Who will replace Joan Burton as Labour leader?

The race to replace ex-tánaiste Joan Burton as Labour leader began today after almost three months of a phoney war between the main potential successors.

The long-serving TD resigned from her post after an internal meeting in the Dáil this afternoon after a disastrous election campaign cut short her time in charge less than two years after she replaced Eamon Gilmore.

It is widely believed that current deputy leader Alan Kelly will enter the race to succeed the ex-tánaiste, while former junior minister Seán Sherlock is also believed to be in contention.

However, it remains unclear whether ex-public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin — who has widespread support among TDs — will run as he does not want to take part in another bruising leadership race after losing in 1997 and 2002.

Ms Burton told a recent fractious meeting of Labour election candidates she would make a decision on whether to try and stay on or step down once a government is formed.

The Labour leader's announcement officially starts the leadership race.

The move is required because under Labour’s party constitution, it must hold a leadership contest within six months of leaving government.

After today’s announcement, Ms Burton — who will remain on until her successor is found — will pass on responsibility for finding a replacement to Labour’s executive board.

This board will give Labour’s six other TDs a number of days to decide on who wants to put their name forward — a bid which must be seconded by another TD.

If only one consensus candidate is put forward, a new leader could be in place within a fortnight.

However, in the likely event that at least two candidates go forward, a leadership contest — and a tied in deputy leadership race — will begin with all grass-roots party members given one vote, and must conclude by August 26 at the latest.

It is widely expected current deputy leader Alan Kelly will put his name forward, while rumours persist Seán Sherlock may follow suit.

However, it remains unclear whether ex-public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin will take part as he is believed to only want to run if he will be automatically selected.

Labour TD and chairman Willie Penrose paid tribute to Ms Burton last night, saying she will always remain a strong activist for the party.

However, while saying “I would like anyone chosen to be by consensus” should a leadership change occur, he declined to say who he wishes to back.

The contenders: 

Seán Sherlock

Outgoing minister of state Sean Sherlock could yet make the replacement of Joan Burton a three-horse race if rumours he is considering a challenge prove accurate.

The 43-year-old Cork East TD is among the few names circling as a would-be leader.

Who will replace Joan Burton as Labour leader?

And while he has appeared to back away from the prospect in recent weeks, one senior TD said last night it would be “no surprise if he is in the race” once the alternatives have been assessed.

Like Alan Kelly, Mr Sherlock represents a younger generation of Labour TDs and contested the deputy leadership in 2014.

In that campaign Mr Kelly easily gained the position with 51.5% of the votes cast by Labour’s grassroots membership.

However, the 17.1% which took Mr Sherlock into second place shows there is a base of support for the Corkman.

Whether he enters the race or not will depend on whether the now-former junior minister believes there are still TDs who can be won over.

Alan Kelly

Don’t expect any Dáil jaws to drop should Labour’s current deputy leader Alan Kelly announce his intention to replace Joan Burton.

Without specifically saying it, the outgoing environment minister’s actions since the February 26 general election have made it clear he wants to be the new voice of the party.

Who will replace Joan Burton as Labour leader?

Mr Kelly’s first challenge will be to persuade at least one of the six other Labour TDs to second his bid for power.

It has been rumoured that Joan Burton may provide this support, a view it should be noted the now-former tánaiste has not confirmed.

However, party chairman Willie Penrose would prefer a consensus candidate, while if both Brendan Howlin and Sean Sherlock contest, support may be limited to either Jan O’Sullivan or Brendan Ryan.

Although Mr Kelly’s popularity is stronger among Labour’s grassroots, the ex-MEP who entered the Dáil in 2011 will first have to convince close colleagues he can add subtlety to his at times blunt style.

Brendan Howlin

Despite having the near universal backing of Labour’s parliamentary party, Brendan Howlin is far from certain to take over from Joan Burton.

The former public expenditure minister is widely believed to only want to put his name forward in the event he is automatically chosen without any leadership contest.

Who will replace Joan Burton as Labour leader?

This is because of two previous failed leadership race campaigns, in 1997 and 2002, when he lost out to Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte respectively.

While the majority of Labour’s six other TDs are believed to strongly favour Mr Howlin over Alan Kelly or potentially Sean Sherlock, the Wexford representative is far from certain to have the same backing among the party’s grassroots.

As such, despite the fact he is the hierarchy’s favourite for the post, if either of his two competitors are seconded to run Mr Howlin may choose not to compete for the position he has coveted for two decades.


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