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Labour's next leader, from most to least likely

Joan Burton is safe for now but who’s in the mix to replace her? We rank the contenders…

File Photo TANAISTE JOAN BURTON will be a key witness in the expected trial of several of those involved in the controversial anti water charges protest in Jobstown last November. More than 20 people are expected to be charged by the Director of Public Pr

IT’S NOT THAT long ago that Labour changed its leader but Joan Burton, whose been in the job for just over a year, could come under pressure after the next election if her party performs poorly.

The junior coalition partner will almost certainly lose seats at the next general election but the extent of the damage will dictate what future, if any, the Dublin West TD has as Labour’s first female leader.

Should she step down there are no shortage of contenders vying to replace her. The problem is whether any of them will still be TDs after the country has its say. In assessing her likely successors this is one of the key factors that comes into play as only members of the Dáil are eligible to stand for Labour leader.

As you may remember from last year, Labour has a simple one member-one vote system of electing a leader with some 5,000 members eligible. They rank their preferred candidates in order of preference with the count a pretty transparent affair that is open to the media.

So who’s in the mix post-Joan Burton? Here’s our ranking of Labour’s next leader from most to least likely…

Alan Kelly

24/8/2015 Kelly visits Trust Homeless Services Source: Leah Farrell

The self-styled ‘Action Man’ has made no secret of his desire for the top job in Labour, a party which he often notes is “in my DNA”. He almost went for it last summer before calculating that he would not be in a position to beat Joan Burton, instead standing in and winning the deputy leadership contest.

This time around the Tipperary TD is undoubtedly the best-placed of all the contenders to succeed Burton. He has the added advantage of being one of the few Labour TDs who has a good chance of retaining their seat.

Kelly’s style doesn’t always please his party colleagues, but the members were loving him at the last party conference. When asked back then if he would like to lead Labour one day, he responded: “Yes, of course, at some time into the future.”

Chances: It’s hard to see beyond The Alan Kelly Show. 

Ged Nash

11/8/2015 Living Wages Forums Source: Leah Farrell

As a super junior minister, the Louth TD gets to sit at cabinet and has been fairly prominent in the media since his elevation last summer. Well-liked and hard-working, Nash has been banging the drum for a minimum wage increase since he took his portfolio in the Department of Jobs, knowing it’s appeals to Labour’s trade union supporters.

He’s hoping that will go some way towards retaining his seat in the competitive five-seater where Gerry Adams is also a TD. Again, he is one of the few Labour TDs who has a decent shot at hanging on, putting him in a good position to challenge for the leadership next time out.

Chances: If Kelly’s fortunes dip, he could be in pole position. 

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

22/09/2014. Citizenship Ceremonies . Pictured Mini Source: Sam Boal

The equalities minister has a tough job on his hands to retain his Dáil seat in the new Dublin Bay North constituency where five sitting TDs are battling it out for five seats and Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin expected to perform strongly. If he does hang on then he’ll definitely be among the leadership frontrunners.

While not always the most popular the former school principal is definitely among the most ambitious of the 2011 intake. His ascent to a prominent junior ministerial portfolio means he has maintained a profile that does his leadership chances no harm.

Chances: If he keeps his seat, he’s among the contenders. 

Brendan Howlin

14/7/2015. Cabinet Meetings Source: Sam Boal

The veteran Labour TD and cabinet minister has been here before having twice gone for and failed to win the Labour leadership. He declined calls in some quarters to put his name forward last year, and appears to have ruled out any future bids.

But, as perhaps one of the only Labour TDs who is nearly certain of retaining their seat, Howlin could be the compromise, stability candidate in the post-election fallout. If, as current polls suggest, Labour returns with fewer than 10 TDs there is an argument to say that the Wexford deputy offers the sort of calm presence and experience the party will need.

Chances: Could be the safe pair of hands Labour needs.

Seán Sherlock

9/6/2014 Labour Party Leadership Contests Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

The junior foreign minister surprised some observers by finishing second in the deputy leadership race last summer. It was indicative of the quiet support he has built up among members. Sherlock has a relatively low-profile but isn’t lacking in ambition. The Cork East TD is also well-placed to retain his seat.

Chances: A dark horse.

Alex White

12/9/2014. Digital Ireland Forums Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Having run for the leadership last summer, the Communications Minister would seemingly be an obvious contender next time around but his biggest problem will be keeping his seat.

Very few people think that White can retain his Dublin Rathdown (formerly Dublin South) Dáil seat which means he’ll be out of a job after the next election. But there’s no doubt he’s one of the party’s sharpest minds which means if he defies the odds he’ll be in the mix.

Chances: Slim, unless he holds his seat.

Jan O’Sullivan

13/8/2014. Leaving Cert Exams Results Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

The Limerick TD is not having the easiest time of it in the education portfolio where she continues the reforms introduced by Ruairí Quinn while facing down the unions.

But should she emerge unscathed and keep her seat O’Sullivan would be one of the few women in contention for the top job. However, at 64, she may feel the party needs younger blood.

Chances: Age will count against her.

Ivana Bacik

19/3/2013 Labour Publishes Marriage Equality Bills Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Labour’s Seanad leader is highly-rated by the party and just missed out on a Dáil seat in 2011. It’s not clear whether she will run in the next election and even if she does – most likely in Dublin Bay South – she’d be an outside bet for a seat. But if Bacik defied expectations and made it into the Dáil then she’d be well-placed to mount a leadership bid.

Chances: Unlikely.

Read: Fianna Fáil’s next leader, from most to least likely

Read: Fine Gael’s next leader, from most to least likely

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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