Tuesday 23 January 2018

Kelly may not comfort the afflicted but he is the person to lead a fight-back

Alan Kelly may not be the man to comfort the afflicted but he certainly has the energy and drive to make sure the party isn't drowned out on the packed Opposition benches (Photo: Gerry Mooney)
Alan Kelly may not be the man to comfort the afflicted but he certainly has the energy and drive to make sure the party isn't drowned out on the packed Opposition benches (Photo: Gerry Mooney)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Less than an hour after Joan Burton announced that she will be stepping aside in the wake of the party's election drubbing, RTÉ revealed that they had lined up Alan Kelly for a "wide-ranging interview" on Friday's 'Late Late Show'.

It's not many politicians from what is now a minor party that could expect such a billing - and for it to be press released three days in advance is unheard of.

But since becoming Minister for the Environment in 2014, Mr Kelly has rarely been far from the headlines thanks to that department's oversight role in Irish Water and in part to his combative personality.

Since the general election, there was a feeling among most of the surviving members of the parliamentary party that he was not the ideal man to lead them on the road to redemption in the eyes of the public.

However, all parties in the Dáil are struggling to find their place in the new make-up and there is now a realisation among many in the Labour Party that they may not be able to sit back and wait for the tide of public opinion to turn.

They will have to fight back against the hard-left which targeted their votes.

Mr Kelly may not be the man to comfort the afflicted but he certainly has the energy and drive to make sure the party isn't drowned out on the packed Opposition benches.

Ms Burton plans to remain in-situ until a new leader is appointed - but that could be more than six weeks away if there is a contest involving regional hustings.

Few in the parliamentary party want that.

Initially, Brendan Howlin was seen as the perfect compromise candidate but other TDs doubt that Mr Kelly will sit back and wait another turn.

Mr Howlin's personal popularity has survived much of the onslaught suffered by the party and he also got a good report card for his work in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

However, there is a train of thought that he wouldn't move Labour into "a new chapter".

The line of leaders since 1997 would read like this: Ruairí Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Gilmore, Joan Burton and then in 2016 Mr Howlin. All politicians of a similar era passing the baton along in turn.

Also, having been defeated in two previous contests Mr Howlin is not keen to hit the campaign trail again.

Cork TD Sean Sherlock is also known to be interested in the top gig but few believe that he would be able to muster up enough support among the grassroots.

And Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has not ruled herself out yet but is the outsider.

Challenge

Even if one of those did decide to challenge Mr Kelly, he has one major advantage before the off.

Dublin has traditionally been Labour's stronghold but with no contenders from the capital, Mr Kelly would be in a very strong position.

His native Tipperary is among the few regional centres where the party has a large number of branches and members.

But all eyes will also be on Westmeath, where local deputy and party chairman Willie Penrose is also linked to a large branch network.

He told the Irish Independent that he would like a "consensus view as to who is best to take us forward in a process of renewal".

That seems to be the growing view among the party's seven TDs and five senators.

Another parliamentary party member noted how Mr Kelly has gone out to battle for the party in recent weeks as Fine Gael capitulated to Fianna Fáil on water charges.

His Dáil speech, in which he attacked the two big parties, went down a storm within Labour.

"We will need a bit of that in the coming months," said one source.

All the party's TDs and senators are set to engage in "discussion" about the way forward before their executive opens the door for leadership nominations on Saturday.

By then Mr Kelly will have enjoyed a prime time slot on Friday night TV.

Irish Independent

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