Brendan Howlin denies blocking Alan Kelly from contesting Labour leadership

New Labour leader says his bid was supported by "overwhelming" majority of colleagues

Labour Party, leader, Brendan Howlin, Willie Penrose, Alan Kelly,

Brendan Howlin with party members as he was elected as Labour Party leader | Image:

Brendan Howlin has denied blocking Alan Kelly from running for the Labour Party leadership.

It was claimed last week that the new Labour leader had threatened to withdraw his name from consideration if the position became contested.

Mr Kelly has said his colleague told a meeting of the parliamentary party that he was opposed to a leadership election being held.

The Tipperary TD last week failed to secure the second nomination needed to allow him to run.

However, in an interview on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show today, Mr Howlin denied saying he would step aside if his bid for the role was challenged.

The Wexford TD said he sought “a unanimous consensus” with Labour parliamentary colleagues but entered their discussions about the future of the party with “an open mind”.

“I went in literally with an open mind to hear the views of colleagues. The overwhelming view was that I should take up the reins,” he said.

The former public expenditure minister added that the deputy leadership of the party, a position formerly held by Mr Kelly, would be shared among its remaining TDs.

His six Dáil colleagues will all have deputy roles and frontbrench spokesmanships, he told this station. 

Mr Howlin also said he believed the current government may not survive for more than a year.

"Any significant issue that might be faced by it will knock it over, because it doesn't have the capacity to command either the support of the country or the support of the Dáil," he said.

The new Labour leader went on to criticise the government's handling of the soon-to-be-suspended water charges, saying customers who paid their bills should be refunded. 

"The notion that you can abolish water charges and punish law-abiding citizens is unconscionable," he said.

Meanwhile, in an interview on Tipp FM this morning, Mr Kelly reiterated his disappointment at being prevented from contesting the Labour leadership.

The former housing minister had hoped to secure a nomination from former minister Jan O’Sullivan.

“Jan told me on numerous occasions that she favoured a contest. She might have supported Brendan but she favoured a contest,” he told the station.

"We were left in a very unusual situation. Our constitution [which requires leadership candidates to be seconded by a parliamentary colleague] is not fit for purpose because it was written for a larger party."

The Tipperary TD also denied that his failing to show up to the press conference confirming the new party leader came from malice. "It was Brendan's day," he said. 

Mr Howlin, who has been a TD since 1987, was elected unopposed as party leader last week.

The 60-year-old contested the position on two previous occasions, in 1997 and 2002, and was deputy leader in 1997. 

Joan Burton stepped down as Labour leader on May 10th after the party lost 30 seats in February’s general election.