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Howlin's leadership under the spotlight as Labour think-in gets underway

Alan Kelly’s recent comments about Howlin’s leadership will be a topic of conversation today in Drogheda.

Kelly (background) has been critical of Brendan Howlin's tenure as leader
Kelly (background) has been critical of Brendan Howlin's tenure as leader
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

FOLLOWING ON THE theme of recent gatherings of political parties plotting their routes into the future, Labour begins its think-in today – but it comes against the backdrop of a challenge to Brendan Howlin’s leadership.

Conversations behind closed doors at the D Hotel in Drogheda are sure to focus on the recent comments from Tipperary TD Alan Kelly, who effectively called on Howlin to resign as leader.

Pressure has been mounting on Howlin in recent weeks since a large number of councillors signed their name to a letter calling for him to stand down. 

The party’s low polling numbers will also be a concern to Labour two years on from its mauling at the polls in the 2016 general election.

With the party polling around 6% or lower consistently in recent times, an election in the near future could see the party scrapping to save its seven seats.

Howlin has suggested, however, that Labour could double its seats at the next election despite these less than favourable poll numbers.

In that Tipp FM interview at the end of August, Kelly said Howlin is not the right man to lead the party.

At present the party is in a “very difficult situation”, he added. 

Kelly said the Labour Party needs to “change the direction of the party” while also pointing out the party needs a “different vision” and more “energy”. 

The Tipperary TD said the “radical shake-up” is needed to ensure the party is in a good position ahead of the next election, stating that change is needed in order to “bring people with us”. 

“At this moment in time that is no happening,” he said, adding that he also sees no plans to make it happen. 

Speaking about a change of leadership, he said: 

It does need that significant change, yes…
I think Brendan needs to consider what is best for the Labour Party into the future.
I certainly believe from a leadership point of view after two and a half years we haven’t been able to turn the ship around. We haven’t even looked like we’re turning the ship around.

Howlin shot back that Kelly’s comments were “unhelpful” and he was “disappointed” to hear them.

The Labour leader said he took on the leadership of the party under the “full understanding of how difficult it was going to be”. He added that he understood there is a “base group of people the party needs to reconnect to”. 

Kelly’s comments also gave the impression that the Labour party is not “settled”, he added.

Party chairperson Willie Penrose also said he was disappointed with Kelly’s comments.

“The Labour Party has had three leaders in the space of five years,” he said. “Having a fourth leader is not going to magically improve our poll ratings.

No one is sanguine about the poll figures, but Irish politics is still in a state of flux and, as a smaller party, Labour’s first preference score is affected by the range of new options open to voters. It is a much more competitive environment with new, smaller left and centre-left parties out there.

Howlin will address the party membership at the think-in today and also face questions from the media in the afternoon.

The Dáil resumes on Tuesday. 

With reporting from Christina Finn

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Sean Murray

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