Labour members’ performance ‘not good enough’ – Alan Kelly

Private think-in hears calls for party leader Brendan Howlin to stand aside

 Labour TD Alan Kelly: “Happy for anyone to lead us into the next election” as long as the party  targets the right policies and improves its performance. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Labour TD Alan Kelly: “Happy for anyone to lead us into the next election” as long as the party targets the right policies and improves its performance. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Labour TD Alan Kelly has rounded on his Leinster House party colleagues by telling them their performance is “not good enough”.

Mr Kelly made his comments at the conclusion of a special session at the Labour pre-Dáil think-in in Drogheda, which also heard calls for party leader Brendan Howlin to stand aside.

Sources said the mood of the meeting was largely supportive of Mr Howlin, however. TDs, Senators and councillors were in attendance.

Mr Kelly said Labour must reconnect with working people with radical policies in areas such as childcare.

“We need a moment to reconnect with working people,” he said. “We are the Labour Party. We are not the Liberal Party.”

‘Elephant in the room’

Earlier, a former Labour minister called Mr Kelly the “elephant in the room”. Kathleen Lynch, who served as a minister of state in the Department of Health in the Fine Gael-Labour government, asked Mr Kelly whether he had anything to say on the leadership issue.

Mr Kelly effectively called for Mr Howlin to stand aside last month, telling his local radio station, Tipp FM: “I think Brendan needs to consider what is best for the Labour Party into the future.”

Sources said Mr Kelly did not immediately reply to Ms Lynch, the former Cork North Central TD who is seeking to regain her Dáil seat at the next election. However, he responded at the end of the meeting and challenged his parliamentary colleagues to improve their performance.

“The performance of the parliamentary party is not good enough,” he said. “Dare I say it, we need more members of the parliamentary party out in the media.”

Such media appearances, he said, mean the entire party is being represented nationally. He also called for greater organisational support for rural candidates.

Cork East TD Seán Sherlock is understood to have made a veiled criticism of Mr Kelly, although did he not mention the Tipperary TD by name.

In his opening address to the think-in, which also discussed the budget and the economy, Mr Howlin said he was proud to have been elected leader in 2016.

“And I will continue to lead, outlining the values and beliefs of Labour in clear language.”

Mr Howlin was directly told by one councillor, Mick Duff from south Dublin, that he had no confidence in his leadership. Mr Duff said he had a mandate from his local organisation to express such concerns.

Another councillor, Noel Tuohy from Laois, told Mr Howlin he was “indifferent” to his leadership, and claimed others in the room would agree with such a sentiment.

Mr Duff and Mr Tuohy were both signatories to a letter sent by 14 councillors earlier this year calling for a change of leadership.

Before the behind-closed-doors debate at the D Hotel in Drogheda, Mr Howlin said voters are more concerned with issues such as the housing crisis than politicians debating their own positions.

Enough ‘sneering’

In the private debate, George Lawlor, a councillor from Wexford, said the leadership issue did not just arise over the summer but had been developing over recent years. He said Labour had to put up with enough “sneering” from its opponents without people within the party criticising it too.

Mr Lawlor criticised Mr Tuohy for a number of interviews he gave in recent weeks questioning Mr Howlin’s position. He characterised some of the criticism by Mr Tuohy and others as an “onslaught”.

Others criticised some of their colleagues for airing their concerns over the party in the media, and said Sinn Féin is gathering support from former Labour voters.

Asked whether he is happy for Mr Howlin to lead the party into the next election, Mr Kelly said he would be “happy for anyone to lead us into the next election” as long as the party was targeting the right policies and improving its performance.