herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Joan defends deputy leader after 'angry' outburst over Lowry's Newstalk interview

Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly and Tanaiste Joan Burton (INM)
Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly and Tanaiste Joan Burton (INM)

Tánaiste Joan Burton has been forced to defend her deputy leader's behaviour for fear that it is overshadowing the party's message.

The Labour Party leader laughed off suggestions that a vote for Labour was a vote for Alan Kelly as Tanaiste.

Ms Burton also reaffirmed her party's commitment to the freedom of the press.

It comes after the Herald revealed that Mr Kelly angrily confronted Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue, alleging that his constituency rival, Independent TD Michael Lowry, was given preferential treatment.

Overshadowed

Sources said that the Labour Party was now in turmoil after their campaign launch was completely overshadowed by questions about the behaviour of the outgoing minister.

The Tipperary TD faced repeated questions about his verbal attack on a radio presenter and his ambitions to succeed Joan Burton as Tanaiste.

There has been growing disquiet within the party in recent days over Mr Kelly's seemingly erratic behaviour on the campaign trail and his claim that "power is a drug".

The minister denied that he became irate with the presenter.

"My only issue was editorial choice and fairness. That was the only issue and I was only raising the fact everyone was given a chance to go on the show and one person was given a choice earlier than everyone else, simple as that."

During a fractious press conference Ms Burton was asked if Mr Kelly would be Tanaiste.

"I grew up on the northside of Dublin, and a bit like the Dubs when the going gets tough the tough get going - and that's what I'm asking all our candidates to do," she said.

Ms Burton became annoyed when pressed about how many social houses the Labour Party planned to build.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin conceded that the so-called 'fiscal space' of €12bn that he talked about at the party's Ard Fheis last week was actually €10.1bn.

Sources within Labour have said there are real concerns that Mr Kelly's actions during the past week are overshadowing the party's message.

"He's coming up unprompted on doorsteps," said one senior party source.

Another added: "It's the 'Alan Kelly show'. He needs to realise that it's time to be a team player."

The latest row comes after Mr Kelly confronted Mr Donoghue over an appearance Mr Lowry made on Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday.

The presenter did a one-on-one interview with the ex-minister, while Mr Kelly was asked to take part in a three-way debate with independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fianna Fail councillor Michael Smith.

After hearing the Lowry interview Mr Kelly "stormed" into Newstalk's mobile studio and launched what the other two candidates described as a verbal attack.

Asked if he verbally abused Chris Donoghue, Mr Kelly said: "I don't think that's a fair question", before adding: "No, obviously I didn't".

Comfortable

However, Mr Smith, who witnessed part of the altercation, said the language used "was not appropriate" for a public representative.

In response to a query about whether he was comfortable with Mr Kelly's actions, Communications Minister Alex White told the Herald: "Editorial independence is paramount and must always be defended.

"Of course politicians like other citizens are entitled to criticise but there are established complaint processes in place that people can always use."

Ms Burton said her party cherishes the free press ,but there must also be "a robust political debate".

"We have come and we have answered your questions and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability."

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