Saturday 24 February 2018

Howlin and Kelly discuss Burton's leadership after Labour's poll disaster

Brendan Howlin gives the thumbs up after he topped the poll in Wexford. Photo: Mary Browne
Brendan Howlin gives the thumbs up after he topped the poll in Wexford. Photo: Mary Browne

Niall O'Connor and Cormac McQuinn

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has begun canvassing the views of Labour members about the future of leader Joan Burton.

Mr Howlin is understood to have spoken to the party's deputy leader Alan Kelly last night, as it prepares for a return to opposition.

Ms Burton's leadership is under major pressure after her party looks set to return just seven seats - compared with 37 in 2011.

The outgoing Social Protection Minister last night said she would make "no decision" about her future until a new government was formed.

Party figures have said the length of time Ms Burton remains as leader would be largely influenced by Mr Howlin and Mr Kelly, who was returned in Tipperary yesterday.

The pair are understood to have spoken over the phone last night.

Sources confirmed that Mr Howlin spoke to a number of members over the weekend to discuss the outcome of the election, and whether or not there was appetite to change the leadership.

Under the Labour constitution, a leadership contest must be held within six months of an election, if the party is not returned to government.

The decision is based on a one member, one vote principle.

Ms Burton declined to say last night if she intended to put her name forward.

"The matter ultimately will be a matter for the members," she told Bryan Dobson, on RTÉ's 'Six One News'. "The priority now though is about the government and the fact that the country needs a government. We'll be there in a caretaker process, I do hope the process (of forming a government) is completed in a reasonable time frame but we don't know until the 10th (of March)."

Yesterday, party sources who are supporters of Ms Burton said they did not believe a leadership heave would take place.

However, they conceded that if other members of the parliamentary sought her replacement, she would have to step down.

As of last night, the party had six TDs: Ms Burton, Mr Howlin, Mr Kelly, Jan O'Sullivan, Brendan Ryan and Sean Sherlock.

Aodhán O Ríordáin is also in contention to take a seat in Dublin Bay North.

In relation to Mr Kelly and his known leadership ambitions, party sources said they did not believe he would launch a leadership heave in the near future.

"The party is so bruised by the result. Kelly is not going to do anything that will tear the party apart even further," a source said.

Speaking following his election in the Tipperary constituency, Mr Kelly said the rebuilding of the party must start immediately.

"My thoughts are with all my colleagues who lost their seats. They are some fantastic people, incredible people, honest, hard-working people.

"My thoughts are with them today as deputy leader," Mr Kelly told RTÉ yesterday.

"Tomorrow we start rebuilding this party. Every one of us who does get elected will have to share that burden and will have to start rebuilding the party, rebuilding our brand, rebuilding our message and it's going to start tomorrow," he added.

Ms Burton yesterday refused to say whether Labour was destined for opposition, insisting a number of counts remained incomplete.

"I'm not at this point in time (saying whether we go into opposition) until we see all the results, we're waiting on a number of the results as we speak," she said. 

Fallen comrades: The 18 Labour TDs who have lost their seat:

Dublin Bay South : Kevin Humphreys

Waterford: Ciara Conway

Dublin central: Joe Costello

Dublin South Central: Eric Byrne

Carlow / Kilkenny: Ann Phelan

Wicklow: Anne Ferris

Dublin Mid-West : Joanna Tuffy

Kildare North: Emmet Stagg

Meath East: Dominic Hannigan

Kerry: Arthur Spring

Louth: Ged Nash

Cork South-Central: Ciaran Lynch

Cork South-West: Michael McCarthy

Galway West: Derek Nolan

Cork North-Central: Kathleen Lynch

Clare: Michael McNamara

Dublin Rathdown: Alex White

Dublin North-West: John Lyons

Irish Independent

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