Friday 24 January 2020

'This is not a mutiny'

Labour leader says councillors calling for change 'anxious with local elections looming'

Deputy Brendan Howlin, Labour party leader.
Deputy Brendan Howlin, Labour party leader.

Anna Hayes

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has dismissed any suggestions of 'a mutiny' in his party, following a number of reports of councillors calling for him to step aside from his role.

In recent weeks, a number of councillors have voiced their concerns following another drop in an opinion poll.

Deputy Howlin acknowledged the councillors' concerns in the context of an approaching election but said he would discuss all such issues, with the entire party, at the upcoming think-in.

According to a Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes survey in late July, the party fell in popularity from 6% in March and April, to 4% in May and June, and down to 3% in July, a low they had hit just once before, in November of last year.

What compounded the party's concerns was the fact that the Independent Alliance achieved a one-point increase, placing them a point higher than Labour for the first time since their establishment in 2015.

Four councillors subsequently voiced their concerns for the party, and their support for Tipperary TD Alan Kelly, with the first dissenting voice, that of Noel Tuohy in the Laois-Offaly constituency, calling for Deputy Howlin to step down as party leader.

However, a day after the fourth councillor's statement, 16 Labour councillors made a declaration stating that housing and other policy issues should be the party's main focus, rather than a change in leadership.

Last week, 14 councillors reportedly signed a letter seeking an urgent private meeting with the party leader who had previously stated that he would meet with Labour's 50 councillors and other members at the party think-in on September 16 and 17 in Drogheda. South Dublin councillor Mick Duff believes a confidence motion should go before the central council meeting if the issue is not dealt with before the think-in. Such a motion is the only way to remove a leader between elections and would require a two-thirds majority.

But, speaking to this newspaper, Deputy Howlin put the recent reports down to anxiousness over upcoming elections, saying he did not think 14 councillors represented a mutiny.

'I think it's clear that, over the summer, a number of councillors have become anxious with local elections looming, though I think there's no guarantee that there won't be a general election before the locals. The Labour Parliamentary Party and I are of the same view that we are in the middle of a slow rebuilding of the party - there is no quick fix for that. It takes time and effort on the ground and it's important that people don't panic.'

He pointed out that Labour's base had shrunk but said that the Red C poll had Labour consistently at 6%, a figure he believed they would improve upon in the next election. He said the party had to concentrate on advocating for Labour's traditional values in the areas of social provision, work, and housing, among others.

'We need a strong, vibrant party and I am looking forward to plenty of dialogue at our think-in.'

He said he did not intend to meet any section of the party in advance of that event saying they had set a date for the think-in that allowed people to plan for it, and map out the discussions for the two days.

'It is only a few weeks away. I certainly don't want to meet sections of the party on their own - everyone should hear everyone else. It's very important for all members to be in the room because the think-in is a forum for everyone.'

He said he would be setting out his own strategy at the think-in, and inviting party members to air their own views, believing that they would emerge from that event, reinvigorated and stronger.

He would not be drawn on whether he believed the councillors' concerns were part of an orchestrated heave within the party, saying instead: 'We are all comrades, with a common purpose. I have given my life to that purpose and I will continue to do so.'

Deputy Howlin topped the poll in Wexford in the February 2016 election - the only Labour candidate in the country to do so - and, shortly after, he was elected unopposed as party leader when Joan Burton announced her intention to step down from the role. Alan Kelly failed to garner enough party support to mount a challenge for the role.

Wexford People

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