Monday 24 October 2016

Joan to quit as battle for Labour leadership looms

Joan Burton will speak to TDs and Senators at the meeting. Photo: Photocall Ireland
Joan Burton will speak to TDs and Senators at the meeting. Photo: Photocall Ireland
Alan Kelly is a contender

Fomer Tanaiste Joan Burton is expected to announce her decision to step down as Labour leader when the party meets today, kick-starting the race to become her successor.

Labour had a disastrous election, losing dozens of Dail seats. Under the party's rules a leadership election must take place within six months if it is not returned to government.

Ms Burton was lucky to have retained her seat in Dublin West. A poll had indicated she was in danger of being defeated leading up to the vote and she took the last seat in the constituency.

Deputy leader Alan Kelly, Cork TD Sean Sherlock and Brendan Howlin have all been named as potential contenders.

A Labour spokesman last night said that Ms Burton would not comment on whether or not she would step down or seek to enter the race for the party's leadership ahead of today's meeting of TDs and Senators.


However, it was widely expected that Ms Burton would announce her decision to go.

A Labour source referred to a radio interview Ms Burton did at the weekend and said: "I think you don't have to read too much between the lines from what she said to get a sense as to where this is going."

In a long interview with Brendan O'Connor on RTE Radio, Ms Burton spoke of her disappointment at her party's result and her plans for the future.

"When you're leader, of course you're personally responsible along with other people and I accept that responsibility," she said of Labour's poor showing at the polls.

She lamented the loss of colleagues who she described as "people who were buddies and fun to be with". Ms Burton was asked what her family had advised her to do.

"They basically all wanted me to do what I'm happiest with," she replied. "I've lots of other interests. I want to try and do some writing down the road and in particular I want to contribute to this Dail and this new politics that we'll have".

She then referred to today's meeting and said she wanted to hear what TDs and Senators had to say and was asked if she thought she'd have support to be leader again.

"I don't think that that's going to be the conversation," Ms Burton said.

"I think it's going to be about what is the best leadership option for the Labour Party and I want to hear their views.

"And to be honest I've enjoyed every moment - well, 'enjoy' is the wrong word. I've been engaged by every moment of being leader.

"It's the party I joined when I was in my early twenties and I'll be active in the Labour Party no matter what, so I'm very happy to do what people want."

Another senior Labour source told the Herald: "The one thing that we have afforded our party leader is respect and an opportunity to consider matters and make her own decision in her own time."

"We all have collective responsibility for the fact that the Labour Party lost a number of seats, so we're not going to be heaping that on top of any one individual".


It would be "premature" to try to predict which TD would have the best chance of assuming the leadership, the source said, adding that Ms Burton was going to "convey her decision" today.

"There's certainly going to be an election contest. It's mandatory. So we've no choice.

"So the only decision that Joan Burton has to convey is, is she prepared to stand again for the leadership? We can't pre-empt any decision that she makes until she makes it."

Once Ms Burton reveals her intention to step down, a meeting of the Labour Party executive board will be called to open the nominations process for the leadership race.

When Eamon Gilmore stepped down in 2014, it began a hustings that took several weeks before Ms Burton was finally elected.

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