Joan Burton is stepping down as Labour leader

Former tánaiste’s decision puts Alan Kelly and Seán Sherlock in race for party leadership

Joan Burton: will remain as Labour Party leader until a successor is chosen. Internal favourite Brendan Howlin has made it clear he will not contest leadership. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Former tánaiste Joan Burton is to announce she will step down as Labour Party leader today, paving the way for a contest between Alan Kelly and Seán Sherlock to succeed her.

Ms Burton will make her decision known at a meeting of Labour’s parliamentary party on Tuesday afternoon.

She is expected to remain in the position, which she has held for less than two years, until a successor has been chosen.

Wexford TD Brendan Howlin, the former minister for public expenditure, had been the internal favourite to take the role.


However, he made it clear he would not stand in a contest.

Mr Kelly, Labour’s deputy leader, is understood to be seeking support to run for the role and has improved his standing lately after a series of Dáil speeches supporting water charges and criticising the formation of the new Government. Mr Sherlock, a former minister of state, had been eager for Mr Howlin to replace Ms Burton but is now willing to enter a leadership contest.


Under the Labour rules, a leadership election must take place in the aftermath of a general election if the party is not in government. Labour won 37 seats in the 2011 general election but just seven in February.

The party requires each contender to be proposed and seconded by a member of the Dáil. Only seven TDs were returned including Ms Burton. Members of the Seanad are not entitled to propose a candidate, it is understood. If a contest does take place, each member of the party will have a vote.

A source said Ms Burton was “well aware after the election that the overwhelming desire within the party” was for a change in leadership.

“Everybody gave her space and time while the Government was being formed but I think she knew that members would raise it again,” the source said.

‘Cobbled together’

“She knows that we cannot face into another election with her as leader and with the unstable Government that was cobbled together we cannot pinpoint when the next election will be. We have to be ready.”

Ms Burton had promised after the election she would make the best decision for the party and would announce her future after the Government was formed. If she resigns immediately Mr Kelly will replace her as a caretaker leader until an election for a new leader can take place.

Former Labour strategist Pat Magner told Newstalk Mr Sherlock, Mr Kelly and Mr Howlin were in “pole position”, but he would not be surprised if Mr Howlin opted out.

The parliamentary party is also expected to decide which members will be responsible for policy areas in Opposition.

Mr Howlin is expected to shadow his former colleague Michael Noonan in finance and his successor as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe.