“I will always support the Labour Party,” Alan Kelly told reporters on the Leinster House plinth as he resigned its leadership on Wednesday night. However, the brutal reality made clear by his surprise resignation is that his party – or at least the parliamentary party – did not support him.
Mr Kelly’s two-year term as leader of the party was brought to an abrupt end on Tuesday, when a delegation of three members visited him to deliver a blunt message: your time is up.
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.
Concerns over the culture within the party were aired, as was the party's recent moribund polling
“Once the lads came to me, I think within seconds, I said ‘Yeah, let’s just work [the departure] through’,” Kelly said on Wednesday evening.
However, Kelly cannot have been entirely shocked. Last week was punctuated by two tense meetings of the parliamentary party. Firstly, on Wednesday, an emergency meeting was called. Not all members were there – Kelly wasn’t either – but a range of issues were discussed.
Concerns over the culture within the party were aired, as was the party’s recent moribund polling. These built on other conversations that had been happening in recent weeks within and between members of the parliamentary party, but the immediate trigger, sources said, was unhappiness among members over the manner of an appointment made to a backroom position within the party.
The group resolved to meet Kelly the next day, Thursday. The meeting took place at lunchtime in the Labour rooms in Leinster House. All the above issues were raised with Kelly, who became emotional during the meeting. He wasn’t told he had to go – he was asked to reflect on it.
Volleys of texts and WhatsApp messages were exchanged between Labour members in the days that followed, culminating in a meeting on Sunday of members of the parliamentary party – some in person, gathered in Dublin, and others dialling in remotely. Sources said the decision was made to approach Kelly on Monday, and deliver the verdict of his colleagues to him. However, it wasn’t until Tuesday that Smith, Wall and Sherlock went to him.
Labour cut the press conference short, leaving the firm impression that Kelly's departure was both unexpected and remained to be fully explained
In Kelly’s own telling, it was a quick decision, and they told their colleagues afterwards that their leader had agreed to go. He was to do so on Thursday morning, but word escaped around Leinster House on Wednesday, and amid a barrage of media queries, the date was brought forward.
During a heartfelt speech on Wednesday, during which he became occasionally emotional when thanking his team and family, he explained his resignation followed “a number of frank discussions” and took place against the backdrop of poor polling, while he couldn’t get into his stride during the pandemic, he said.
Labour cut the press conference short, and did not respond to detailed questions about his departure on Wednesday, leaving the firm impression that Kelly’s departure was both unexpected and remained to be fully explained.