Thursday 17 October 2019

Kelly tears into Labour colleagues over performance at party debate about leadership

Challenge: Alan Kelly effectively called for Brendan Howlin to step down during the summer. Photo: Tom Burke
Challenge: Alan Kelly effectively called for Brendan Howlin to step down during the summer. Photo: Tom Burke
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Rebel Labour Party TD Alan Kelly rounded on his parliamentary colleagues at a contentious private meeting of the party which heard sharp criticism of its performance.

The Tipperary TD sparked a leadership debate during the summer when he effectively called for Brendan Howlin to step aside, citing a failure to "turn the ship around" in the past two years.

Mr Howlin opened the party's think-in in Drogheda, Co Louth, with a call for a debate on the party's leadership but resisted a suggestion he should step aside.

In his address to those gathered - which included councillors, TDs and senators - Mr Kelly told those present the performance of the parliamentary party was not satisfactory.

He said each member of the parliamentary party needed to be appearing in the media more often and that they represent the entire party. He said that things needed to change immediately.

He also cited a need for better organisation in rural areas.

‘Open’: Labour leader Brendan Howlin defended his time in charge. Photo: Frank McGrath
‘Open’: Labour leader Brendan Howlin defended his time in charge. Photo: Frank McGrath

Mr Kelly said the party needs to connect with working families again and to demonstrate how they were going to "change their lives".

Ahead of the private address, Mr Kelly said it would be inappropriate for him to call on his party leader to resign.

"Those issues are a matter for internal discussions, but I would never do anything like that. I don't think that is an appropriate way to behave in the first place," he said.

"What I said then and what I am saying now is as a party we need to refocus ourselves as regards to the direction of the party, back to the issues of working people.

"I think the most important part of the discussion is how we are going to do that, to get better traction with the public. Who is leading the party is secondary to making sure the party is going in the right direction."

The behind-closed-doors meeting heard from a number of people dissatisfied with the performance of the party under the current leadership.

One party representative told the meeting that they were knocking on doors and hearing the message from voters that the party had let them down and were "traitors".

The meeting was originally scheduled to last for two hours but ran over this considerably.

Speaking ahead of the heated debate, Mr Howlin said: "The Labour Party is a very open and democratic party. Everyone's views are welcome.

"I said it would be a characteristic of my leadership from the start to be open and inclusive.

"The notion that changing someone's name tag would change things fundamentally, I never believed that.

"We have had more or less the same opinion poll rating in the two elections since 2014. What is required is for us to spell out solutions to people's problems.

"Every member of the party wants the party to thrive. I respect everybody's view.

"From the day I was elected, I know there were some people who would have preferred someone else within the party but we made those decisions.

"We are a small crew of people now who must work together."

Mr Howlin said the party fared well in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, since he took over at the helm.

He said the party needed to "reconnect with people" but that he believed the party would make gains in seat numbers.

"There are 24 really quality candidates in the fray. All of them have a really good chance at getting elected," he said.

Irish Independent

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