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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Who is next? The contenders to take Labour leadership crown

By Cormac Murphy

Published 27/05/2014 | 08:47

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SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has been hotly tipped to take over as the new leader of Labour. However, her failure to move decisively against Eamon Gilmore as the party’s popularity declined may have hindered her chances.

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The Dublin West TD was Labour’s spokeswoman on finance while in opposition.

When it came to doling out ministerial portfolios, however, Ms Burton was given Social Protection.

She didn’t complain publicly but it was known she was less than pleased at being overlooked for a place in the Department of Finance where Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin are in situ.

Last September, Mr Gilmore and Ms Burton (65) had to publicly dismiss reports of a split between them.

Mr Gilmore said they worked “very well together,” adding: “We have a very good working relationship.”

Labour’s low ratings had prompted major rumblings within the party, with Burton seen as the preferred successor.

Ms Burton broke ranks earlier in 2013 when she said the country had reached the limits of austerity. Her comments contrasted with stated government policy to continue implementing cuts.

In recent days, it was reported she wouldn’t “precipitate” a move against the Mr Gilmore and, in the end, she did not have to.

Labour’s drop in support in her own constituency has been particularly dramatic.

When Patrick Nulty took the late Brian Lenihan’s old seat in a by-election in 2011, Ms Burton looked unassailable in Dublin West.

Soon after, Mr Nulty quit the party and then resigned from the Dail last March when it was revealed he had sent inappropriate messages over Facebook.

Anti-Austerity Alliance candidate Ruth Coppinger was elected in his place.

With her base also hit in the local elections, Ms Burton’s chances of surviving the next general election are in question. Her main rival, Brendan Howlin, was appointed Minister for Public Expenditure by Mr Gilmore in 2011 when it had been expected Ms Burton would end up in the department.

Howlin (58) has held ministerial posts in health, the environment and now finance.

He ran for the Labour leadership previously but was not successful. During the term of the current Government, he denied suggestions of instability in the party, even as its poll ratings tumbled.

Another outside contender for the leadership is Junior Health Minister and Dublin South TD Alex White.

 

 

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