Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Alan Kelly both running to become new Labour Party leader
All party members have a vote in the contest to replace Brendan Howlin and the poll will take place on April 3rd
He said Labour needs to position itself as the “party of change”, adding: “People don’t look at the Labour Party and see change.
“Who else but the Labour Party have changed Ireland?” he asked in reference to Labour’s record on LGBT rights and women’s rights, among other issues.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime on Tuesday evening, Mr Ó’Ríordáin took a swipe at Mr Kelly’s claim that Labour should go back to the basics of working in the community.
“I think I offer a chance for change for the Labour Party. I have also been a member for almost 20 years and after every election defeat we have said the same thing: we need to work harder, we need to go back to basics, we need to go back into communities and there is candidates from the Labour Party doing that all the time, all the time and yet people don’t look at the Labour Party and see change. And politics has completely changed in Ireland over the past 20 years.”
He defended Labour’s record as a party that brings about change, and called it the party that “modernised Ireland”.
“Who else but the Labour Party have changed Ireland? Who else but the Labour Party have campaigned for rights for workers, for the LGBT community, for women, for gender equality?”
Mr Ó Ríordáin, will launch his campaign on Friday.
All party members have a vote, and postal ballot papers will be issued on March 16th, to be returned by noon on April 3rd, which has been designated polling day. The election count will take place the same day.
Earlier, Tipperary TD Alan Kelly announced that he was running to become the party’s next leader.
Mr Kelly was nominated to succeed Brendan Howlin by TDs Seán Sherlock and Duncan Smith.
Announcing his candidacy in Buswells Hotel in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Kelly said he wanted to restore Labour to the “leadership of the left”.
“This party was founded to advance the interests of workers,” he said. “Now it is time to go back to basics.”
Former TD Jan O’Sullivan will be his director of elections and another ex-TD, Willie Penrose, also endorsed Mr Kelly’s candidacy.
Louth TD Ged Nash earlier ruled himself out of the leadership contest after what he said was a period of “considerable reflection”. Mr Kelly told the launch of his campaign, which was attended by former Labour TDs such as Joanna Tuffy and Robert Dowds, councillors and general election candidates, that he looked forward to a leadership contest.
“I relish a contest. It would be good for the party,” he said.
The former minister for the environment said Labour needs to move past apologising for policies implemented in the past. He said “too many doors were closed to us, too many minds were closed to us” in recent years and that this must change.
“We probably need as a party to just move on. The days of apologising are over,” he added.
When asked if he would lead Labour back into government, Mr Kelly said: “No, we are going to rebuild. We don’t have a mandate to be in government . . . We are though willing to support certain policies if they are being pursued.”
Mr Kelly also said he would co-operate with the Social Democrats, who also have six seats, in the Dáil.
“We’d be open to always co-operating with anyone. As regards ideology, I suppose they are the closest, they are like first cousins to us in fairness, so we certainly would be willing to work with them.
“It is too early to talk about any form of merger or anything like that with the Social Democrats. They are their own party, I respect that. We’ll do our work and we’ll see where things go into the future.”
Mr Nash, who won back his Dáil seat in the general election, said party members and supporters “across the country” had contacted him in recent days to encourage him to contest the election, but he had decided against doing so.
He said his hometown of Drogheda was at present “faced with a particular set of complex challenges”.
“There is a responsibility on my local Dáil colleagues and I to work night and day both locally and nationally to fix them. This is where my immediate focus must lie,” he said.
“I look forward to playing a full and central role in the reorientation, renewal and revitalisation of our party under a new leader.”
Mr Howlin announced last week that he would be stepping down from the position he was elected unopposed to in May 2016. Mr Kelly sought to run for the position at that time but none of his parliamentary colleagues were prepared to second his nomination.
Labour won less than 4.4 per cent of the first preference vote in this month’s general election and returns to the Dáil with six TDs, one fewer than its total after the 2016 election.
Candidates for the leadership will have until Friday to announce they are seeking nominations from Labour’s group of six TDs. An alternate route to nomination, involving constituency organisations, will be open until the following February 28th, although it is not anticipated this will be used.
Polling day is April 3rd, with ballots to be returned on or before that day.