Alex White confirms he will contest Labour leadership

Minister of State issues statement in Dublin city centre this morning

Minister of State for Health Alex White TD launches his campaign for leadership of the Labour Party on the Rosie Hackett bridge in Dublin city centre. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Minister of State Alex White has joined Joan Burton in the race to be the next leader of the Labour Party.

Mr White, a Dublin South TD, said Labour had “strained the loyalty” of supporters many times since entering Government and that the scale of its defeat in the local and European elections demonstrated “a clear disconnect with our traditional support base”.

“We have an opportunity now to address the deep crisis for our party - energetically and openly,” he said. “My task - our task - is to make the Labour Party - the party of social democracy - relevant again both to its core constituency and to the people of Ireland.”

Mr White said he was “the right person at the right time” to lead the renewal and restoration of the party and that he could be “a bridge to the new generation that must lead Labour in the coming years”.

Speaking to reporters on the Rosie Hackett Bridge in Dublin, Mr White denied being part of an effort to shaft outgoing leader Eamon Gilmore and said he had not threatened to resign his ministry.

He said he intended to support a motion of no confidence in Mr Gilmore and planned to meet him to tell him so on Monday afternoon, by which time the party leader had announced he was stepping down.

“The question of my continuation in [Ministerial] office would have been a matter for him,” Mr White said. “I’ve discussed the events of last weekend with Eamon. There is no difficulty between us and the matter is closed.”

He paid tribute to “the stellar contribution” made by Mr Gilmore as party leader over the last seven years.

Mr White’s candidacy was proposed by Galway West TD Derek Nolan and seconded by Waterford TD Ciara Conway, who joined Mr White as he announced his intentions on the bridge, which was was named after a veteran of the 1913 Lockout who fought for the Irish Citizen Army in the Easter Rising.

Clare TD Michael McNamara, Senator John Gilroy and Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn, who lost his Dublin City Council seat at the weekend, were also present.

Asked what Mr Gilmore had done wrong, Mr White said he felt “the job of the leader of the Labour Party in government is to be Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party”.

“I think probably at times we needed and will need certainly in the future a bit more of the leader of the Labour Party in terms of our public presentation in terms of what we’re doing and saying in Government.”

Mr White said he did not think it was a foregone conclusion that Ms Burton would be selected to lead the party. “I have a great deal of respect for Joan Burton and regard her as a good friend of mine,” he said.

He said a lot of people in Labour saw somebody from outside the “mainstream leadership” of recent years as being “a better person to take the party forward”.

Ms Burton, TD for Dublin West, is seen as an early favourite but she is counting more on her popularity among grassroot Labour activists than she is on a groundswell of support within the parliamentary party.

While the party membership at large will vote for the new leader, Mr White may seek to garner a higher degree of support among TDs and Senators than Ms Burton as a demonstration of his credentials.

A barrister and a former current affairs producer at RTÉ, he has been a Minister of State since September 2012.

Nominations close on Tuesday. With an electoral contest now assured, three contenders from the younger generation of TDs stepped forward yesterday to declare their candidacy for the deputy leadership.

The first was Minister of State for Transport Alan Kelly, TD for Tipperary North. He was followed by Cork South-West TD Michael McCarthy and Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, TD for Cork East.

Accompanying Mr Kelly was Carlow-Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan, who proposed Ms Burton for the leadership. The combination of Ms Burton and Mr Kelly would be her dream ticket, Ms Phelan said.

Although Mr Kelly himself said Ms Burton would be a “fantastic” leader, he declined to say whether he was backing any particular candidate before nominations close. “I was born into the Labour Party. It’s in my very DNA,” he said.

Mr Kelly was also accompanied by influential Westmeath TD Willie Penrose and Louth TD Ged Nash, one of the first-time deputies who proposed the motion of no confidence in Mr Gilmore.

Mr Sherlock said he wanted to be part of Labour’s process of renewal. “The Government has a mandate and I intend to see that mandate fulfilled so that in 2016 we can hand back to the people an economy and a society that they can be proud of.”