Brendan Howlin

Brendan Howlin
Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
20 May 2016
Preceded by Joan Burton
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
In office
9 March 2011  6 May 2016
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Paschal Donohoe
Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
In office
26 June 2007  9 March 2011
Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue
Rory O'Hanlon
Preceded by Séamus Pattison
Succeeded by Michael Kitt
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
13 November 1997  25 October 2002
Leader Ruairi Quinn
Preceded by Ruairi Quinn
Succeeded by Liz McManus
Minister for the Environment
In office
14 December 1994  26 June 1997
Taoiseach John Bruton
Preceded by Michael Smith
Succeeded by Noel Dempsey
Minister for Health
In office
12 January 1993  17 November 1994
Taoiseach Albert Reynolds
Preceded by John O'Connell
Succeeded by Michael Woods
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
February 1987
Constituency Wexford
In office
21 February 1983  17 February 1987
Constituency Nominated by the Taoiseach
Personal details
Born (1956-05-09) 9 May 1956
Wexford, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Labour Party
Alma mater St Patrick's College, Dublin

Brendan Howlin (born 9 May 1956) is an Irish Labour Party politician. He is Leader of the Labour Party since 2016 and has served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Wexford since 1987. He has been Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Health and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.[1][2]

Early life

Born into a highly political family in Wexford, Howlin is the son of John and Molly Howlin (née Dunbar), and named after Brendan Corish, the local Labour TD. Howlin's father was a trade union official who served as secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union in Wexford for 40 years. He also secured election as a Labour member of Wexford Corporation, where he served for eighteen years, and was also election agent to Brendan Corish. Howlin's mother was also strongly involved in local Labour politics.[3]

Howlin grew up in Wexford town and was educated locally at Wexford CBS. He later attended St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin and qualified as a primary school teacher.[2] During his career as a teacher he was active in the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, before embarking on a career in full-time politics.

National politics

Early years: 1982–1993

Howlin contested his first national election at the November 1982 general election. He ran as a Labour candidate in the Wexford constituency and, despite the existence of a large left-wing vote in the area, Howlin was not elected.[4] In spite of this setback, a Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government came to power and he was nominated by the Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald to serve in Seanad Éireann.[1]

Howlin secured election to Wexford County Council in 1985 and served as Mayor of Wexford in 1986.

In 1987, the Labour Party withdrew from the coalition government and a general election was called. Howlin once again contested a seat in Wexford and was elected to Dáil Éireann.[4] Labour were out of office as a Fianna Fáil government took office. In spite of his recent entry to the Dáil, Howlin was subsequently named Chief Whip of the Labour Party, a position he held until 1993.

Cabinet minister: 1993–1997

The 1992 general election resulted in a hung Dáil once again; however, the Labour Party enjoyed their best result to date. After negotiations, a Fianna Fáil-Labour Party coalition government was the outcome. Howlin joined the cabinet of Albert Reynolds, taking over as Minister for Health. During his tenure the development of a four-year health strategy, the identifying of HIV/AIDS prevention as a priority and the securing of a £35 million investment in childcare were advanced. Howlin, however, was also targeted by anti-abortion groups after introducing an act which would allow information regarding abortion.

In 1994, the Labour Party withdrew from government after a disagreement over the appointment of Harry Whelehan as Attorney-General. No general election was called and, while it was hoped that the coalition could be revived under new Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, the arithmetic of the Dáil now allowed the Labour Party to open discussions with the opposition parties. After negotiations a Rainbow Coalition came to power involving Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left. Howlin returned to John Bruton's cabinet, this time as Minister for the Environment.

Leadership contender: 1997

Following the 1997 general election a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition government came to power and the Labour Party returned to the opposition benches. In the announcement of the party's new front bench, Howlin retained responsibility for the Environment.

In late 1997, Dick Spring resigned as leader of the Labour Party and Howlin immediately threw his hat into the ring in the subsequent leadership election. In a choice between Howlin and Ruairi Quinn, the former gained some early support; however, the leadership eventually went to Quinn by a significant majority. As a show of unity Howlin was later named deputy leader of the party and retained his brief as spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government.

