Burton pulls ahead with support of 17 TDs and Senators

Only five have endorsed sole rival Alex White in Labour Party leadership contest

Minister Joan Burton: Her key messages to members will relate to living standards and easing the burden on middle and lower-income families. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Minister Joan Burton: Her key messages to members will relate to living standards and easing the burden on middle and lower-income families. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 01:00

The early momentum behind Joan Burton’s bid for the Labour leadership is gathering pace with a growing number of TDs and Senators publicly declaring their support.

Yesterday, four TDs – Gerald Nash, Anne Ferris, Seán Kenny and Arthur Spring – endorsed Ms Burton, taking the number of parliamentarians supporting her to 17, compared with five for her rival, Alex White.

Before the noon deadline for declarations yesterday, Mr Spring also announced he would not seek election to a leadership position.

Sources close to Mr White conceded he will face an uphill struggle to defeat Ms Burton, but said the campaign has nearly five weeks to run and the leadership would be decided by ordinary party members.

Mr White’s supporters said the five official leadership hustings and other meetings for members around the country over the next month would play to his strengths and help equalise the contest.

Ms Burton’s key messages to members will relate to living standards and easing the burden on middle and lower-income families. She has already said she may oppose the planned €2 billion budgetary adjustment in October.

White campaign

Mr White is expected to unveil his key messages today ahead of an intensive campaign directed at the party’s membership. Some of his messages may be like Ms Burton’s but he may say her experience is no advantage to a party in need of renewal.

Yesterday, Mr White refused to rule out the possibility Labour could go into government with Sinn Féin after the next election. “I don’t think there is any party in the Dáil that we can afford to exclude, including Sinn Féin,” he said.

In the contest for the deputy leader position, Tipperary North TD and Minister of State for Transport Alan Kelly is said by colleagues to be the clear frontrunner, although fewer parliamentarians in the party have declared their hands in terms of an endorsement.

Deputy leader

The other candidates are Minister of State for Innovation and Research Seán Sherlock; the chairman of the Oireachtas environment committee Michael McCarthy; and the Waterford TD Ciara Conway.

The majority of Labour parliamentary party members who have publicly declared have said they will support Ms Burton, with Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan the latest to do so.

Of Labour TDs and Senators contacted yesterday, 17 said they would support Ms Burton, with five backing Mr White. The remaining members of the 43-strong parliamentary party either did not return calls or declined to reveal who they would support.

The TDs who have declared for Ms Burton so far are Ann Phelan, Joanna Tuffy, Robert Dowds, John Lyons, Michael Conaghan, Eamonn Maloney, Mr Spring, Mr Kenny, Mr Nash, Ms Ferris, Ms O’Sullivan and Ms Burton herself.

The Senators voting for the Dublin West TD are John Whelan, Ivana Bacik, Susan O’Keeffe, John Kelly and Marie Moloney.

Derek Nolan, Ms Conway and Mr McNamara have said they will support the junior health minister’s candidacy, as will Senator John Gilroy and Mr White himself.

Sources in the White camp believe he will have a good chance of winning over to his side the old Democratic Left faction of the Labour Party, which includes Dublin South Central TD Eric Byrne and Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte.

The sources said Mr White will keep Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin in his current portfolio if he wins. Ms Burton’s camp also said Mr Howlin would be kept in position, which means he would retain his post on the Economic Management Council. However, despite overtures to the Wexford TD from both candidates, his spokeswoman insisted he would not publicly endorse anyone.

Some TDs and Senators remain undecided. Dublin North TD Brendan Ryan said he believed “members should decide for themselves without Oireachtas members’ influence”.

The poll will be held by postal ballot with the count taking place on July 4th. While the leadership will be decided by a one-member one-vote election by the party’s 5,000 members, the candidates are hoping to win the support of as many TDs and Senators as possible.