Monday 5 December 2016

Ministers forced to defend Kenny after 'whinger' gaffe

Cormac McQuinn, Kevin Doyle and Barry Lennon

Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny listens to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanangan, Minister Richard Bruton Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Paudie Coffey, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment with Special Responsibility for Housing, Planning and Coordination of the Construction 2020 Strategy at 'eishtec' in Waterford during a visit to the plant. Pic: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny listens to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanangan, Minister Richard Bruton Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Paudie Coffey, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment with Special Responsibility for Housing, Planning and Coordination of the Construction 2020 Strategy at 'eishtec' in Waterford during a visit to the plant. Pic: Steve Humphreys

Ministers have been forced to defend Taoiseach Enda Kenny amid concerns in Fine Gael that his campaign performance has damaged the party's chances.

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After 48 hours of his "All-Ireland champion whingers" gaffe dominating the news cycle, Mr Kenny finally moved to clarify the remarks he made in Castlebar on Saturday. He said he was referring to Fianna Fáil politicians in the town, not ordinary members of the public.

It came amid mixed results for Mr Kenny's party in opinion polls and issues earlier in the campaign, such as the length of time he took to rule out a post-election deal with Independent TD Michael Lowry.

Fine Gael sources last night told the Irish Independent of internal concern at Mr Kenny's performance so far.

"So much of the campaign has been spent talking about his mistakes... We had hoped for better but it's not over yet," said a source.

Another noted that while the party is fully behind Mr Kenny, the events of recent weeks will be remembered with "a level of anxiety".

Mr Kenny last night offered his "full apologies to the people of Castlebar".

"There was no offence meant to any member of the public. I was having a political go at a small number of Fianna Fáil councillors," Mr Kenny said on RTÉ's 'Six One' news.

Earlier, at a press conference, Mr Kenny was asked if he regretted what he said. "Mea Culpa. I accept I should have clarified my remarks," he said. He added that the public are "quite entitled to give me their anxieties and their concerns."

Mr Kenny was asked if he believes Fine Gael was pleased with his performance on the campaign trail.

"I've made mistakes in my life," Mr Kenny said, adding that he had now clarified the 'whingeing' comments.

"I've always admitted my failings," Mr Kenny continued.

"On the other hand, I can look back with pride on the last five years with a team that had to make the most difficult decisions of any since the foundation of the State."

Ministers Charlie Flanagan, Richard Bruton and junior minister Paudie Coffey were asked what marks out of 10 they'd give Mr Kenny on his campaign performance.

Mr Flanagan described Mr Kenny as an "outstanding Taoiseach" who has received "plaudits right across the globe".

Mr Bruton - who previously challenged Mr Kenny for leadership of Fine Gael with a failed heave in 2010 - said that "leaders are measured really by how they react at times of crisis".

"It hasn't been perfect. We all acknowledge mistakes can be made but we are in such a much better place under Enda's leadership than we were when we started on this journey... On that score, the Taoiseach is an outstanding success."

Mr Coffey said: "I've the fullest of support in An Taoiseach and his colleagues for the track record from where they've brought us in the last five years."

Asked if that meant they were all giving Mr Kenny 10 out of 10 for his campaign performance report card, Mr Flanagan replied "11".

Fianna Fáil councillor in the Castlebar district Al McDonnell last night said: "The apology is late and you can't undo what's said."

His party colleague Cllr Blackie K Gavin said: "People here are very hurt, the town council is gone, we've lost jobs here."

Irish Independent

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