Alan Kelly has resigned as leader of the Irish Labour Party following a sudden heave against him by his fellow party TDs. The colleagues who forced him out stood uneasily in the background as the Labour leader made an emotional resignation speech to the media on Wednesday evening.
Mr Kelly said it had been “the best political day of my life” when he became leader and that he had been eager to lead the party into a general election.
He spoke of his “surprise” at learning that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues in the parliamentary party on Tuesday. He admitted that there had been concerns about Labour’s polling performance and that the move followed a “number of frank discussions”.
Mr Kelly’s near two-year period in charge of the party was marked by the surprise by-election success of Dublin Bay South TD Ivana Bacik. However, even that failed to spark a revival in Labour’s standing in the polls, which has been rooted at the 4% level for several years.
Once the party of socialist rebel James Connolly, Labour suffered a steep decline in recent decades after adopting centrist and right-wing policies. It also suffered from its association in the minds of voters with the disastrous right-wing coalitions it formed, most recently with Fine Gael in 2011.
Mr Kelly said that the party had not got the “bounce” he had hoped for in the past two years and that he felt restricted in his capacity as leader during the pandemic.
“It is also a reality that it had been hard for us, as a party, very much associated with the term 2011-2016 and for those of us involved in that government, to move on, and I think it’s time now we did,” he said.
It was an abrupt ending for the Tipperary man, who once declared “power is a drug... it suits me”.
The party now undertakes the search for a new leader, the fifth in a span of eight years, as well as a new political direction.
Party figures said Ms Bacik, a former law professor and a pro-abortion progressive, once labelled ‘the queen of political correctness’, is the most likely candidate to become the next leader. One reportedly said she is the “only candidate”.
If elected in the next few weeks, Ms Bacik will likely reposition Labour as populist progressives and move further away from its origins as the party of Ireland’s working class.