rights issue of this generation". Gilmore also made a commitment to hold a constitutional referendum on the issue a key plank of the Labour/Fine Gael programme for government. A referendum on gay marriage was held in 2015. He was a member of the cabinet committee that steered through Ireland's divorce legislation in 1996, as well as a member of the Divorce Action Group which campaigned for the legalisation of divorce in Ireland. In 1983, Gilmore campaigned against the ban on abortion in the Constitution.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gilmore was behind the most significant expansion of Ireland's embassy network for several decades, opening eight new diplomatic missions across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas in 2014. Despite considerable media focus on the reopening of the embassy to the Vatican, which had been closed for economic reasons in 2011 along with the embassy to Tehran, the new missions are largely trade and investment-focussed.
In 2013, Gilmore launched the first review of Irish foreign policy since 1996.
Gilmore has also been a member of the first Economic Management Council (EMC), along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, since March 2011. For the first three years of the Fine Gael/Labour government, the EMC was regarded as the lynchpin of the coalition's stability.
Gilmore resigned on 4 July 2014 and was succeeded as party leader and as Tánaiste by Joan Burton.
Gilmore led Labour to the best electoral performance in the party's 99-year history at the 2011 general election. The party won 37 seats. It did especially well in Dublin, taking 18 seats to become the largest party in the capital. Gilmore topped the poll in the Dún Laoghaire constituency.
Following the election, Labour entered coalition with Fine Gael. Gilmore became Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. He appointed four ministers to the Cabinet, six junior ministers and Máire Whelan as attorney general. He also recreated the Office of the Tánaiste within the Department of the Taoiseach to enhance his control over Government policy. This office was originally created under Tánaiste Dick Spring in 1992 but was abolished by his successor Mary Harney.
On December 15, 2013, Ireland became the first eurozone country to exit a €67.5 billion EU/IMF bailout programme following a multi-year austerity programme. The so-called 'troika' bailout was triggered in November 2010 following the collapse of the Irish property market collapsed which in turn had pushed the country's banks into financial crisis.
A blanket guarantee on all of the liabilities of the Irish banks – established by the previous Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition in September 2008 – dragged the State to near bankruptcy and forced the government to turn to the EU/IMF as lenders of last resort.
In November 2014, the Government announced that it would exit the EU/IMF bailout programme without seeking a precautionary credit line, often referred to as a 'clean bailout exit'. In an interview with RTÉ's Morning Ireland radio programme on November 15, Gilmore explained that the Government had conducted a long process of consultation with international institutions and other EU member states before making the decision to exit the bailout cleanly. He also pointed to the existence of a €20 billion "backstop" of reserve funding held by the National Treasury Management Agency that could fund the Irish State up until the beginning of 2015 if so required.
On 11 November 2012, Gilmore became the first Irish Government minister to take part in the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Belfast when he laid a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at City Hall to honour those who had died in the First and Second World Wars. He attended the ceremony again the following year.
In September 2013, he was seen to have broken "new political ground" when in a speech to the British Irish Association in Cambridge, "he went out of his way to address a unionist perception of a failure by a number of Irish governments to properly combat the IRA". In the same speech, he also said he hoped that the Irish Government could "host representatives of the royal family and the British government, along with the leaders of unionism, in Dublin in three years' time in remembering the Easter Rising". He was part of the process which aimed at resolving issues relating to parading, flags and emblems, and the past that was chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass from September to December 2013, and he maintained contact with the parties involved until he was replaced as foreign affairs minister in a cabinet reshuffle the following year.
On 1 January 2012, Ireland assumed the 2012 chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE) for the first time. In his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gilmore served as the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gilmore led Ireland's seventh Presidency of the European Council during the first half of 2013. He chaired the General Affairs Council of the European Union (EU) and acted as lead negotiator for the Council in talks with the European Parliament on a €960 billion, seven-year budget deal – also known as a Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) – for the EU for the period 2014–2020.
In November 2011, Gilmore announced the closure of Ireland's embassies in Iran and the Vatican, and a representative office in East-Timor, on economic grounds. Ireland was to retain an ambassador to the Holy See who would reside in Ireland rather than Rome. In January 2014, he announced that eight new diplomatic missions would be opened around the world, focussing mainly on trade and investment.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gilmore lobbied for comprehensive legislation overhauling US immigration laws to help an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, over 50,000 of whom are believed to be Irish. On 17 June 2014, Gilmore travelled to Washington D.C. for two days of meetings, most of which focussed on Republican members of the House of Representatives.
In December, Gilmore once again put his support behind the Croke Park Deal on public sector pay and conditions. The dismissal of a renegotiation of the deal came in light of Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte's comments that the deal could be renegotiated along with calls from junior Fine Gael TDs that the agreement should be scrapped.
On 2 June 2015, Gilmore announced his retirement from politics, and that he would not be contesting the 2016 general election. He later took up a role at the European Union as EU Special Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process.