DANIEL MCCONNELL: Third time lucky? Brendan Howlin’s best opportunity to take helm for Labour is now

Why would Brendan Howlin want to lead the Labour Party?

Having stood for the position twice in the past and defeated on both occasions, the Wexford TD is emerging as the strongest rival to the heir apparent Alan Kelly.

Kelly is not loved by his party colleagues as he is too conservative, too combative for many of them.

In an interview with me last November, he conceded: “I am no bastion of the left.”

Kelly, as the outgoing deputy leader of the party, has made no secret of his desire to be the leader.

But given the resistance to him within the much reduced ranks, the intentions of Howlin, the now former Public Expenditure Minister, have come into sharp focus.

Third time lucky? Brendan Howlin’s best opportunity to take helm for Labour is now

Once it became clear that the failed Joan Burton would resign, Howlin’s name was immediately linked with the post, largely as an interim leader.

The thinking was, Howlin is the sort of consensus candidate the party wants, the sort of leader the party could rally behind at this low ebb.

Howlin it seems made it clear that he was only interested in the post if an election was avoided. When that was not forthcoming, he appeared to lose momentum to the nakedly ambitious Kelly.

But, it is clear that since last Friday, when Howlin, Kelly and Burton all were formally booted out of Government, the Wexford TD has come under pressure to stand.

Yesterday, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Howlin all but declared that he wants to be the next leader of the party. Howlin put himself in contention for the top post.

He said he would take this weekend to decide if running for leadership would be “right” for himself and the party. “I’m giving very serious reflection on that,” he said. “I’ve said many times that I want to be leader of the Labour Party. I want to contemplate if it’s the right thing for me and the party over the next few days,” he added.

“I will decide over the weekend, and make my decision known to colleagues next week,” he said.

Third time lucky? Brendan Howlin’s best opportunity to take helm for Labour is now

Asked about his vision for the future of the Labour Party, Howlin said he was interested in a collective leadership with “regular meetings” with councillors and party activists across the country. “I want to be in leadership,” he said.

A number of the party’s big beasts have already signalled their willingness to support his candidacy.

Willie Penrose has called for a consensus candidate to come forward, saying the party can ill-afford a lengthy leadership race, so soon after the last one in 2014.

Howlin also won the backing of former Communications Minister Alex White.

“Agree one candidate. Howlin has experience & judgement we need. Others can lead in future - not time for divisive contest,” White tweeted.

With Kelly due to appear on The Late Late Show this Friday, it was significant that himself and Howlin were seen chatting in the corridors of the Dáil yesterday.

They joked to our own Fiachra O’Cionnaith to take a photograph of them talking, a sign that whatever happens a bloody feud is unlikely.

The Labour Party’s executive board is to meet on Saturday to decide how that process will work.

There are two other likely candidates in the race – Cork East’s Seán Sherlock and Limerick TD Jan O’Sullivan – but all eyes are on Howlin.

Seán Sherlock
Seán Sherlock

There has been some suggestion that Howlin and Kelly will come to some arrangement before Kelly’s sit down with Ryan Tubridy.

Having been beaten twice before, there is a lot of sense in plumping for Howlin on this occasion.

Yes, he has a massive ego and often portrays a sense that he saved the country from destruction all by himself.

He too was the minister who previously abolished water charges in 1997 so could be accused of hypocrisy now given his party’s recent outcry and their pending suspension.

Yet, his role in the last Government was immense and he played a pivotal role in seeing the Troika leave the country on time in 2013.

He and Michael Noonan were the bedrock of the last Government which achieved a lot in terms of recovering the country from the mess left behind by Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

So, in the coming days, Howlin, aged 60, has a choice to make. This could be his best opportunity to lead his party. It’s now or never.


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