Friday 23 March 2018

'Regrets, I’ve had a few' - Joan Burton refuses to name successor as she resigns as Labour Party leader

Labour Party Leader Joan Burton TD during a media brieifing at RHA Gallery, Dublin following a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party
Labour Party Leader Joan Burton TD during a media brieifing at RHA Gallery, Dublin following a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party
Labour Party Leader Joan Burton TD during a media brieifing at RHA Gallery, Dublin following a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party
Joan Burton. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Kevin Doyle, Group Political Editor

Joan Burton has confirmed that she is to step down as leader of the Labour Party.

The former Tánaiste told the party’s six other TDs and four senators of her decision during a private meeting this afternoon.

She later addressed the media where she said she would take a back seat in the contest for her successor and will not endorse any candidate.

“Like most of the party, I entered government with both hope and fear in my heart – hope that with unyielding effort and sustained policy implementation we could turn things around; fear that the situation had already deteriorated to a point of no return,” she said.

“In the five years that followed, the Labour Party stood by the Republic, helping people back to work, safeguarding the social protection system against those who would have stripped it to the bone, building new schools across the country, and securing the funding for a new social housing programme – while all the time dealing with the morass of failed banks and toxic banking debt.”

Ms Burton described the election result as “very disappointing” because of the loss of so many outstanding public representatives” but added that the “fight-back has already begun”.

She concluded that the new Labour leader must work to fulfil James Connolly’s vision for the Republic.

The former Tánaiste intends to take up a spokesperson portfolio once the new leader is selected, noting that she wants to contribute particularly to the debate around access to schools.

“I will remain an active and committed member of the Dáil and the Labour Party on behalf of the constituents who elected me,” she said.

Afterwards deputy leader Alan Kelly described her as an “incredible influence” on the Labour Party.

Bookmakers have installed the Tipperary TD as the 4/6 favourite to take over, followed by Brendan Howlin at 1/2 and Sean Sherlock at 6/1.

Mr Kelly is to appear on the Late Late Show on Friday night.

Speaking on Newstalk’s The Right Hook, Ms Burton borrowed a line from Frank Sinatra to describe how she was feeling after her resignation.

“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” she told the programme.

“But I also feel that there are a lot of achievements that I was happy to lead on that both myself and others brought to fruition.”

Looking back on her two-year leadership, she said: “We didn’t do everything we wanted to do. There never seemed to be enough hours in the day to do it, but I think on certain things we left the country a better place and left people feeling a little bit better off.”

She added: “I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to do more.”

With Labour in opposition, the Dublin West TD warned that there would be “a much more conservative cast of mind in government”.

“You need a good mix, it can’t be too right or too left. I think each side needs the other,” she said.

“You can’t for instance say ‘we’ll do all these things and we’ll pay for it by charging the ordinary Joe and Josephine loads more tax’. You have to try and do it in a way that takes into account people’s circumstances right across the country.”

Ms Burton has led the Labour Party for less than two years, having taken over after the local and European elections in July 2014.

The Dublin West TD hung onto her Dáil seat in February’s General Election but her party suffered a disastrous result, losing 30 seats compared with 2011.

Her decision to quit has been well-flagged in recent days although it is understood that she initially wanted to stay on as leader to help rebuild the party.

It is not yet clear whether the party will select a deputy leader, with one senior source telling independent that there may not be a need for one given the party’s reduced presence in Leinster House.

Ms Burton was first elected to the Dáil in 1992. She worked as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs between 1995 and 1997.

She lost her seat in 1997 but returned five years later.

Having served as Labour’s spokesperson on finance she was appointed Minister for Social Protection in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition in 2011.

She took over Eamon Gilmore as leader in 2014 and also served as Tánaiste.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny lead the tributes to the former Tanaiste this evening.

"On her retirement as Leader of the Labour Party, I thank Joan Burton for her work in government over the past five years, both as Tánaiste and as Minister for Social Protection," he said in a statement.

"During this time, she and her ministerial colleagues in the Labour Party played a major role in rescuing the Irish economy, which was on the brink of collapse when we entered government in 2011.

"Many of the tough decisions that had to be taken to turn the country around were unpopular and politically difficult but Joan Burton and her colleagues were steadfast in doing what was right for the country.

"In her role as minister, Joan Burton spearheaded many of the welfare reforms that helped the last government to surpass our job creation targets to the point where the unemployment rate has been reduced from over 15pc to 8.4pc.

"I would like to wish Joan Burton, her husband Pat and family every success and happiness in the future."

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