Saturday 20 December 2014

A rousing speech that helped to save Kenny's leadership

Fionnan Sheahan and Fiach Kelly

Published 22/12/2012 | 05:00

It was a pivotal moment in the final debate to decide the leadership of Fine Gael. In June 2010, after months and years of grumbling, Enda Kenny's leadership was finally on the line, as Richard Bruton stepped out to challenge him.

As Fianna Fail collapsed, Labour had reaped the reward, overtaking Fine Gael and becoming the most popular party in a poll published on Friday, June 11.

What followed was a week's battle for control of the party, as Richard Bruton's cappuccino kids lined up against Enda Kenny's dinner-in-the-middle-of-the-day men.

It culminated in the Fine Gael parliamentary party rooms on Thursday, June 17.

Shane McEntee was fully behind Mr Kenny, and had stopped off at Glasnevin Cemetery on his way to Leinster House that day to visit the grave of Michael Collins.

He drew inspiration from it. It fired him up for the day ahead, and the crucial meeting in the Leinster House basement, which started at 11.30 that morning.

There were hours of speeches, before the votes were cast and Mr Kenny was announced the winner just after 4.30pm.

But one of the speeches credited with swinging the room behind the now Taoiseach was given by Mr McEntee.

Afterwards, as victorious Kenny supporters basked in the sunshine on the Leinster House plinth, Mr McEntee recounted his Glasnevin visit to everyone.

That was him, emotional and with the heart on the sleeve, his colleagues recalled yesterday.

When he was elected to the Dail in 2005, replacing former Taoiseach John Bruton who had become EU Ambassador to Washington, his teary-eyed reaction reflected the honour he felt in becoming an elected representative.

He was always proud to say he came from Fine Gael – even when the ruthless side of politics saw him undeservedly lose a selection convention to run in the 2002 General Election.

He bounced back to become the first TD elected under Mr Kenny's leadership in the Meath by-election. He remained a loyalist of the party leader's.

When Mr Kenny became Taoiseach, Mr McEntee was made Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture with special responsibilities for Food, Food Safety and Horticulture.

Coming from a strong farming tradition, he was well acquainted with the area.

But Mr McEntee has courted controversy over the past year, wrongly claiming in the Seanad that the Government was going to reverse the ban on stag hunting.

Immersed

He was under severe pressure in recent weeks over contentious comments in the wake of the Budget about respite care grants, which gained local and national publicity.

Colleagues said he was not in good form in recent weeks. He was also working to deal with the spread of the disease affecting Ash trees and lobbying to have homeowners affected by pyrite exempt from the property tax.

Mr McEntee was also affected badly by the death of a local man in an accident in Slane recently, feeling road deaths could be prevented in the notorious blackspot.

Aside from farming and politics, Mr McEntee was immersed in the GAA. Although his brother Gerry is well known as part of the great Meath team that won back-to-back All-Ireland's in 1987 and 1988, Mr McEntee himself was a quite prolific manager.

As a defender, he won a Feis Cup in 1983 with Nobber, but he also brought three clubs to intermediate football finals – Ballinlough, Syddan, and Castletown – winning two of the titles.

He also managed the Meath minor football team in the 1990s.

Mr McEntee was heavily influenced by his father, Tony, who died at the age of 86 in March last year and his mother, Madge, who lives in Nobber.

Speaking after the burial, Mr McEntee paid tribute to his father saying: "My father was involved in an awful lot of organisations and while he had a strong point of view – he never fell out with anyone.

"He always did things for the right reason, and if he was in a position he never represented himself, he always represented the people.

"His mother and father were strong Fine Gaelers from the foundation of the State so politics was always there, but the IFA was always his number one.

"That's what he fought for throughout his life, farmer rights and living standards for farmers."

Those fine words will doubtless be recalled this weekend as family and friends recall Shane McEntee.

Irish Independent

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