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Howlin: Labour will quit coalition if its influence is not strong enough

The public expenditure minister says suggestions that Labour are in political trouble are premature.

A LABOUR MINISTER has said his party will “walk out of government” if it feels its influence in the coalition is not strong enough – but insisted his party remains influential in the running of the country.

Brendan Howlin told he was not concerned about any public anger at Labour over its actions in government, dismissing opinion polls in which his party’s share of the vote has halved since the 2011 election.

“A lot of people will criticise Labour anyway,” the minister said, “but I think there is a robust base for understanding that Labour’s role in this government is to make the difficult economic adjustments in as fair a way as possible.”

Howlin said some would only ever treat a policy as ‘fair’ if it did not personally effect them – but that “in the cold light of day, when people examine it, the very real input of the Labour Party in ensuring that our economic recovery is constructed in a fair way to those who have a fair mind to look at it.”

Asked if he felt Labour was acting as a strong enough brake on Fine Gael’s power, Howlin said Labour only accounted for a third of ministers and a third of the government’s Dáil representation, “so I don’t want to say we dominate economic policy”.

He added:

But we have a very strong influence in it. The day we come to the conclusion that our influence is not strong enough is the day we walk out of government.

Howlin also commented that while it was rare in modern history for a government to win a by-election, the current government had won both by-elections held during its term – Labour’s Patrick Nulty winning in Dublin West, and Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee in Meath East.

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“Anybody who looks at the performance in by-elections understands that they bear no relationship to the general election,” Howlin said, claiming that most by-elections were contested by “a favoured candidate of government and a favoured candidate of opposition”.

“Just as Fine Gael were fourth in the Dublin West by-election, I don’t think anybody wrote them off immediately at that stage,” he said.

Read: ‘There’s no point in pretending that this is a Labour Govt’ – Labour TD

More: Labour conference to be held in November despite calls for earlier date

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Gavan Reilly

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