“Ivana is incredible, she was fighting issues before they became fashionable. She deserves her chance – let’s give it to her,” he told his local radio station Tipp FM.
The Tipperary TD announced during an emotional press conference on Wednesday night outside Leinster House that he was resigning as Labour Party leader after his colleagues lost faith in his ability to deliver.
He acknowledged that the party had not made the progress he would have liked in opinion polls under his leadership.
Recent meetings held by the parliamentary party and an emergency meeting on Wednesday discussed issues of culture, poor polling and unhappiness in its leadership.
Mr Kelly acknowledged that Ms Bacik will be the next leader of the Labour party and said she is a “honourable person” .
“ Ivana almost certainly now will be the next leader and I want people to unite around her and I want us to go forward. She is a very honourable person.”
When asked if he would contest the next general election, Mr Kelly said he would not make any rash decisions. He would take “a week or two” to reflect and acknowledged that in the past he did not intend to remain in politics until retirement.
Mr Kelly denied that “backroom machinations” were behind his decision to resign the leadership of the party. The reasons were concerns about where the party was going and what it was doing.
It was pointed out to him that he did not have the collective support of the party which he accepted “straight away”.
“I suppose I’m in a very unusual situation. I became a leader during a pandemic and I stayed leader during the pandemic – from a national point of view, it was a very strange place to be operating politically. There was only one topic for two years – Coronavirus and how we were going to deal with it.
“I think when the Taoiseach rang me yesterday morning, he expressed thanks that I always put the country first and ensured that in any way I could help by being reasonable I did it, I think he said that publicly as well.”
The Labour Party leader said being in Opposition during those two years was very difficult.
“The second reason is very simple – that in polls we weren’t rising in them, they were static, my own satisfaction rate wasn’t bad, but the party poll numbers were stagnant.
“I suppose the third reason – I was a member of the Government from 2011 to 2016. I think we did fantastic work. I think as a Government we will go down in history as saving the country financially, but from a party perspective I think it’s time we moved on from that. I think that was a fairly significant factor that was referenced to me by my colleagues as well.
“I knew we were in a difficult situation, when you’re in politics leading a party at times can be a lonely job. It can be extremely difficult, it can be stressful, I wouldn’t say my health has gained from it; to be honest you’ve got to balance life.
“I’ve a young family, very elderly parents, many people around where I live around Nenagh know that and the circumstances. I tried to always look after my county, then trying to run a party nationally – I’m not going to lie to anyone and say it wasn’t difficult, because it was very difficult.”
Mr Kelly pointed out that he is 46 years of age and that he was happy with what he had done. He had contested seven different elections, at different levels – Seanad, European Parliament and Dáil and won them all.
“This is just another fork in the road, another chapter, moving on.”
Mr Kelly said that modern politics was very difficult and something that needed to be looked at by society, otherwise good people would not go into politics.
“I think we need to have good people in politics, but politics has become really, really difficult and good people aren’t going into politics and I can understand why. If I knew then what I know now about how politics operates I don’t know if I would have. . . it’s different, social media constantly on, everything is just so different.
“I have been in the Labour Party all my life, I was chair of Labour Youth, I sat on every committee you can in the party and I’ve served at every level. I’ve been a Junior and a Senior Minister, I’ve done it all, I’m not sure I could have done much more.
Mr Kelly added that he could now spend more time with his family and can attend more Tipperary matches.