Labour leader Brendan Howlin has warned any split in the party will result in its failure, insisting that just changing the leader would not have a substantive impact with voters.
Defending his position amid calls from Labour councillors for a debate on the leadership, the Wexford TD again refused to commit to a special meeting with disgruntled members.
The party leader’s warning came after criticism from Dáil colleague Alan Kelly, a likely challenger to Mr Howlin, over an alleged lack of leadership.
Tension is building among Labour’s grassroots and parliamentarians ahead of a pre-Dáil meeting in Drogheda on September 16.
However, Mr Howlin said that he will not meet councillors in advance of the meeting.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan yesterday, Mr Howlin said everybody is entitled to an opinion and reiterated that his leadership style is “open and collective”.
Nonetheless, demands from more than a dozen Labour councillors for a special meeting with him on the leadership issue would not be met as it is summer and people are away, he said.
“I have to set out my stall vigorously and clearly and I will do that,” said Mr Howlin.
He denied that the party had disengaged from the membership and instead said he is trying to rebuild it and reconnect with the trade union movement.
“I knew that people were disillusioned by the party after the last election and I was under no illusion that it was going to be a simple switch. It is the wrong analysis to say that switching the name on the Labour leader’s door is going to have that impact,” he said, regarding recent bad polls.
Asked if Mr Kelly would be a more pragmatic leader, Mr Howlin said: “I’m not the only voice of the Labour Party. Alan, Jan [O’Sullivan], Willie [Penrose], Brendan [Ryan], Sean [Sherlock] — they are all voices of the Labour Party. There are people who want him to be leader; there are people who wanted him to be leader from day one.”
However, there was also a clear warning about the possibility of the party splitting over the leadership issue. Already, a group of councillors are privately supporting Mr Kelly while most of the TDs and senators support Mr Howlin remaining, for the moment.
Mr Howlin warned: “I want a common approach from everybody. If we divide, if it is a matter of X over Y, we will fail.
“We have to succeed by working together for the values that we stand for, that are relevant now.”
He also defended his performance in the Dáil. Personality politics is now dominating, he admitted, but this does not solve real issues for Irish people.
Following criticism from Mr Kelly about an absence of leadership on economic issues, Mr Howlin said it was his strength after spending five years as a minister in public expenditure.
Further, he also reiterated a belief that Labour could double its Dáil seats to 14 after the next general election.