Group of Labour councillors call meeting on Howlin leadership

By Fiachara Ó Cionnaith and Daniel McConnell

Fourteen Labour councillors have tonight sought an "urgent meeting" with leader Brendan Howlin to discuss his future.

The unhappy councillors have sent the letter by email to Mr Howlin to seek his departure from office.

Speaking to the Examiner yesterday, Mr Howlin declined to accept the request for an early meeting, saying he has fixed a meeting for all party members on September 16.

The letter, seen by the Irish Examiner, said: "We, Labour Party Councillors from around the country, seek an urgent private meeting with you to discuss the following:

1. Party leadership and the need for change.

2. The future direction of the Labour Party in terms of ideology, policy and practice.

Our desire for an urgent meeting stems from the current failure of the Party to be heard in any significant way by the public, the lack of knowledge by the public about what we stand for, our frequently disengaged membership and the failure to make progress in opinion polls."

The letter was signed by Cllr. Mick Duff, Cllr Martina Genockey, Cllr. Pamela Kearns, Cllr Breeda Bonner, Cllr Fiona Bonfield, Cllr Noel Touhy, Cllr Alison Gilliland, Cllr. Martin Farren, Cllr Billy Cameron, Cllr Mary McCamley, Cllr. Michael Dollard, Cllr. William Patton, Cllr. Kevin Byrne and Cllr. Terry O’Brien.

Mr Howlin said he has invited all party members to a meeting in Drogheda on September 16 and that it would be “unreasonable” to bring forward any meeting.

This, bluntly, is a distraction we could do without,” he said.

“The bottom line [is] we are in the middle of holidays. Members of staff are away on holidays. We fixed the date before the summer so people could make arrangements to be available,” he said.

However, according to one of the signatories Cllr Mick Duff, Howlin cannot drag out growing demands for him to step down until next month and must address the leadership question at a special meeting this month.

Duff lashed out at Mr Howlin’s insistence no discussion on the internal party crisis will take place until September. Mr Duff said up to 16 councillors are now calling for alternative leaders to be considered.

Speaking after Mr Howlin broke his silence in yesterday’s Irish Examiner to label the resignation calls a “distraction” and reject demands for a meeting this month, Mr Duff said the response was unacceptable.

Warning Mr Howlin that “slamming the door shut” is not an option, the South Dublin County Council member said the leadership question must be addressed immediately or the party will face annihilation in the local, European, and general elections.

The door is not closed on this, he can’t be slamming the door shut and waiting until September,” said Mr Duff.

“These references to this being a distraction is wrong, we have to have a debate immediately. It is so much broader than Brendan Howlin and Alan Kelly, but we need to talk about this.”

Due to Labour’s stagnation in the polls, languishing between 4% and 6%, there are fears among grassroots members that the party could suffer serious damage in the upcoming local, European, and potential general elections.

It is also feared that Sinn Féin is successfully taking over large portions of Labour’s traditional heartland, an issue from which the party may struggle to recover.

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