Tuesday 20 March 2018

Labour say Kelly's big mouth is damaging the party's election chances

Environment Minister Alan Kelly Photo: Steve Humphreys
Environment Minister Alan Kelly Photo: Steve Humphreys

Philip Ryan and Kevin Doyle

Environment Minister Alan Kelly's ambition to become Labour Party leader has been severely damaged, due to a series of controversies surrounding the gaffe-prone TD, his most loyal supporters now admit.

The under-fire minister has also been criticised by key party figures who believe he is causing huge problems for the party in the middle of the toughest general election campaign it has faced in decades.

Last week, Mr Kelly infuriated senior party members after it emerged that he aggressively confronted Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue over the broadcaster's "editorial choices" ahead of a live studio debate. The Sunday Independent understands that Mr Kelly also allegedly confronted and "verbally abused" two other Newstalk staff - reporter Shona Murray and producer Caroline Dalton.

Newstalk has contacted the Labour Party over the minister's behaviour and station chiefs are expected to lodge a formal complaint this week.

"Newstalk bosses spoke to Labour people yesterday to say how unhappy they were with his behaviour, which was out of order," a source said.

Mr Kelly's row with Chris Donoghue overshadowed the launch of Labour's official general election campaign.

The minister was forced to deny intimidating Mr Donoghue over the station's decision to give controversial Independent TD Michael Lowry a stand-alone segment on the show, ahead of a constituency debate featuring Mr Kelly and other candidates.

During the on-air debate, the minister clashed with Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fianna Fail councillor Michael Smith.

Yesterday, Mr Kelly's spokesman said the minister believes "all matters with Newstalk have been resolved".

Mr Kelly's comments in last weekend's Sunday Independent - on his tense working relationship with Tanaiste Joan Burton and his love of power - have also left many in the party believing the minister is damaging Labour's chances.

Ms Burton has been forced to address the tensions between her and Mr Kelly at nearly every media event since the election campaign started last week. And even Mr Kelly's key supporters are "baffled" by the minister's public comments and are concerned that he is overshadowing the start of the party's election campaign.

"It's crazy, and I don't know why he keeps acting like this. It seems every time a microphone is put in front of him, he turns into someone else," said a Kelly loyalist.

"He has changed since he became a minister - and if he keeps carrying on like this, he will never win the support to become the party leader."

Another senior Labour figure last night insisted that Mr Kelly "will not be allowed" to become the next leader, should he challenge Ms Burton after the election.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is now emerging as the next likely successor to Ms Burton.

The Tanaiste is currently trying to limit the damage from the ongoing conflict with her deputy leader and is putting on a united front in public, despite the growing distrust.

"She drops Kelly's name into speeches all the time now, including during the ard fheis. The Tanaiste wants to try and keep a united front in public," a senior Labour source said.

"But in reality there is a deep distrust. Everybody in the party knows he wants to be leader - and there will be tough decisions to be made in that regard after the election."

After being forced to laugh-off questions on Friday about whether a vote for Labour was a vote for Alan Kelly as Tanaiste, Ms Burton again mentioned her deputy leader twice yesterday.

Sources say Kelly's name has been coming up on doorsteps with canvassers.

He is now seen as the person voters think of first when they think of the Labour Party. "He's not good for the brand," said one party source.

However, a Labour source close to Kelly said: "The election agenda moves on quickly and the party needs candidates who can win seats."

Sunday Independent

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