How it unfolded: The political assassination of Alan Kelly

Kelly had been "detached" for some time and the loss of key advisors left him isolated in his role
How it unfolded: The political assassination of Alan Kelly

Photo: Sam Boal/

In 2015, during his tenure as Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Ohio congressman John Boehner said of leadership: "A leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk."

The political assassination of Alan Kelly by his own party on Wednesday was the result of months of internal strife, fuelled by an irrevocable disconnect between the leader and his troops.

Unhappy with their stagnant poll ratings, but more crucially by Kelly's lack of desire or ability to progress the party's social democratic vision, there was dissension in the ranks.

"They weren't happy with his style, they have been talking amongst themselves for a long time," a source said.

It has been noted, however, that unlike the previous administration which involved "backstabbing and people constantly talking behind each others' backs", issues had been raised with the leader and his approach was openly questioned on a number of matters.

"He listened, he tried to keep everyone happy, but obviously that didn't work".

A meeting was called on Thursday of last week to allow TDs and senators to air their grievances on how they felt the party was being run.

We understand that Kelly initially resisted going to that meeting. Fearing some kind of an ambush, he said he'd meet people individually in his office.

This response “was received very poorly," one TD says.

TD Ivana Bacik (centre-left) consoles former Labour Party leader Alan Kelly's after his resignation speech outside Leinster House.
TD Ivana Bacik (centre-left) consoles former Labour Party leader Alan Kelly's after his resignation speech outside Leinster House.

Called for 1pm on Thursday, the emergency meeting to allow "Alan to hear what everyone thought" ended abruptly at 1.55pm with Kelly indignant and his party colleagues determined to oust him.

At the meeting, each member of the parliamentary party spoke at length about their concerns about his leadership style, including those Alan Kelly counted as his closest supporters.

There were concerns about his personal leadership style and the culture within the party emanating from his office, sources have told us, saying: "Everybody was very honest with him, and absolutely none of the concerns were about polling." 

One source said Mr Kelly "got upset" and cried during the meeting, leading others, including Marie Sherlock, to get upset as well.

The tone and tenor of Mr Kelly's defiant response to his colleagues spelt the end of his leadership.

He failed to address any of the central allegations, sources say, and as a result, his authority over his party immediately evaporated.

“The collective room was lost, and he knew he had no authority,” one source said. "When that meeting ended, we were immediately talking about the next leader."

Another said: “It was bad, it was really bad. People were in some way shocked by his response, but it stiffened a building resolve that the party needed to move on.” 

Several sources have said that the unrest within the party had more to do with Kelly's “aloof” but abrasive style of leadership which was not very collegiate.

In the wake of the fractious meeting, there were "lots" of conversations, WhatsApp messages, and calls over the weekend.

Senior sources said that Mr Kelly "probably" could have rescued his position over the weekend, but did not make attempts to mend fences by calling TDs and senators.

"We found it very difficult to hold it together over the weekend, trying to be disciplined; no one said a word over the weekend, and I think he found some relief it didn't leak," one TD said. "We were asking him to genuinely reflect, one of us easily could've leaked it and forced him to go, but we didn't."

Driven by Sean Sherlock and Duncan Smith, who had nominated Kelly for the leadership, it was agreed to convene a meeting of the party on Sunday, behind Kelly's back, to decide his fate. Some attended in person, some virtually.

"At that meeting, we knew that we all wanted to move on, not all for the same reasons," said a source.

It was decided Mark Wall, Sherlock, and Smith would approach Kelly on Tuesday last and give him the option "to do it in his own way or he would face a unanimous motion of no confidence".

There had been a meeting scheduled by the party to discuss its poor poll ratings, but the trio stood that meeting down and confronted Kelly.

They said: "We want you to reflect on that, you can control what can be said if you resign, you can't if you face a vote."

The meeting went on for two hours.

Smith said he, Sherlock, and Wall went to face Kelly to tell him “he had lost the dressing room”.

“It's a very sad day for us,” he said. "It was not a nice meeting."

Rather than push it to an executive council decision, Kelly quickly made the decision to resign on Tuesday.

He went home, talked to his family, and told the party he wanted to do Leaders' Questions on Wednesday and Thursday.

It was the plan that he wanted to announce his resignation at 2pm on Thursday in Buswells Hotel, where a room had been booked, but word leaked, and the Irish Examiner broke the story shortly before 5pm on Wednesday.

"Everything was spinning out of control, we couldn't hold the story, we couldn't work, so the resignation was brought forward to 7pm on Wednesday,” a source said.

One representative says although the narrative of Kelly's demise has been poor polling, this is not accurate.

"The election is years away, there's no impending doom, people were worried about his demeanour. He was not enjoying himself, he got lots of good media and wasn't getting anywhere.

"If he thought we were undermining him or the media was against him, then he could have pointed at that, but he couldn't."

Kelly, surrounded by his assassins, took to the plinth to face the media and announce his resignation having won the only byelection and without contesting either a local or general election.

Reflecting since his announcement, sources have said that Kelly's departure was "inevitable" and that he "has not been himself" for a number of months as the polling quagmire kept the party from getting any bounce from his leadership.

A senior source said that Mr Kelly had been "detached" for some time and the loss of key advisors left him isolated in his role.

However, the party's inability to cut into the polling support held by the Government parties or Sinn Féin, coupled with questions about Mr Kelly's own personal style, became a recurring theme of conversations in the last two months.

But the bottom line is Kelly did not enjoy the support of his own colleagues.

"It's very different to what happened in 2018 with what happened to Brendan, at least Brendan had the backing of most of the parliamentary party, whereas Alan didn't," a source said.

It was suggested that the staffing issue was jumped on as a way of making it more palatable to oust Mr Kelly.

"This was going to happen, there was always going to be something he was going to do or say, or he would rub someone up the wrong way, and that would be used."

Now gone as leader at the age of 46, Kelly has reportedly already told people he will not stand at the next general election.

Whether it was his presence in the 2011-2016 government, his proposed appointment of a relative to a job which came a cropper, or his aloof leadership, this coup has put an end to the leader the Labour diehards never really wanted.

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