The Irish Times view on Alan Kelly’s resignation: The long road back

Labour has made an important contribution to Irish politics for more than a century and Irish democracy would be well served by a revival in the party’s fortunes

The sudden departure of Alan Kelly as Labour Party leader, after only two years in the job, came as a bolt from the blue but there was something inevitable about it nonetheless. The party has been languishing at a dangerously low level of support in the opinion polls and Kelly has struggled to make an impression in the Dáil or connect with the wider public.

To be fair he had a near impossible task on his hands when he took over as party leader two years ago. Attempting to carve out a distinctive role between the three-party government on the one hand and the abrasive opposition style of Sinn Féin was never going to be easy.

In the Dáil Kelly oscillated between loud bombast and more considered efforts to offer an alternative to government policy. Yet he failed to make a significant impression on the public consciousness. As Kelly himself observed in his dignified departure speech, Labour has struggled to make itself relevant since the party’s participation in government from 2011 to 2016. The party’s botched handling of the leadership role in recent years has contributed to that decline.

Eamon Gilmore, who led the party into government, was forced by panicked TDs to resign after poor European and local election results in 2014. Things went from bad to worse under his successor Joan Burton and contributed to the election meltdown of 2016. Brendan Howlin was then reluctantly pressed into service when Kelly couldn't get a seconder in the diminished parliamentary party. After another poor election in 2020 Kelly was given his chance but ran up against the same problems as his three predecessors.

It seems inevitable that Ivana Bacik, who won the Dublin Bay South byelection in spectacular style last year will now take over the leadership mantle. She is an experienced politician with a strong and positive public profile but she faces a mammoth task in trying to reverse a decade of decline. Labour has made an important contribution to Irish politics for more than a century and Irish democracy would be well served by a revival in the party's fortunes.