By Fiachra Ó CionnaithIrish Examiner Political Correspondent
Former environment minister and deputy party leader Alan Kelly has emerged as the overwhelming favourite to replace Joan Burton, after the Labour leader formally announced her resignation yesterday.
The party’s deputy leader is in pole position to take over the role, despite ongoing attempts by senior TDs to convince Brendan Howlin, Jan O’Sullivan or Sean Sherlock to challenge due to concerns about Mr Kelly’s suitability.
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While Mr Kelly told the Irish Examiner yesterday, “[I will] make my decision known” after Labour’s executive board meets this weekend, he is widely expected to announce his candidacy during an appearance on Friday’s Late Late Show.
However, it is understood that former minister of state Sean Sherlock and the former education minister are being encouraged to also contest for the party leadership in the event of a race.
This is because former public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin, who was due to appear on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland today, is understood to only want the role if he is elected uncontested after failing in 1997 and 2002 leadership races.
Speaking to UTV Ireland yesterday, the Limerick TD said she is “not ruling it in or out”, after Ms Burton had earlier responded to a question over her three potential future leaders standing beside her on stage by saying there were “three men and a woman”.
The former tánaiste and social protection minister formally stepped down as Labour leader yesterday almost exactly two years after her predecessor Eamon Gilmore resigned days after the disastrous 2014 local election results.
Speaking at a packed press conference at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Ely Place, Dublin city centre, Ms Burton said “while we didn’t do everything right” she believes her time in charge “left Ireland a better place than when we found it”.
Ms Burton said she will remain as interim leader until a successor is found — a period that must conclude by August 26 — before becoming a front-bench opposition spokesperson.
The Dublin West TD admitted she “would have liked to have done more and achieved more”, but alluded to the time constraints she faced after taking power just years away from an election as a reason why that did not materialise.
In a statement last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ms Burton played a key role in “rescuing the Irish economy” during the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and was “steadfast in doing what was right for the country”.
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