THE leadership of the Labour Party is not the role it once was.
In 2014 the party went on a nationwide tour with hustings, extensive media coverage, and dozens of TDs and Senators doling out endorsements.
However, Joan Burton’s election was followed by two disastrous years as Tánaiste, and Labour’s role in inflicting austerity on the Irish people saw it massacred at the ballot box in 2016. It has not recovered under the leadership of Brendan Howlin, who confirmed he would be resigning on Tuesday.
Mr Howlin assumed the leadership four years ago after he orchestrated the support of five of Labour’s six remaining TDs – with the exception of Alan Kelly, whose ambition for the top job irks many in the party.
Mr Kelly has occasionally chipped away at Mr Howlin’s leadership over the past four years and has never made any secret of his ambition for the top job.
The Tipperary TD’s abrasive style does not always endear him to colleagues, but he has gained widespread plaudits for his work on the Public Accounts Committee. He was also lauded for his work in raising issues around the CervicalCheck debacle, where he worked closely with Vicky Phelan. Indeed, the cancer campaigner has sung his praises and launched his election campaign in Tipperary.
He has a habit of asking questions that tend to generate headlines – an important skill for any politician.
However, Mr Kelly’s championing of Garda Keith Harrison, whose allegations were dismissed as “nonsense” by the Disclosures Tribunal, is a blot on his copybook.
He may face competition for the party leadership from Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the newly-elected Dublin Bay North TD who regained the seat he lost in 2016.
Mr Ó Ríordáin is a former junior justice minister who instigated reforms of the Direct Provision system. In the Seanad he has been an outspoken critic of his former government colleagues in Fine Gael and went viral worldwide with his excoriation of US President Donald Trump as “a fascist”.
Mr Ó Ríordáin has been criticised for objecting to housing developments in his constituency in the midst of one of the country’s worst-ever worst housing crises. Developer Pat Crean’s Marlet group described him as a “serial objector”. Mr Ó Ríordáin has insisted he is acting in his constituents’ interests.
Another man in the running could be Louth TD Gerald ‘Ged’ Nash, who has also regained the Dáil seat he lost four years ago.
Mr Nash is a former super junior minister and set up the Low Pay Commission, which has recommended increases in the minimum wage every year since 2015. He faced a serious battle to regain his Dáil seat in Louth, where the Sinn Féin surge threatened to leave him falling short.
However, the significant media coverage he received for his involvement in local campaigns against gangland crime and improving Drogheda’s water infrastructure helped get him over the line.
Mr Nash was not keen to get involved in talk of a leadership bid as Mr Howlin resigned on Wednesday.
“It’s Brendan’s day,” he said.
The others were also keeping tight-lipped, although another TD who had been considered a contender, Seán Sherlock, is understood to be ruling himself out. This lack of ambition will surprise colleagues who envy his unbroken record of Dáil service since 2007 for the constituency of Cork East.
What marks out all of those likely to enter the race is their relative youth compared to some of their predecessors.
All three men are in their 40s and will be expected to lead the generational renewal of Labour, which is older than the State itself. This is badly needed.
Make no mistake, despite the injection of new-ish blood into its Dáil ranks, the party had a very bad election – recording a lower percentage vote than 2016.
A massive task lies ahead for whoever succeeds Mr Howlin.