Labour’s Alan Kelly is piling pressure on his party to let him run for the leadership, with ordinary members now formally lobbying for an open contest for the position.
Party TDs were in talks last night in a bid to resolve the situation amid fears that the party may potentially alienate ordinary members if an agreeable outcome is not reached.
A letter was sent to party chairman Willie Penrose from 19 members which raised concerns about a “single candidate” being proposed by TDs. This would be the “wrong course of action”, the signed letter said.
Former public expenditure Brendan Howlin is the favourite among party TDs to take over from Joan Burton. Former minister Alan Kelly is unable to secure a ‘seconder’, another TD, to back him putting his name forward for the role. Under Labour rules, the leader would automatically be decided if only one contender emerges and therefor no national vote of members would be required.
Party TDs met for three hours last night in Leinster House on the matter.
The letter yesterday from members to Mr Penrose said: “We are firmly of the opinion that any TD who wishes to contest the leadership election should be facilitated with a nomination by his/her colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party and that a vote of members should then take place.”
The members called on Mr Penrose to ensure that any TD who wishes to run for the leadership should be “facilitated with a nomination and duly seconded where necessary”.
Leaks from a private online party forum also compared the restrictions around the leadership contest to “the likes of Vladimir Putin”.
TDs and senators though are reluctant to let a full- blown nationwide leadership campaign take place, which could last 45 days under party rules, for fear it could distract from the immediate need to bed down Labour in opposition and also in case the party needs to prepare for the possibility of a snap election down the line.
Party sources also say that, if Mr Kelly is allowed to run, Mr Howlin will not put his name forward. In such a scenario, former junior foreign affairs minister Sean Sherlock and former education minister Jan O’Sullivan may put their names forward.
“If Brendan wants it, it is his. Kelly is trying to drum up the membership to try and force our hands,” said one parliamentary source.
Labour TDs are set to meet again today over how to proceed with nominating a leader, ahead of a deadline for nominations on Friday.
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