Saturday 19 October 2019

Ex-union boss and Howlin 'clash' over Labour poll tactics

Private row sparks speculation of 'power play' for leadership

Brendan Howlin. Photo: INM
Brendan Howlin. Photo: INM
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A heated internal Labour Party row has led to speculation that former Siptu president Jack O'Connor could move to succeed Brendan Howlin as party leader.

Mr Howlin and Mr O'Connor clashed at a private Labour Party meeting in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin city centre over election tactics last weekend.

Party members were taken aback by the tense exchanges between the two senior stalwarts which some believed to be a "power play" by Mr O'Connor.

"It was close to an all-out brawl," a source at the meeting said.

"Jack is planning something. He could be the 'anybody but Alan Kelly' candidate if there was change of leader."

The Labour central council meeting was held to discuss the party's election strategy over the coming months.

However, at the end of the meeting Mr O'Connor raised concerns about the party's failure to set out what it stood for in a "condensed" set of proposals that could be easily understood by voters.

Sources said Mr Howlin angrily rejected the suggestion that the public did not know what Labour stood for.

The two political heavyweights exchanged a number of points on the party's election strategy before Mr O'Connor ended the robust debate by insisting he was not attacking Mr Howlin personally but rather having a "political discussion".

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr O'Connor said he was anxious for the party to set out its "core position and values" but said he could have "handled it better".

"It didn't come about in a structured way. It came about at the end of the meeting and I probably didn't handle it the best either," he added.

"I am strongly of the view we should set out our position now or at the latest after the summer recess which might end up being the election date. There isn't an issue about values or policy but there is a difference over tactics."

The former union boss, who has been selected to run for Labour in Wicklow, also said he didn't harbour ambitions to lead the party, adding: "I don't know anyone who works as hard as Brendan Howlin and I have absolute confidence in him as leader."

Asked about Mr Howlin's involvement in the exchange, Mr O'Connor said he was "alright".

Mr Howlin denied there was a spat between him and the former Labour Party chairman.

"It would be completely false to say there is a row between myself and Jack because we agree entirely on the direction of the policy platform," he told the Sunday Independent.

"We have a false or contrived difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael when you couldn't put a wafer between their views on the economy and we have something to say in terms of economic policy. Everybody agrees in the Labour Party what we want to do but I encourage robust debate on how best to be heard."

The meeting also heard complaints about the party's failure to capitalise on the abortion referendum.

Sunday Independent

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