Wexford's Howlin says he will stand in next election
deputy Brendan Howlin will be standing in the next General Election.
'Was it ever in doubt?' was his immediate reaction when asked to confirm whether he would be Labour's man in the election, which is due to take place by April next year.
'We will probably only have one candidate in the current climate, but that's a matter for the convention,' Minister Howlin told this newspaper.
Asked about Labour Party's standing in the county and country following years of austerity, he said there was no doubt that the latest poll ratings for Labour represent a real challenge.
In a recent national poll, only six per cent of people said they would vote for Labour, a three per cent decline.
Support for Labour's senior coalition partner Fine Gael stood at 19 per cent down five points while support for Independents and smaller parties was significantly higher, mirroring the sea-change in Irish politics reflected in last year's local elections.
Deputy Howlin said that despite all the problems, he had never been prouder of his party and the role it had played in bringing back the country from the brink and said he had never got into politics to court popularity.
'We inherited a country which was bankrupt and with escalating unemployment. People were in despair. What we did was to build a platform for growth and unemployment is now down in single digits.
'We've done a very difficult and challenging and thankless job and I've done right by my party, by my country, and by my county,' he said.
Minister Howlin conceded that the coalition had made mistakes, but said it had been faced with making 'real time' decisions at a time of great uncertainty.
Talking about the emergence of independents and smaller parties, he said: 'We are in a time that is completely unprecedented.
'For most of my political career we have had Fianna Fail-led governments or Fine Gael-led governments, but there is was now a situation where populist groups are gaining support on platforms that are not sustainable.'
Without naming names, he said they were economically illiterate and had policies that would lead the country to ruin.
He drew a parallel with the situation in Greece where the far-left Syriza party, which is tipped to win the January 25 election, has made it clear it opposes more austerity for Greece, which the 'troika' of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund imposed in exchange for the €240 billion in bailout loans.
Syriza has left open the option of defaulting on the country's massive debt which could see the country leave the euro zone.
'We (in Ireland) have climbed out of a very deep hole and we could fall back into it, but I don't think the Irish people will put that success at risk and that people (the electorate) won't shoot themselves in the head.
'We're still more than a year away from an election and I hope that when it comes it will be fair evaluation,' he said.
The minister said he was personally 'anti-austerity' and while everyone had to feel the benefit of recovery, there was no magic wand.
'We need a situation where people will sit down and make rational decisions. We have gone through slow recoveries in the '80s and '90s. This has been a quicker recovery because we did what was necessary to get things right.
'But it's more difficult to do what is right than stand on the back of lorry, beat a drum and say there's a crock of gold.. we've all been deceived in the past by false promises.
'What we need is a steady and constant improvement. There have and are major capital projects being delivered in the county.
'But what has been achieved has been a hard struggle and we don't want to end up like Greece.'
Asked whether he felt Labour had become a whipping boy' because of the coalition's austerity policies, he said there had always been enormous expectations of Labour, 'particularly by people who don't vote for us'.
The minister said he had huge respect for the people of Wexford and understood that they were annoyed and angry, but they should be annoyed and angry at what had been done to the country by the previous government not about the policies that had rescued the country from ruin.