Labour in turmoil amid questions about the behaviour of Alan Kelly
Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30
The Labour Party is in turmoil after their campaign launch was completely overshadowed by questions about the behaviour of deputy leader Alan Kelly.
The Tipperary TD was faced with repeated questions about his verbal attack on a radio presenter and his ambitions to succeed Joan Burton as Tánaiste.
There has been growing disquiet within the party in recent days over Mr Kelly's seemingly erratic behaviour on the campaign trail and his claim that "power is a drug".
Ms Burton was forced to defend her deputy leader and reaffirm her party's commitment to the freedom of the press.
It comes after the Irish Independent revealed that Mr Kelly angrily confronted Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue, alleging that his constituency rival, independent TD Michael Lowry, was given preferential treatment.
The minister denied that he became irate with the presenter, saying: "My only issue was editorial choice and fairness. That was the only issue and I was only raising the fact everyone was given a chance to go on the show and one person was given a choice earlier than everyone else, simple as that."
During a fractious press conference, Ms Burton became annoyed when pressed about how many social houses the Labour Party plans to build.
And Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin conceded that the so-called 'fiscal space' of €12bn that he talked about at the party's Ard Fheis last week is actually €10.1bn.
Ms Burton tried to laugh off a suggestion that a vote for Labour was a vote for Alan Kelly as Tánaiste.
"I grew up on the north side of Dublin and, a bit like the Dubs, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and that's what I'm asking all our candidates to do," she said.
However, sources within Labour have said there are real concerns that Mr Kelly's actions during the past week are overshadowing the party's message.
"He's coming up unprompted on doorsteps," said one senior party source. Another said: "It's the Alan Kelly show. He needs to realise that it's time to be a team player."
The latest row comes after Mr Kelly confronted Mr Donoghue over an appearance Mr Lowry made on 'Newstalk Breakfast' on Thursday.
The presenter did a one-on-one interview with the ex-minister, while Mr Kelly was asked to take part in a three-way debate with independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Smith.
After hearing the Lowry interview, Mr Kelly "stormed" into Newstalk's mobile studio in Thurles.
Asked if he verbally abused Mr Donoghue, the minister said: "I don't think that's a fair question," before adding: "No, obviously I didn't."
However, Mr Smith, who witnessed part of the altercation, said the language used "was not appropriate" for a public representative.
In response to a query about whether he was comfortable with Mr Kelly's actions, Communications Minister Alex White told the Irish Independent: "Editorial independence is paramount and must always be defended.
"Of course, politicians like other citizens are entitled to criticise but there are established complaint processes in place that people can always use."
Ms Burton said her party cherishes the free press but there must also be "a robust political debate".
"He could have ducked maybe appearing on a show altogether. We have come and we have answered your questions and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability," the Tánaiste said.