The comments from the former Dún Laoghaire TD come as Labour TDs continue to wrangle over how the leadership should be decided.
Mr Desmond said support was firmly behind Mr Howlin and the structures to decide the new leader were “completely fair”.
“Brendan Howlin has the confidence of the Dáil deputies and as such should be the agreed leader. If the two names were put before the 4,000 membership, I don’t know what the outcome would be. Howlin would possibly win if the two ran. But would Howlin enter a national race? I have my doubts.”
He also warned a national leadership contest could be costly for Labour, who lost significant numbers in the election and therefore qualify for reduced state funds. “You have ballot papers, posting them, hiring out, and fitting venues. It adds up.”
A number of Labour members have written to party chairman Willie Penrose, warning a single candidate proposed by TDs would be the “wrong course of action”. Some threatened to join the Social Democrats unless a TD who wishes to contest the position, namely Mr Kelly, is not allowed put his name forward.
However, Mr Desmond said the system to decide a leader, where a TD needs a ‘seconder’ from their party colleagues to run, was “eminently fair”. He pointed out he had been involved in the election process for six previous Labour leaders, including Dick Spring and Ruairi Quinn.
“It is very democratic,” he said, “and under the [Labour] constitution, they [TDs] are entitled to decide who goes forward. That’s the nomination process.”
Mr Desmond also said that if Mr Kelly was made leader it could cause problems. “Kelly would require the confidence of the 12 [TDs and senators].
“He’d meet them every week requiring their support. Without that, his work could be very problematic.”