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'It's not popular to be in Labour': Party not surprised by Dermot Looney's departure

That’s now 27 councillors who have left the party since it went into government with all of them citing coalition policies as one of their reasons for quitting.

Looney (left) with now former Labour colleagues Oisin Quinn and Carrie Smyth.
Looney (left) with now former Labour colleagues Oisin Quinn and Carrie Smyth.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

SOUTH DUBLIN MAYOR Dermot Looney’s decision to quit the Labour party last night has not come as a surprise to many who have listened to his criticisms of its policies in coalition over the last three years.

The party has now lost 27 councillors, all of whom have directly identified the junior coalition partner’s role in government as the reason for their defection.

The 31-year-old teacher, who represents the Tallaght Central area of south Dublin, had been selected to run for Labour in May’s local elections last year, but said last night he had “no distance left to run” believing the party has “kowtowed” to Fine Gael’s agenda.

Prior to his resignation yesterday, Looney missed the party’s conference last November and according to his now former party colleague in Tallaght Central, Pamela Kearns, he had missed the last eight constituency council meetings as well.

“This is the ideal place to raise concerns because it’s all Labour people but Dermot hasn’t been able to make any of the meetings unfortunately. We even changed our nights to try and accommodate him. So whilst I am not surprised, I don’t remember having any talks about it… which is a bit of a sad thing,” she said.

The timing of Looney’s departure will puzzle some within the party given its rise in the polls, the economic improvement and the belief that almost certain losses at the local elections in the summer will not be as bad as had been feared.

But there was also a sense of inevitability about it given he had always been opposed to the party going into government with Fine Gael and had frequently criticised policies and measures on his Twitter account.

Kearns said: “It has been predicted to be a hard election for any Labour councillor in May and it is because people are hurting and we are all acutely aware of that, but my perspective on it is we are doing our best for the country, not for ourselves.”

She also suggested that Looney’s “big personal vote” may have swayed his decision to now run as an independent in May’s elections given the unpopularity of Labour and noting his high-profile decision to use part of his salary to benefit 50 community groups.

“I imagine he has a strong personal vote,” she said. “It’s not popular to be in the Labour party at the moment.”

A Labour spokesperson said it is now clear “that we are making real progress” and that it’s not about personalities.

“It’s not about those public representatives who have quit the party. It’s about those who have had the courage to stick with it, despite the fact that some very tough decisions have had to be made,” they said.

But some within the party were less diplomatic in their response with Cork South West TD Michael McCarthy tweeting last night:

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Gone: South Dublin mayor resigns from Labour party

Read: The other 26 councillors who have left the Labour Party over its role in government

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Hugh O'Connell

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