Saturday 16 December 2017

Two sides dig in as battle for Labour chair hots up

It's a 'war for the soul of party' as members at odds with leadership

John Drennan

John Drennan

The battle within Labour over who will be the next party chairperson is evolving into a trial of strength between supporters and opponents of the struggling Labour Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

In an indication of the growing divide within the party, one senior Labour figure described the bitter internal row as "the last kick of old Labour. If we lose, the Stickies (Democratic Left supporters) will have fully taken over," he said.

The two candidates are the veteran party activist and former general secretary Ray Kavanagh and Lorraine Mulligan.

Ms Mulligan, who replaced Colm Keaveney after his tumultuous resignation from the post, currently works for Siptu and is perceived to be the leadership choice.

One source acidly told the Sunday Independent: "She is being squired around the place by Gilmore's men, she has the support of Siptu and the Democratic Left wing of the party."

Mr Kavanagh denied he was the anti-Gilmore candidate and said his priority was to "rebuild the connection between the leadership and ministers, a sense of trust and common purpose has to be rebuilt, that has been lost in the last two years".

He added that: "It is important that the chair of Labour not be seen to be too closely associated with the upper echelons.

"That is why I'm running as an independent."

However, other sources claimed: "This is a war for the soul of Labour between the Stickies and old Labour – people are fed up of the strong arm of Democratic Centralism."

In an indication of escalating discontent, another senior Labour figure said: "It's not just councillors who are leaving Labour now, the membership are doing what they have never done before, previously in times of trouble they stayed and fought, now they are leaving en masse."

The Labour figure added: "There is a total cleavage between the leadership and the members over what Labour are doing in government and Gilmore's style."

Commenting on the race, Mr Kavanagh admitted his electoral strength would probably lie with local councillors.

"Most, I hope, are with me. Councillors more than anyone else know what it is like on the ground."

Though Mr Gilmore has stressed that he intends to remain neutral when it comes to the race, one rebel Labour source said: "There is no doubt the leadership is determined to get their man, it would represent a serious rebuff if for the second conference in a row the leader's choice is not selected."

But in an indication of real tensions within the party, the Labour TD Robert Dowds, who is not attached to any party faction, was contacted by the Labour hierarchy after issuing a statement of support for Mr Kavanagh.

Mr Dowds said: "At a time when the party leadership is not paying sufficient attention to the membership, Labour needs a chairperson who will not let anyone in the party hierarchy forget that it is Labour members who are the foundations of the party, and that their views must be listened to by the leadership."

Mr Dowds confirmed that there had "been a meeting where I made it very clear the great respect I [have for] Eamon Gilmore and the Cabinet".

Sunday Independent

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