Joan Burton ‘stealing a march’ on rivals, say Labour TDs

Deputy Leader seeking support of as many TDs as possible before rivals enter race

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton: popular with grassroots Labour members. Photograph: Eric Luke.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton: popular with grassroots Labour members. Photograph: Eric Luke.

Wed, May 28, 2014, 01:00

Senior Labour TDs say Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is stealing a march on her leadership rivals by attempting to secure the support of as many deputies as possible.

Ms Burton’s supporters said it would be important to get the support of TDs and Senators in the race to be leader, even though the electorate is made up of all members of the party.

However, it is widely acknowledged in Labour circles that Ms Burton’s main weakness is her lack of support in the parliamentary party, with Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Alex White, Minister of State at the Department of Health, seen as more popular among Oireachtas members.

Grassroots Ms Burton’s main strength is seen as her popularity among the party grassroots.

Amid speculation in Leinster House that Mr Howlin will not contest the leadership, sources close to him stressed he had yet to decide whether he would stand. Most TDs and Senators are waiting until all declarations are in before deciding who to support.

Ms Burton, the party’s deputy leader, spent part of yesterday discussing her candidacy – which she will formally declare today – with TDs and Senators in Leinster House, as well as on the phone.

“She’s locking it up, she’s locking it up quite quickly,” one TD said, while adding the “latest Brendan could come on the pitch” was today.

However, a number of senior deputies said there must be a contest for leader, with the mandate coming from members, for the good of the party.

“Whoever is elected they must have a mandate,” party whip Emmet Stagg said. “It would be better for the party if the leader had a mandate from the party, and not just of the parliamentary party.”

Ciaran Lynch, the Cork South-Central TD and chairman of the Oireachtas finance committee, said the election of a new leader “must be one that involves the members and not some trade-off presented to them”.

“I will be deciding on who has the best direction, ideas and plan for the party rather than simply on personalities.”

Ms Burton and Minister of State at the Department of Transport Alan Kelly are the only candidates actively canvassing at this stage in the campaign. Numerous sources suggested Alex White had been damaged by the perception he was involved with the gang of eight who tabled a motion of no confidence in Eamon Gilmore.

Alan Kelly is considering whether to run for leader or deputy leader and said he would make a final decision in the next 24 hours when a clearer picture of the field of candidates emerges.

“There needs to be generational change at some level in the leadership,” the Tipperary TD said. “The decision I will have to make will be for what’s best for the party, not what’s best for Alan Kelly.”

A host of Labour TDs – including Kevin Humphreys, Ciara Conway, Ged Nash and Dominic Hannigan – are considering running for the position of deputy leader.