By Elaine Loughlin, in Drogheda
Update 11.35am: A lengthy and at times heated debate on the Labour party leadership ended with members hugging each other, Brendan Howlin has revealed.
Mr Howlin has said the issue of leadership of the Labour party has been put to bed until after the next General Election.
It came after a number of councillors called on Mr Howlin to step aside over the summer to allow Tipperary TD Alan Kelly take over.
Speaking at the Labour party think-in in Drogheda this morning, Mr Howlin said the debate on his leadership which lasted more almost four and half hours last night had been "uniting" for the party
He described the debate as "very good" and said he had opened the discussion by asking everybody to be very frank "as is the Labour tradition".
"There were no limits on the number of speakers and virtually everybody in the room spoke and there was no limit on the time.
"We are a democratic party.
"That's not the Labour way, people join the Labour party because they have very clear views of how Irish society should be shaped."
Mr Howlin added: "We have now ventilated all of that, at the very end of it it was a very uniting experience, I personally ended up hugging everyone.
"I got into the lift at one stage and a poor woman who had nothing to do with the Labour party found herself being hugged.
"Now it is time to get onto the real business of politics," he said.
Update 11.05am: Brendan Howlin has vowed to stay put as Labour leader, insisting the party’s recovery is a “slow build”.
Mr Howlin said robust questioning he faced from colleagues at the party’s “think-in” on Sunday evening was normal and healthy.
“We are not a party where people are bussed in to act as clapometers for the leader,” he said.
On the second day of the internal gathering in Drogheda, Mr Howlin said the party was on course to double its current seven Dail seats in the next general election.
Labour suffered an electoral meltdown in 2016, losing 30 seats as voters passed a damning judgment on its time as Fine Gael’s junior government coalition partner.
In an interview with RTE, Mr Howlin rejected any suggestion the party, which is sitting at around 6% in opinion polls, could face wipe-out in the next poll.
“We went into government in the most difficult of circumstances and we explained that to people in 2011 and the Labour Party has always put the country first, others have put party first,” he said.
The party leader said the goal of 14 seats was realistic.
“I think that’s absolutely achievable – our build is a slow build,” he said.
“I never believed, I said it from day one, that it would suddenly be transformative because we have to win back people who are thinking they want the sort of Ireland that the Labour Party stands for.”
Mr Howlin was critical of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail’s plans to address Ireland’s housing problems, but said he did not support those demonstrators venting their frustration by occupying derelict properties.
“It’s a manifestation of a terrible wrong, I don’t think it’s a solution,” he said.
“I don’t think it is something I would be associated with, I don’t think the Labour Party would go down that route.
“I understand the motivation of it, but it’s not the solution. The Labour Party is about providing solutions, not protest.”
Asked of the potential for joining forces with the Greens and Social Democrats to re-enter government as a part of a coalition of the left, Mr Howlin suggested the party might currently be more effective from the opposition benches.
“We obviously have a free hand in opposition,” he said, explaining that his party was not wedded to a coalition partner that does not share its view point.
“Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are parties that fundamentally agree with the market solving problems, we believe in the state solving problems for ordinary people.”
- Press Association