Ex-tánaiste Joan Burton will announce her resignation as Labour leader today, opening the way for at least two of her most senior colleagues to fight it out for the future of the former government junior partner.
The former social protection minister will confirm she is stepping down at a private meeting of TDs and senators this afternoon following weeks of speculation following the party’s disastrous election result.
The decision, which in recent weeks Ms Burton has accepted is inevitable after claims she was trying to cling onto power, will bring to an end three months of a phoney war between her closest rivals.
And while senior party figures want a consensus candidate to be chosen, it is believed at least two leading TDs will put their names forward. While none of the six other Labour TDs had formally said they are seeking the leadership last night, current deputy leader and ex-environment minister Alan Kelly is widely expected to announce his candidacy in the coming days.
Cork East TD and ex-junior minister Sean Sherlock — who lost out to Mr Kelly in the race to become deputy leader in 2014 — is also being touted as a potential challenger, despite appearing in recent weeks to back away from the prospect.
The Irish Examiner separately understands that ex-public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin is the overwhelming favourite among the party’s seven TDs, in part due to concerns over Mr Kelly’s wider appeal.
However, despite the strong position he is unlikely to enter the contest unless he assumes the role without a leadership race after two past attempts to take power failed in national grass-roots votes in 1997 and 2002.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Labour’s former government partner Fine Gael is considering appointing current deputy leader and axed children’s minister James Reilly to the Seanad as one of the 11 taoiseach nominees.
The potential appointment, which two Fine Gael sources confirmed last night is being considered, would help to strengthen Mr Kenny’s hold on power by ensuring his confidante can controversially remain deputy leader of the party.
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