North Tipperary Junior Minister Alan Kelly is to contest one of the top jobs in the Labour Party following Eamon Gilmore’s resignation.
The Nenagh-based TD told the Tipperary Star that while he had not made his mind up on whether to seek the leader’s role or the deputy leader’s position, “you can safely say I will be contesting one of the jobs”.
However, Deputy Kelly said he had already got great support locally and from around the country, and that would have a bearing on his running for the leader’s position.
“I have had so many TDs, councillors and ex-councillors on to me asking me to seek the role,” he said.
Apart from the support of the grassroots in Tipperary, he said he would also expect to have great support throughout Munster, having been elected as an MEP for Ireland South before he went to the Dail in 2011. He also has many contacts in Dublin, having lived there for eight years.
He took Labour’s first Euro seat in 18 years in 2009 at the first time of asking, and in 2011 took the last seat in Tipperary North, being promoted immediately by Eamon Gilmore to Junior Minister for Public and Commuter Transport and Tourism.
“Because of my job in transport, it has got me around the country to meet people,” he told the Star.
The bookies have already installed Deputy Kelly as one of the favourites at 9/4.
Deputy Kelly is an admirer of local Labour stalwart Frank Lewis as well as the influencial late Jim Kemmy, and founded a UCC branch named after the former Limerick TD. Among his strengths would be his desire to wrestle power back from the Democratic Left cabal that now rules the party and return Labour to the orginal raison d’etre for its existance. This would certainly go down well with rural party members. The party marked its founding in Clonmel 100 years ago last year.
While not having come up through the traditional council route, he has experience in Europe and the senate, and is well known among Washington circles through his brother, former Tipperary Star journalist Declan, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton as one of his special envoys to the North.
His main rival is likely to be Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, but there are those within the party who feel she has been tied to the policies of the past three years, and though popular with the grassroots, many will see her as old guard if it comes to the party seeking a “generational” change. The same could apply to Brendan Howlin, and his acceptance to Fine Gael as a leader could rankle with Labour voters who want to see a change in policy under any new leadership.
The new leadership will inevitably have to bring about a new Programme for Government, and, if that fails, a general election.
While many will not want an election, it could be argued that the party could use its time in Opposition to rebuild, much as Fianna Fail has done over the past three years. A stronger party at any subsequent general election, coupled with any electoral gains a more mainstream Sinn Fein might get, could eventually see the emergence of a Left orientated government.
Meanwhile, Deputy Kelly paid tribute to outgoing leader and Tanaiste, Mr Gilmore, saying history will “judge him well”.
“He got us out of the bailout and led the party to unprecedented electoral success in 2011. He was dignified in his exit from the leader’s job and that is greatly appreciated and admired,” said the Junior Minister.
On a personal level, he said Mr Gilmore had asked him to contest the European elections in 2009, and had been a great support during that campaign, “and I appreciate him making me a Junior Minister”.
Deputy Kelly said that in 2011, Mr Gilmore had put the country ahead of the party, and now in resigning, he was putting the party ahead of the personal.