Burton, White and Howlin the main candidates

Labour TDs and senators have begun taking sides in the leadership contest after the shock resignation of Eamon Gilmore.

Burton, White and Howlin the main candidates

The battle to lead Labour is expected to be played out between deputy party leader Joan Burton and junior minister Alex White, although Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is understood to be considering his options.

Ministers yesterday defended Mr Gilmore’s time as leader after he said he would step down following Labour’s mauling in the local and European elections.

Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said a number of issues had caused Labour damage in recent months.

“The accumulative effect of the last six years since the crash was just about as much as people could bear. They were waiting in the long grass to communicate that message to the Government and then the Government compounded it with the difficulties we mishandled over the last two or three months,” Mr Rabbitte said.

Issues with gardaí and the Department of Justice, concerns about the withdrawal of medical cards, and the issue of homelessness all added to the Coalition’s woes, he said.

Much speculation centred last night on whether a group of young party TDs had moved a motion of no confidence against Mr Gilmore before or after his decision to resign.

Galway TD Derek Nolan insisted the group would not have brought the motion if they had known Mr Gilmore intended to go, a decision the Labour leader said he made late on Sunday night.

Kerry TD Arthur Spring said he and six other TDs who had planned to bring a motion of no confidence in Mr Gilmore this week had no idea he was going to voluntarily step down.

Party whip Emmet Stagg said the TDs had acted “prematurely” in moving against Mr Gilmore.

Ms Burton said members would “absorb” the developments and discuss the issues at the party’s parliamentary meeting tomorrow.

It is understood Ms Burton began making contact with some party members last night, seeking support.

One rural party TD said he and other young members would back Mr White.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Tánaiste was “courageous in making the collective decisions” that had pulled Ireland back from the brink of collapse.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams used the resignation to call for a change of Government. “Quite clearly the voters have rejected the policies of this Government,” he said.

For more in depth updates and analysis on the fallout from this year's election and access to our comprehensive results database visit our special Election 2014 section.

More in this section