Tuesday 12 December 2017

Labour voters back Burton to stay as leader

POWER: Joan Burton. Photo: Frank McGrath
POWER: Joan Burton. Photo: Frank McGrath
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Joan Burton is on course to hold on to power as the overwhelming majority of Labour Party supporters believe she should remain as leader, according to a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll.

Almost two in five (38pc) Labour supporters said Ms Burton was their preferred leader as the acting Tanaiste faces into a possible leadership heave in the coming weeks.

Ms Burton is facing a challenge from acting public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin, who has been meeting with party colleagues to orchestrate his coronation as leader without facing a vote of the membership.

However, today's poll shows Mr Howlin trailing significantly behind the current Labour leader, with just 23pc of party members saying they support his leadership bid.

Acting environment minister Alan Kelly is on 13pc, while junior minister Sean Sherlock is on just 2pc.

Mr Sherlock, who has weighed in behind Mr Howlin's leadership bid, has even less support in the poll than former business and employment minister Ged Nash, who is on 3pc, despite not being elected in the General Election.

But among the general public, Mr Howlin leads the race to become the next Labour leader.

In the overall poll findings of 865 people surveyed between March 21-April 1, Mr Howlin is on 16pc, ahead of Ms Burton on 14pc and Mr Kelly on 12pc.

Almost half of those polled expressed no preference or interest in any of the frontrunners.

Ms Burton's spokesman said she would not make a decision on her future until the next government was formed.

Meanwhile, Mr Howlin has been secretly building up support within the party to launch a leadership challenge if Ms Burton does not step down in the coming weeks.

At Labour's post-election meeting last week, Pat Rabbitte led the charge on Ms Burton's leadership and was supported by Cork TDs Michael McCarthy and Ciaran Lynch. All proposed that Mr Howlin should take charge of the party uncontested in the interim.

While Mr Sherlock stormed out of the meeting during Ms Burton's address to highlight his frustration with her leadership, he later returned.

Last night, Mr Howlin's supporters denied they were behind the attack on the current Labour leader.

Since the meeting in the City West Hotel in Dublin, Mr Howlin told supporters he would decide over the weekend if he was going to launch a challenge to Ms Burton in the coming week.

Mr Howlin's team is anxious to remove Ms Bruton as soon as possible over fears she could still be in place when another general election is called.

But Mr Kelly is expected to take on Mr Howlin if he pushes to become leader without a vote. His supporters have been urging him to put his name forward to ensure there is an open contest for the leadership.

"Howlin should have the balls to come out and say he's contesting the leadership and stop all this underhand nonsense," a source close to Mr Kelly said.

Within the party, Mr Howlin has secured the support of Mr Sherlock and Longford Westmeath TD Willie Penrose.

Acting education minsiter Jan O'Sullivan will also weigh in behind him if there is a vote.

Mr Howlin has not pledged the deputy leader role to any TD in return for their support.

In fact, if he takes charge of the party, it is likely he will remove the deputy leader position held by Mr Kelly.

It is unclear if Dublin Fingal TD Brendan Ryan would support either candidate or Ms Burton.

"Howlin has it if he wants it. It will be a coronation," one of the acting minister's supporters said.

However, some party members are concerned he is "damaged goods" due to his close links to Fine Gael, specifically acting finance minister Michael Noonan.

One Labour figure described the pair as "the Chuckle Brothers of Irish politics" in reference to the nickname for Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and the late DUP leader Ian Paisley.

Other Labour sources said Mr Howlin's perceived "arrogance and sense of entitlement" did not play well with the grassroots membership.

All seven of Labour's TDs will meet in Leinster House this week to discuss the party's future.

Sunday Independent

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