Saturday 17 March 2018

Labour members demand leadership election

Frontrunners: Brendan Howlin (left) and Alan Kelly
Frontrunners: Brendan Howlin (left) and Alan Kelly
Brendan Howlin. Photo: Tom Burke

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

The Labour Party is facing growing demands to ensure that a contest takes place to elect the next leader as tensions grow between the two frontrunners, Brendan Howlin and Alan Kelly.

A number of former TDs and party members have expressed serious concern over the prospect of Mr Howlin, inset top, being appointed without an election taking place.

Last night, it emerged former Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is poised to support Mr Kelly's candidacy after coming under pressure from her supporters to ensure a contest takes place.

All seven Labour TDs held a meeting behind closed doors in Leinster House to discuss the leadership and the future of the party.

The meeting is due to reconvene today, ahead of Friday's deadline for nominations.

Influential former TD Mary Upton, who is leading a review into the party's election performance, told the Irish Independent last night members are "anxious" that a contest takes place. "It would be a real pity for the Labour Party if it did not act in a sufficiently democratic and transparent manner. I believe it would be good for the party at this juncture if the membership decided on the next leader," she said.

Alan Kelly. Photo: Tony Gavin
Alan Kelly. Photo: Tony Gavin

And a letter signed by 19 members was sent to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) chairman Willie Penrose yesterday, insisting any TD who wishes to contest the election should be facilitated by the party.

The letter was posted on a secret Labour Facebook page where members have been venting their anger over the prospect of a leader being appointed without a ballot.

The Facebook page states that there must be a "democratic contest" to select the next leader in order to "understand and respond to the defeat" the party suffered in the General Election. "There must be a debate; there must be informed reflection and everyone must be involved. We cannot entertain the notion that a party leader can be imposed over the heads of the members of the Labour Party. This is not the time for a stitch-up, this is the time for a vote," it adds.

The Irish Independent understands some members have written on the private page threatening to leave the Labour Party and join the Social Democrats if a leadership contest is not held.

One member is understood to have said: "If a small group of people deny a membership vote where there is more than one candidate putting themselves forward, this is in my opinion a serious breach of the spirit of the Labour Party constitution."

Another member added: "We cannot have an à la carte constitution. That is for the likes of Vladimir Putin. We are surely better than that."

In the letter to Mr Penrose, members said appointing a leader without a ballot is "the wrong course of action. We are firmly of the opinion that any TD who wishes to contest the leadership election should be facilitated with a nomination by his/her colleagues in the PLP and that a vote of members should then take place," it said.

"This is the most equitable way of ensuring that the membership has a full voice in who is to become the next leader of our party, especially after what was a bruising election," it added.

Mr Kelly, inset bottom, is adamant that he wants to contest the leadership. However, in recent days there have been doubts over whether he can secure the support of a seconder for a nomination.

Irish Independent

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