Ivana Bacik the firm favourite to lead Labour after Alan Kelly’s shock exit

Poor polling and unhappiness with party culture seen as key reasons for departure

Dublin Bay South TD Ivana Bacik is being tipped as the firm favourite to become the next leader of the Labour Party following the shock resignation of Alan Kelly from the post on Wednesday.

Mr Kelly said it had been “the best political day of my life” when he became leader and that he had been eager to lead the party into a general election.

He spoke of his surprise at learning that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues in the parliamentary party on Tuesday. He acknowledged that there had been concerns about Labour’s polling performance and that the move followed a “number of frank discussions in recent weeks”.

Sources said on Wednesday 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.

Mr Kelly’s near two-year period in charge of the party was marked by the high point of Ms Bacik’s success in the Dublin Bay South byelection. The party also secured the election of its Seanad candidates, but he failed to spark a revival in Labour’s standing in the polls.

Becoming emotional

Several party sources said Ms Bacik is the likely next leader, with one saying she is the “only candidate”. Mr Kelly said that a new leader will take up the reins shortly, and that he will stay on in the interim.

Becoming occasionally emotional as he expressed thanks to his family and co-workers, Mr Kelly said that the party had not got the “bounce” he had hoped for in the past two years and that he felt restricted in his capacity as leader during the pandemic.

“It is also a reality that it had been hard for us, as a party, very much associated with the term 2011-2016 and for those of us involved in that government, to move on, and I think it’s time now we did,” he said.

He promised to back the new leader, and said that while he was saddened by the decision, “I must respect it”. Flanked by the full parliamentary Labour party, he said he had “no interest in a rancorous or divisive debate”.

“When a new leader is elected in a few short weeks, I guarantee I will do everything I can to support that leader, and the party [as] I have done all my life,” he said. “I will always support the Labour Party.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times