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The next leader of Labour - ranked from most to least likely

Joan is stepping down, so who’s in the mix to replace her? We rank the contenders…

AFTER MUCH SPECULATION about the future of Joan Burton as Labour leader, the former Tánaiste finally announced today she would step down as head of the party.

A disastrous election saw Burton’s party reduced to just seven TDs. The party barely secured enough members to give it speaking rights in the Dáil.

Labour’s rules state that if the party doesn’t enter government after an election, then the leadership comes up for review.

Under Labour’s constitution, a leadership election must be held within six months of the general election. There are to be nationwide hustings and a postal ballot of its roughly 4,000 members.

But who’s in the running to lead the post-Joan Burton Labour Party?

Here’s our ranking of the contenders, from most to least likely:

Alan Kelly 

Irish general election Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The former Minister for the Environment was in charge of two controversial issues as part of his portfolio – housing and water.

Neither has made him particularly popular with the general public, but despite his headline-making, the minister was re-elected in his constituency of Tipperary.

Kelly told TheJournal.ie today that he would be making his intentions known very soon.

The executive of the party will meet very soon and a process will be announced in terms of an election of a leader. I will make my position very clear once that process is announced.

Kelly has never shied away from the fact that he has his eyes on leadership. During an interview with Niamh Horan in the Sunday Independent, he said he was motivated by a desire for power, stating:

It’s obviously a drug. It’s attractive. It’s something you thrive on. It suits some people. It doesn’t suit others. I think it suits me.

Joan Burton effectively slapped down her deputy leader with a public rebuke after that interview. However, Kelly has changed gear in the last few weeks, making strong Dáil contributions in nearly all of his final ministerial speeches as he lambasted the incoming administration.

First there was his speech on suspending water charges, in which he hit out at both Fianna Fáil and his former coalition partners, Fine Gael, saying the people would “rue” the deal on charges.

Then he told the housing and homelessness committee he was not allowed be as ambitious as he wanted to be as minister. He also threw some shade at other departments for not giving him all the reins to deal with the housing crisis.

He also hit out at his colleagues during the recent mental health debate, when just one Fine Gael TD turned up to hear him speak.

With these strong, opinionated speeches, it seems Kelly’s eyes are very much on the prize.

However, many in the party feel his stock has fallen as a result of the ill-timed interview with the Sunday Independent and the way he celebrated his re-election in Tipperary.

Others say he misjudged the situation with Irish Water. He said  during the campaign that Irish Water wasn’t an issue for most voters. As we know, it nearly became the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to government formation.

So could his misguided judgement of that situation colour opinion on how capable he is to lead the party?

His leadership could be risky, but after the party’s disastrous general election where it had the worst result in its 104-year history, Labour needs to make some noise.

Chances: Most likely to take the leadership

Seán Sherlock 

New Irish Labour Party leader Source: Niall Carson

Another possible contender is former junior minister Seán Sherlock. Rumours persist that the Cork East TD might just put his name forward.

He surprised some observers by finishing second in the deputy leadership race. He also retained his seat in the election, showing he has quiet support within the party.

Sherlock served as junior minister for innovation for the term of the last government. It’s believed he will throw his hat in the ring in the upcoming contest.

Chances: A dark horse, but a possibility

Brendan Howlin

Irish budget 2015 Source: Niall Carson

Back in March, Howlin was tipped to take the leadership post, however, today it is not clear if he will be a contender.

There was speculation he would put his name forward, but only if he was the lone runner.

Speaking today, Howlin said everyone in the party had a role to play, but he would not be drawn on whether he was putting his name forward.

“What my role will be, I’m not sure yet.”

While it’s believed he is not up for an election race, he does have plenty of supporters in the party – with some members calling him the logical choice.

Former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show that he “would attempt to persuade Brendan Howlin” to take up the role.

While he said Howlin may well be persuadable, he was unsure “whether he would be prepared”. Rabbitte also suggested that the leadership question would have been thrashed out behind closed doors while the government formation talks were ongoing.

One thing on the former teacher’s side is experience. Howlin was first elected a TD in 1987. He’s been a minister for health, minister for the environment and most recently the minister for public expenditure and reform.

However, as one source said, the choice between Kelly and Howlin was like “asking should we go for the tiger or the kitten”. Howlin would certainly have the maturity and experience, and would most likely offer the party a solid starting block from which to rebuild.

Chances: Pretty good, if he decides he wants to contend

Jan O’Sullivan

North South Ministerial Council meeting Source: Niall Carson

The Limerick TD did not have the easiest time with her education portfolio, where she faced down criticisms about the reformed Junior Certificate cycle.

However, although many well-known faces from the party lost their seats, O’Sullivan came through unscathed.

With Burton out of the picture, she would be the only woman in contention. 

Chances: Unlikely

Willie Penrose

Irish election Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Willie Penrose was first elected to the Dáil in 1992, so has a lot of political experience.

The Longford-Westmeath TD has recently come out to defend those who have paid their water charges bill, stating they should all get a refund if the charges are scrapped.

A former housing junior minister, he was elected to the Dáil in one of the final seats to be decided after a marathon recount this year.

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of his election he said he was not interested in contesting the race for the leadership.

Chances: Not likely

Brendan Ryan

01/03/2015. Labour - 68th National Conference. Pic

If the party is looking for a new face to front their comeback, maybe Dublin Fingal TD Brendan Ryan is their man.

He has worked in the Seanad and became a TD in 2011.

Unlike, say, Alan Kelly, he has no baggage from the last coalition – but his choice would be extremely unlikely.

Chances: A change of face, but no, very unlikely

Read: Joan Burton is resigning as Labour leader >

Read: Slapped down: Joan Burton insists she IS Alan Kelly’s boss >

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