Labour rivals to line out for final debates in leadership race

The Labour leadership candidates will go head-to-head in one final round of debates behind closed doors today in front of the party’s lawyers society ahead of this week’s vote for a new leader.

The final hustings comes as speculation mounts over what the new Labour leader will agree on with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Cabinet reshuffle and in changes to the Programme for Government.

Sources on both sides now say it could be the middle of July, just before the Dáil breaks for summer, before any decision is made on who will get the call up and who will be dropped from Cabinet.

Ministers Joan Burton and Alex White will this evening make brief presentations to the Labour Party Lawyers Group and take questions about their priorities from solicitors and barristers linked to the party.

Both will make their final addresses as leader candidates in the Law Society in Dublin but the deputy leader candidates will not be attending, lawyers group secretary and solicitor Paul O’Sullivan confirmed.

“It’s not an open meeting. The members welcome the opportunity to speak to them in an intimate setting and see what their views are,” he added.

Mr White, the junior health minister, will continue to phone party members this week in a bid to drum up support ahead of members’ votes being counted on Friday for the new leadership.

As of Saturday, just 1,600 members had voted by post out of the 3,300 entitled to.

Party headquarters expect 80% of members to vote.

A new leader and deputy leader will then be announced by 5pm this Friday, after the votes are counted in public in Dublin.

Labour TDs Ciara Conway, Sean Sherlock, Michael McCarthy and Alan Kelly are all competing for the deputy role, with the latter favourite to win the position.

Eamon Gilmore will also give his final address as leader and Tánaiste to Labour’s parliamentary party meeting tomorrow, where he will discuss the party’s future.

Meanwhile, senior Coalition sources on both sides say the new Labour leader and Mr Kenny will not rush into making decisions on the Cabinet reshuffle.

Labour are keen to nail down priorities for the remaining 18 months of the Coalition’s term, including the roll-out of free GP care and a new Garda authority.

While Mr Gilmore is keen to become Ireland’s next EU Commissioner, any decision on who is nominated will be part of the negotiations on the make-up of the new Cabinet, say sources.


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