Labour Party faces even tougher election battle amid loss of two sitting TDs

Departure of former leader Wexford TD Brendan Howlin and Cork East TD Seán Sherlock from party ranks set to complicate strategy

A woman drops her vote into the ballot box during the vote on the European Union's fiscal treaty referendum at a Polling Station in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday, May 31, 2012. The Irish vote on the European Union's latest treaty today, with polls indicating they will endorse measures designed to ease the euro region's debt crisis. Photographer: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

The Labour Party always had a battle on its hands to maintain or increase its seven TDs.

The announcement by two of them — former leader, Wexford TD Brendan Howlin and Cork East TD Seán Sherlock — that they will not be contesting the next election does not make life any easier for Ivana Bacik’s party.

Mr Howlin’s impending departure after more than 41 years in Leinster House is no surprise to Labour.

Party optimism

There is some optimism within the party that the likely candidate to replace him, Cllr George Lawlor, will hold the seat.


This is because, despite the Wexford constituency being reduced to four seats by the Electoral Commission’s recent boundary review, the redrawn map leaves the Labour Party’s main support base in the south of the county intact.

However, the loss of Mr Sherlock is a blow to the party’s hopes of retaining his seat.

The same boundary review moved his Mallow heartland to Cork North-Central, which meant that were he to run, Mr Sherlock would have had to start fresh in a new constituency — a daunting prospect for a politician with a young family.

Labour will be hard-pressed to keep the Cork East seat, with Sinn Féin likely to return a TD in the three-seater where it has no representation.

‘No safe seats’

Some in the party believe the loss of this seat could be cancelled out by a win in the newly expanded five-seat Cork North-Central where Cllr John Maher is the likely candidate.

But a safer bet would have been Mr Sherlock’s return in an unchanged Cork East given his family’s almost six decades of representing the area.

Sources who spoke to The Irish Times on Monday did not accept all is lost nationally for Ivana Bacik’s party and there is a belief that it could return as many as 10 TDs to the next Dáil.

However, neither do people in Labour underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the party with one source saying: “There are no safe Labour seats” and all of the party’s TDs will have to “fight for it” if they are to be returned to the Dáil.

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Labour has still not recovered from the electoral battering it got in 2016 after its stint in government with Fine Gael in the years following the last financial crash. That coalition was punished by the electorate, particularly Labour, for the austerity measures imposed during its time in office.

Labour stood at 3 per cent in last month’s Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll.

Labour targets

On Monday a party insider said national polling does not reflect areas where Labour is strong locally and the party has places where it hopes it can add seats.

Extra seats to be added to constituencies in Kildare North and Longford-Westmeath are targets and there are hopes that Senators Mark Wall and Rebecca Moynihan could win seats in Kildare South and Dublin South Central respectively.

The local elections are happening next June and one source said they will “not be making any forecast before then”.

The results of that vote will offer clues as to how Labour might fare when the real test comes in a general election which must be held by March 2025 at the latest.