Embattled leader forced into waging war on two fronts
Enda Kenny yesterday stood up to propose a motion of no confidence in Taoiseach Brian Cowen on foot of the banking crisis reports last week.
But, in truth, he is the leader more in danger of losing his position this week.
As a result there was a surreal atmosphere when Mr Kenny's speech began at 3:23pm yesterday.
The man at the eye of the storm was in sharp focus. Sitting alongside him was not his former deputy leader, who has developed his party's economic policy throughout the banking and fiscal crisis.
Instead, Richard Bruton sat in the row behind him and two seats down. Fine Gael health spokesman, Dr James Reilly, a firm backer of Mr Kenny, sat in Mr Bruton's old seat -- probably a sign of what's to come if the leader survives tomorrow.
Rather than engaging in heckling, Fianna Fail's backbenchers remained pretty much silent -- although there was plenty of eyes thrown to heaven when he raised points which might just as easily have been turned back on him.
"How can you come in here today and ask this House to vote confidence in you," he said. Mr Kenny had seen more than half of his frontbench march out and state they no longer had confidence in his leadership.
It followed a tense and fractious meeting of the frontbench where the party leader refused to listen to dissenting views and set out some home truths.
Choosing his own battlefield, Mr Kenny moved the fight on to tomorrow's meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party. All those years of travelling up and down the country are paying dividends.
"The backbenchers are fairly solidifying with Enda. His personal relations are coming into play. There is a personal likeness for Kenny," a source said. Mr Kenny's 'war cabinet' met in an office in Leinster House yesterday morning at 9:30am.
His chief strategist, Phil Hogan, health spokesman James Reilly; chief whip Paul Kehoe and Senator Paddy Burke, a close friend from Mayo, were at the meeting.
The idea of shutting down the frontbench meeting was discussed the previous day. Similar to some media organisations, the Kenny camp got a tip-off of a meeting at the Green Isle Hotel on the outskirts of Dublin of several frontbench members.
"We knew within five minutes of the lads arriving. A call was made," a source said. Once word came in, Mr Kenny decided to proceed with his plan of reading the riot act to the frontbench and shutting down the debate until tomorrow. Again, he was dictating the play.
The frontbench members responded by marching out to declare their lack of confidence in his leadership. Mr Hogan also went on the offensive, criticising Mr Bruton's lack of effort over the past three months.
Behind the scenes the Kenny camp has been lobbying away at backbenchers, focusing on those not pinned down already and ensuring no slippage from the ranks of the committed. "I'm as busy as a bee all day," a source said.