“I am indifferent to Brendan Howlin.”
“I want to see some actual leadership.”
“We are going nowhere fast and if we don’t change we are doomed.”
In a sometimes-heated closed-door session at the Labour Party think-in at the D Hotel in Drogheda, leader Brendan Howlin had to endure very direct and stinging criticism of his leadership from his own troops.
Ensconced behind locked doors on the mezzanine floor in the D Hotel, party members let fly at each other after a stormy few weeks.
We need a radical shake-up. The direction of the party needs to change. We need a different vision. We need far more energy,” said one speaker.
The party is no longer “connecting with the public”, said another.
What made matters worse was that the comments were audible to the media, who were placed in a room next door to the main room.
Party handlers tried to shoo reporters away from the doors, threatening to clear the floor, but the damage was done. It was clear Mr Howlin was in for some difficult listening.
It was not all one way though.
Sources said former Cork minister Kathleen Lynch criticised Alan Kelly for his pointed remarks about the leader in recent weeks.
Another speaker said he was “sick and tired” of hearing and seeing the party beat itself up in the media.
“We took all the hits from being in government, they are the facts of the matter. Changing the leader will solve nothing,” came the cry to the floor which was greeted with warm applause.
Before he faced his critics, Mr Howlin struck a defiant tone when speaking to reporters.
The Labour Party is a very open and democratic party. Everyone’s views are welcome. I said it would be a characteristic of my leadership from the start to be open and inclusive. The notion that changing someone’s name tag would change things fundamentally, I never believed that.
“Every member of the party wants the party to thrive. I respect everybody’s view.
“From the day I was elected, I know there were some people who would have preferred someone else within the party but we made those decisions. We are a small crew of people now who must work together,” he said.
He said that the party needed to “reconnect with people” and but that he believes the party will make gains in seat numbers.
There are 24 really quality candidates in the fray. All of them have a really good chance at getting elected.
“When I say we are an inclusive party with an inclusive leadership, I mean that. Everyone in the party has a job to do in rebuilding the party. I think that will happen,” he said.
As the meeting concluded, one Dublin councillor said on balance, Mr Howlin “will be happy” with the support he got in the room.
Having faced down his critics internally and appearing to have won, Mr Howlin still faces the mammoth task of convincing the public at large that his party still has a role to play.