Labour should let Howlin outline his plans, Joan Burton says
Former tánaiste declines to say whether she supports party leader continuing in his role
Brendan Howlin. Joan Burton said it would be ‘unfair’ if his leadership was discussed before he outlines how Labour will increase its popularity, and win more local authority seats, next spring. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
However, Ms Burton declined to say at this stage if she supports the Wexford TD continuing in his position, adding that she wanted to listen to the views of people across the party.
The Dublin West TD largely stayed out of the process to elect Mr Howlin, her successor, over two years ago.
The former tánaiste’s comments come after 14 councillors sent Mr Howlin a letter late on Friday seeking an “urgent meeting” to discuss the direction of the party, as well as its “leadership and the need for change”.
A separate group of 16 councillors – out of total of 50 – previously signed a letter in which they said they did not “feel this is the right time for a change”.
Mr Howlin has insisted he will not stand down. Alan Kelly, the Tipperary TD who has aspirations to lead the party, wrote in the Sunday Independent: “The public perceives an absence of leadership from Labour in challenging economic inequality within the State.”
However, he did not specifically mention Mr Howlin and also declined to respond to requests for comment to elaborate further.
Ms Burton said that all of those debating the future of Labour have the best interests of the party at heart, and said councillors had been invited to the pre-Dáil think-in next month.
“The meeting should focus on how the Labour Party proposes to increase its share of the vote and win council seats and Oireachtas seats,” Ms Burton said.
She added it would be “unfair” if Mr Howlin’s leadership was discussed before he outlines how Labour will increase its popularity, and win more local authority seats, next spring.
“It would appear at this point that the local and European elections are going to come before the general election,” she said. “I would like to hear what everyone has to say.”
When asked if the discussion should include the question of the leadership itself, Ms Burton said: “I want to wait and hear what people have to say.”
‘Thirst for change’
Longford Westmeath TD Willie Penrose said that changing leader would do nothing but “satisfy a thirst for change”.
Mr Penrose, who is retiring from politics at the next election, said he “didn’t see anything new” in Mr Kelly’s article, adding that the party has already moved to champion a “bread and roses” approach of focusing on basic issues of concern to voters, such as the cost of living.
Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said Labour could put itself at the centre of the next election debate by outlining a series of demands for supporting a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael-led government.
Mr Ó Ríordáin, who is seeking re-election to the Dáil in Dublin Bay North, is seen as Mr Kelly’s main rival for the leadership, but Labour rules say the leader must be a TD.
In what is seen as a swipe at Mr ÓRíordáin, Mr Kelly also wrote: “Too many in Labour are concerned with a quick return to government, a hope that a future potential administration will fall short of a majority and need the support of Labour.
“Frankly, the last thing on anyone’s mind in Labour should be an immediate return to government in any circumstances.”