Brendan Howlin endures criticism of his leadership during tense four-hour meeting

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has faced stinging criticism from party members over his failure to turn around the party’s fortunes.

At a closed meeting of party members which lasted more than four hours, Mr Howlin was severely chastised by councillors, some of whom had called on him to resign last month.

At the beginning of the meeting, the leader said everyone present would be given an opportunity to speak, which led to a wave of criticism from rebel councillors. Those stinging criticisms of the party leader were audible to reporters who were in a room beside the main room and had to be escorted away from the doors.

“This is a closed meeting, step away from the doors,” the party’s chief press spokesman said.

Inside the room, Mr Howlin had invited councillors to join TDs and Senators to air their concerns about the state of the party’s fortunes.

Mr Howlin apologised to the Irish people for his party’s mistakes in Government. He also admitted his failings as Minister between 2011 and 2016.

Attempting to silence his critics, Mr Howlin admitted that many people had suffered when he, Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore were part of a Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government which inflicted savage cuts.

Mr Howlin said he could only repeat the message "that we are truly sorry – I am sorry – that many people suffered hardship on our watch".

He said Labour had "lost the argument" at the February 2016 General Election that its participation in Government had acted as a brake on the worst excesses of what Fine Gael wanted to do.

It needed to accept the fact of defeat — yet overall income inequality and deprivation had "fallen under our watch, despite what our opponents claim".

During the meeting, Tipperary TD Alan Kelly rounded on his parliamentary party colleagues for being essentially invisible, calling on the party to reconnect with the electorate.

Mr Kelly stopped short of calling for Mr Howlin’s head in the room.

However, several opponents of Mr Howlin including Cllrs Noel Touhy and Mick Duff were stinging in their criticism of his leadership.

One councillor went so far as to say he was “indifferent” to Mr Howlin.

Others complained bitterly about the party not being relevant or visible enough and placed the blame for the malaise at Mr Howlin’s door.

Responding to the criticism, Mr Howlin said he was proud to be elected leader and said the party must regain the lost trust of the people.

"I have heard suggestions that the party is not energetic enough, or that we are not focused enough on economics, or that we are trapped by our time in Government. Wrong," he announced.

"I have heard say that the first thing I want to do is jump straight back into Government with Fine Gael. Wrong again.

"I sought the leadership of our party. I was proud to be elected leader. And I will continue to lead, outlining the values and beliefs of Labour in clear language," he pledged.

Mr Howlin said the party as a whole needed to face political reality that it had lost the trust of many people "who should be supporting us".

He admitted: "They feel we let them down in Government. I can talk about how we increased the rights of workers through collective bargaining legislation, how we blocked Fine Gael privatisations, and cleaned up the mess left by Fianna Fáil.

"But for too many people, the recession still isn’t over. Now we have to fight to recover people’s support."

He suggested that party fortunes also depended on internal cohesion, without making direct reference to the leadership’s belief that Mr Kelly’s supporters attempted to sow division over the summer.

"The Labour Party has always had a strong tradition of internal democracy," he claimed, "and I made clear when I was elected, that mine would be an inclusive leadership.

"But I will be listening carefully to what everyone here has to say."

 

By Daniel McConnell
Political Editor

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