Leadership contender: 2002

In 2002, following Quinn's resignation as party leader after Labour's relatively unsuccessful 2002 general election campaign, Howlin again stood for the party leadership.[5] For the second time in five years Howlin was defeated for the leadership of the party, this time by Pat Rabbitte, who was formerly a leading figure in Democratic Left.[6] Howlin was succeeded as deputy leader by Liz McManus.

While having been publicly supportive of Rabbitte's leadership, he was perceived as being the leader of the wing of the party which was sceptical of Rabbitte's policy with regard to future coalition with Fianna Fáil. Rabbitte explicitly ruled out any future coalition with Fianna Fáil, instead forming a formal alliance with Fine Gael in the run-up to the 2007 general election (the so-called Mullingar Accord).

Leas-Cheann Comhairle: 2007–2011

On 26 June 2007, Howlin was appointed the Leas-Cheann Comhairle (Deputy chairman) of Dáil Éireann.[1]

Cabinet minister: 2011–2016

After the 2011 general election, Howlin was appointed to the new office of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. In May 2011 he said that over the next 20 years the number of people in Ireland over 65 is set to increase by almost half a million, a situation that could see the annual health budget soar – rising by €12.5 billion in the next decade alone. While reform was a major part of Government attempts "to regain full sovereignty over economic policy", Howlin told a meeting of the Association of Chief Executives of State Agencies they would in any event face key "imperatives" in coming years. He said a new public spending review, on which he had briefed the Cabinet in recent days, would not be a simple assessment of where to make cuts, but would also consider the way public sector services were delivered. Howlin reiterated the Government's commitment not to cut public sector pay, "if the Croke Park Agreement works". "These are just some of the challenges that our society is facing in the coming decade – crisis or no crisis. In the good times, tackling them was going to be difficult. Today, in these difficult times, tackling them is going to be imperative." Howlin said Ireland was facing a profound and complex economic crisis "where we are fighting a battle on three fronts – mass unemployment, a major failure in banking, and a fiscal crisis".[7]

Opposition and Labour leadership: 2016–present

Howlin retained his seat in the Dáil following the 2016 general election, though only six of his Labour colleagues did likewise and the party returned to the opposition benches. Howlin retained his position as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform until talks on government formation had concluded and his successor, Paschal Donohoe, was appointed, earning €30,295 in that time.[8] Following the resignation of Joan Burton, Howlin contested the 2016 Labour Party leadership election and was elected Leader of the Labour Party on 20 May 2016.

Private life

Howlin is a single man. He has spoken publicly of receiving hate mail relating to his private life and questioning his sexual orientation.[9] In an interview with The Star during the 2002 Labour Party leadership contest, in response to repeated speculation, he announced he was "not gay".


  1. 1 2 3 "Mr. Brendan Howlin". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  2. 1 2 "Profile of Brendan Howlin". Labour Party website. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  3. "Family was most important thing in life of Molly Howlin". Wexford People. 18 December 2003. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  4. 1 2 "Brendan Howlin". Retrieved 9 January 2007.
  5. "Howlin throws hat into Labour leadership ring". Irish Examiner. 11 September 2002. Retrieved 9 January 2007.
  6. Senan Molony (26 October 2002). "Victorious Rabbitte aims to increase party's appeal". Irish Independent. Retrieved 9 January 2007.
  7. O'Brien, Tim (14 April 2011). "Public service reform necessary – Howlin". The Irish Times. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  8. McGrath, Meadhbh (6 May 2016). "Revealed: The salaries TDs pocketed over 10 weeks of government talks". Irish Independent.
  9. Moloney, Senan (14 September 2002). "Labour hopeful Gilmore waits for last moment to make his bid". Irish Independent. Retrieved 14 September 2002.

External links

Preceded by
Michael D'Arcy
(Fine Gael)
Labour Party Teachta Dála for Wexford
Political offices
Preceded by
John O'Connell
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Michael Woods
Preceded by
Michael Smith
Minister for the Environment
Succeeded by
Noel Dempsey
Preceded by
Séamus Pattison
Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
Succeeded by
Michael Kitt
New office Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
Succeeded by
Paschal Donohoe
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ruairi Quinn
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Liz McManus
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