Labour leader 'passes the baton' as parties jostle for position

Labour leader 'passes the baton' as parties jostle for position
Brendan Howlin announced that he is stepping down as leader of the Labour Party during a press briefing at Buswells Hotel Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins.

By Juno McEnroe, Cianan Brennan, and Daniel McConnell

The general election has claimed its first major casualty with the resignation of Labour leader Brendan Howlin, as parties jostle and bargain in an effort to try and cobble together a government.

A divided Fianna Fáil will hold its first post-election meeting today and debate its bruising results as well as the contentious issue of whether to go into coalition with Sinn Féin.

Party leader Micheál Martin and senior TDs have played down the chances of working with Mary Lou McDonald’s party, citing huge policy gaps.

Some TDs have left the door open on Fianna Fáil holding exploratory talks with Sinn Féin, amid pressure to avoid a hung Dáil or the prospect of a second general election.

Labour is facing a leadership race after Mr Howlin announced his resignation, saying he wanted to “pass on the baton”.

Stepping down after Labour’s disappointing six-seat election win, Mr Howlin’s resignation is expected to see TDs Ged Nash, Alan Kelly, and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin express interest in leading the party in opposition.

TD Sean Sherlock ruled himself out of the race last night, saying he would not put his name forward as he wanted to help rebuild the party and serve the people of Cork East.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he expects to be the next leader of the opposition and that it is up to Sinn Féin, which won the popular vote, to negotiate a coalition and government.

“We were defeated in this election, there is no point in trying to dress that up in any way,” he said.

Mr Varadkar added that Fine Gael, if needed to give the country “political stability with governance”, would be willing to talk to other parties.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will hold their first post-election meetings in Dublin city centre today while a number of parties continue coalition-building talks.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan met Ms McDonald yesterday, with sources in both parties pointing to the importance in talks of finding a middle ground on carbon-emission targets as opposed to carbon taxes.

Ms McDonald will also meet the Social Democrats today, while the latter party will talk to Fianna Fáil, Labour, and the Green Party.

The Social Democrats held its first meeting in Leinster House yesterday after trebling its Dáil tally to six in the election.

Party co-leader Róisín Shortall played down the chances of a left-wing minority coalition that might be reliant on support from the opposition.

I think it is unlikely. Confidence and supply didn’t work very well in the last Dáil and I think it is unlikely to be a composition in this Dáil.

Co-leader Catherine Murphy insisted talks with other parties would need to produce targets to tackle housing and health reform: “It is all about outcomes, timelines. It is not just a question of a list,” she said.

Speaking of his meeting yesterday with Ms McDonald, People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett said a deal of common ground exists between the parties but that the detail of any programme for government is still to be worked out.

“They’re keeping their options open, but we’re only interested in left government,” he said.

Mr Boyd Barrett said Ms McDonald had indicated that no such programme is likely to be agreed before next Thursday, February 20, when the new Dáil meets for the first time.

One of the first acts of the 33rd Dáil will be to agree on who is ceann comhairle.

Mr Howlin ruled himself out for the role, despite having more experience than most in the new Dáil.

Fine Gael has suggested TD Bernard Durkan — who ran for the role in 2016 — could be suitable while Independent TD Sean Canney denied speculation he might put his name forward.

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