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Alan Kelly departure: Why, and why now?

Inside Politics: Issues with Labour leader was most quiet disquiet seen in a party heave

The question on everyone’s lips this morning is why, and why now?

Tipperary TD Alan Kelly announced during an emotional press conference last night that he was resigning as Labour Party leader after his colleagues lost faith in his ability to deliver.

Kelly, a man with a sometimes bullish temperament who is known for speaking his mind, cut a humble and devastated figure during his appearance on the plinth.

Kelly said he was surprised to learn that the party had lost confidence in him and said he would have liked the chance to lead Labour into the next general election. Finding his feet in the aftermath of Covid-19 was a challenge, he said, adding that he had refused to take a populist stance during the pandemic.

The same colleagues who told him the end was nigh gathered around him last night, some appearing oddly stricken, others adopting a solemn expression.

As Miriam Lord points out in her piece today, it "was one of the strangest sign-offs ever witnessed in Leinster House".

It was the most quiet kind of disquiet perhaps ever seen in a party heave and apparently the friendliest coup to boot, as they all headed for pints afterwards.

And yet, as Miriam writes, there exists “the biggest conundrum of all, the one which had everyone baffled. Was brash Alan ‘power is a drug’ AK-47 Kelly really going quietly? Like, really?”

The point has also been made that if the Labour Party kicked leaders out on their ear on the back of polling figures, there would have been many the casualty on a date sooner than this. Especially striking is Kelly’s admission that “within seconds” of being confronted by party members, his decision was made.

Luckily, Jack Horgan-Jones has been on the case. As he reports, sources said that recent meetings of the parliamentary Labour party discussed issues of culture and unhappiness over a recent appointment made to a backroom position within the party.

"The knife was ultimately twisted by three members of the parliamentary party seen as particularly close to him: Dublin Fingal TD Duncan Smith, who Kelly made director of elections for the successful Dublin Bay South byelection, and the party's health spokesman; Cork East TD Seán Sherlock, who backed him for the leadership over Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in 2020; and Senator Mark Wall, a staunch backer of Kelly through and through."

While meetings were called last week to discuss party performance including in the polls, Horgan-Jones reports that “the immediate trigger, sources said, was unhappiness among members over the manner of an appointment made to a backroom position within the party”.

Last Thursday Kelly met with the disaffected members and while he wasn’t told he had to go, he was asked to reflect on his position. Texts flew over the weekend. A wider meeting of party members was held to strategise on Sunday. On Tuesday of this week Smith, Wall and Sherlock delivered their verdict: time is up.

Politics being the unsentimental business that it is, talk has already turned to his successor. Dublin Bay South TD Ivana Bacik has emerged as a front-runner.

Kelly will remain on in the interim until the new leader is installed. Until then, many questions remain.

War in Ukraine

The crisis in Ukraine dominated the parliamentary party meetings of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil last night. Cormac McQuinn's report is here.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned the war could become even more violent and difficult in weeks to come. The meeting was also told that Russian diplomatic expulsions from Dublin are being considered. For his part, Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Russian president Vladimir Putin as an "evil dictator" who is committing "shocking war crimes" in Ukraine.

Notably, earlier in the day, Mr Martin said neutrality is a "policy issue that can change at any time". Mr Martin said the Constitution is very clear that formal participation in European common defence would require a referendum.

"We're politically part of the European Union. We support the ideas of self-determination, sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom of association, free media, free trade, basic rights. It's under attack now. And it's under pressure from authoritarian regimes like Russia, and it would be naive in the extreme not to reflect on that."

His comments were not unexpected but they signify that there is a debate to be had and decisions to be made that could change Ireland’s place in the world and the future of the country.

Meanwhile, a Cabinet sub-committee of Ministers will meet today to co-ordinate on the humanitarian response to the crisis.

Dan McLaughlin, who has been doing tireless reporting from Ukraine, writes that a second round of tentative talks between Ukraine and Russia are scheduled for today, a week after the Kremlin launched an invasion that the UN says has prompted some 900,000 Ukrainians to flee their homeland, most of them into neighbouring European Union countries.

In its first emergency session since 1997, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly for a resolution, stating that it “deplores” Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine”. Some 141 of its 193 members backed the resolution and only five opposed it, showing just how isolated Russia is becoming on the world stage.

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Playbook

Dáil Éireann
The Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan takes questions on his brief at 9am followed by questions for the Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien at 10.30am.

Leaders’ Questions is pencilled in for noon, with Alan Kelly still in the hot seat before a successor is appointed.

The Institutional Burials Bill 2022 is back up in the afternoon as well as statements on the report of the special Oireachtas Committee on the Key Issues Affecting the Traveller Community. The Dáil adjourns just before 9pm.

The full and more detailed schedule can be found here.

Seanad
It won't be a particularly long day in the Seanad today.

Commencement Matters are pencilled in for 10.30am followed by the Order of Business.

There will then be a motion to call for the earlier signing of a Bill to help homes with energy costs and then a cross-party motion expressing support for Ukraine.

The Seanad adjourns at 3.45pm.

The full schedule is here.

Committees
It's a big day for Ivana Bacik in more than one way as the Joint Committee on Gender Equality kicks off its work. Members will discuss the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality with Dr Catherine Day, chairwoman of the assembly.

The Public Accounts Committee meets at 9.30am.

The Joint Committee on Disability Matters will also meet with the Minister of State Josepha Madigan while the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Belfast Agreement will discuss the special EU programmes body.

All the specifics are here.