'Reconnect with Labour's core voters' says O'Brien

Tralee-based councillor one of four nationally to openly question strategy of party leader Brendan Howlin

Stephen Fernane

The Labour Party needs to reconnect with its core values and voters. That's the message from Tralee Cllr Terry O'Brien who, last week, was one of four Labour councillors, nationally, to question the strategy of party leader Brendan Howlin. Cllr O'Brien insists his views are not a personal attack on Mr Howlin, but rather an appeal to the party hierarchy to do more to reconnect with its values.

The breaking point for Cllr O'Brien came when a recent MRBI Poll showed Labour at three per cent and dangerously close to extinction. "When I saw the poll I just said to myself 'we're going to go into non-existence if we keep this up'," he said.

"We've seen no impact since the election. Meanwhile, this Dáil isn't really doing much and they're not making any real decisions. Fine Gael are shooting themselves in the foot, Fianna Fáil are backing them up, while Sinn Féin are talking a great deal but nothing is being done.

All the while Labour is suffering. We're just not connecting with the electorate at all," he added. O'Brien's party colleague, Cllr Noel Tuohy from  Laois, was the first to call out Brendan Howlin, and was later joined by councillors Mick Duff and Pamela Kerins (both Dublin South West), and Local Area Representative, Paul O'Brien (Wicklow).

But 16 Labour councillors and  Longford-Westmeath Labour TD Willie Penrose, have since backed Howlin in the heave against him. "Look, I've nothing against Brendan but we just don't see him down here. I want a party leader who is going to visit the constituency and talk to us, and tell Graham [Spring] and I what's going on, and ask us what we need."

Mr O'Brien - who was unsuccessful when contesting the 2007 General Election - said the reaction since he questioned Mr Howlin's leadership has been 'mostly positive'.  He added that only TD Alan Kelly is creating the kind of opposition that's expected from an opposition party. Cllr O'Brien has a solid record in local elections since first elected in 1999 for Labour.

He also topped the poll in town and county elections in 2004, and retained his seat following the party's dismal return in the local elections of 2014.  Cllr O'Brien also cited Kerry's strong Labour voice with TDs representing both the north and south of the county in the past. The fact only two Labour councillors now represent Kerry is a major concern to him.

"I'm looking at the Labour Party in the polls and looking at it locally. I'm just saying that we need an injection of something. Whether it's a change of leadership, or change in format.

We need something. Or are they just going to leave the party die away? If they are they should tell us. It's just not working out what we're doing," he said.