Speaking at the party’s think-in at Dublin’s Mansion House, Mr Howlin would not rule out re-entering government after an election, whenever that may be.
Labour has dropped from 37 elected TDs after the 2011 election to just seven. The think-in, which continues today, is likely to focus on rebuilding the party.
Mr Howlin encouraged people to join the party but said he does not simply want to boost numbers.
“I want people to give us their ideas, to be a campaigning party,” he said. “We are much diminished in Leinster House, we are small in number in both Dáil and Seanad so we are going to have to be a campaigning party outside of Leinster House too.”
Other topics up for discussion include the housing crisis, employment, and new ways of looking at Ireland’s economic progress.
Mr Howlin said last night that Labour is still relevant in the current Dáil despite its lack of members.
“I don’t know who is relevant in the current three-ring circus that constitutes Dáil Éireann,” he said. “We have a Government that has no power, we have an opposition that is really in government, and we have an assembly of others who actually don’t want power.
“In all of that, I think we can be very relevant. We not only identify problems but we table solutions to them. We will be relevant to people, ordinary people who want a future for themselves and their families.”
Asked whether the party would consider entering a coalition government in future, Mr Howlin said: “Labour is a party of governing. We have always stepped up to the plate because there is no point having the best policies in the world if they are not implemented.”
He said the party would need to regroup but that, “in the right circumstances”, Labour would enter government again.
Also refusing to rule out going into government with the Social Democrats, he said Labour had entered government in 2011 going “into a collapsing economy with unemployment heading to half a million. It wasn’t a ‘business as usual’ time.”
Mr Howlin said that the party was forced to put on hold many of its progressive policies “because you cant spend money that you don’t have”.
Looking to the upcoming budget, Mr Howlin told party members that housing would be a key priority.
“Being able to afford a home — not just a house — has been a totemic freedom in our society since the land was returned to us over 100 years ago,” he said in his opening speech.
“It is representative of people’s ambition and sense of wellbeing — one of the key things parents want for their children. And for the record it is a bigger problem than social housing too.”