Labour TDs and defeated candidates have officially been put on notice that a second general election may be on the cards, as the party prepares to rule itself out of joining government.
Tánaiste Joan Burton also informed party members in a letter last night that her preference is to remain in opposition and rebuild the party in an alliance with other small parties.
The clarification comes after days of speculation that Labour, after requests from Fine Gael, was looking at taking on a role in a minority government led by Enda Kenny. Amid a backlash to the suggestion, Ms Burton told members she wished to join forces with the Social Democrats and the Greens on the opposition benches.
“The purpose of such a progressive alliance would be to ensure a strong grouping in opposition to fight for progressive causes and ensure policies are promoted that improve people’s lives,” said Ms Burton. “That remains my preferred option.”
Nine in 10 members had responded, saying that was their preference for the party going forward, she said. Labour, she said, had now notified its previous candidates a second election could be coming down the tracks and to be ready.
“Most of us are also fully aware that in the current uncertainty, a second election cannot be ruled out,” she said. “Accordingly, our general secretary is making provision for that, and has been in touch with candidates in recent days. We will be ready should another election occur.”
Meanwhile, there have been renewed calls for Ms Burton to step aside.
Labour members and former advisors also shot down the scenario of Labour going back into government with Fine Gael yesterday.
Former Labour strategist Fergus Finlay said going back into government with just seven TDs remaining would be “appalling” and the party needed a fresh leader.
“I think it would be appalling,” he said. “I do not object to the notion of Labour supporting from the outside. They should be in the position of supporting what they can and criticising what they have to. But Labour has no mandate. If they were to go into government now, it would split the party down the middle.”
Speaking to Newstalk, Mr Finlay said of Ms Burton: “She has done all she can do. But in the aftermath of an election result like that, every democratic leader in the world knows the consequences. You either leave or you take responsibility.”
Opinion in Labour is now hardening against the idea of Labour returning to government. Such a move would likely not see a leadership election contest.
Former party general secretary Ray Kavanagh said: “I would prefer to see us going into opposition. Many of us want the party to rebuild its membership, its candidates, its policies, what we stand for now and that is extra to what is required for government.”
Dublin city councillor Alison Gilliland said she was “extremely reticent” about Labour returning to government. Former Labour press advisor Tony Heffernan said Labour members want a leadership election.
Labour will hold its weekly parliamentary party meeting today, the last for some party senators. Party sources say members are expected to “forcefully” argue against the idea of returning to government.
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