Thursday 21 September 2017

Family wields influence in FF like a junior coalition party

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Mary O'Rourke proudly stood outside Leinster House with her two nephews.

Due to be appointed as Minister for Public Enterprise later that day, Fianna Fail's deputy leader surveyed the scene as the Dail sat for the first time after the 1997 General Election.

Under Bertie Ahern, Fianna Fail was on its way back into power, forming a minority coalition with four Progressive Democrat TDs, supported by four Independents.

Conor Lenihan was one of Ahern's 'Class of 97', the group of new TDs who won extra seats to recoup the losses from the previous election.

The previous year, Brian Lenihan fended off the challenge of Joe Higgins to win a by-election following the death of his father, Brian Snr.

Ms O'Rourke was at the height of her powers, elected for the fifth time as TD for Westmeath and a certainty to be in a senior role in the Cabinet.

Observing the electoral arithmetic, she drew attention to the Lenihan clan's strength, contrasting with the poor showing by the PDs in that election.

"If we had just one more, we'd be like the PDs. Then we would have ministers, junior ministers and senators," she joked.

Influence

Thirteen years on and the influence the Lenihan clan commands within the Fianna Fail party is certainly comparable with a junior coalition party.

The family has a cabinet minister, a junior minister and an influential backbencher with an independent stream of thought.

The past week saw suggestions Brian Lenihan was ready to step up to the leadership if a vacancy arose, while Conor Lenihan and Ms O'Rourke made comments regarded as less than helpful to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr Cowen's need to have Brian Lenihan flanking him to quell backbench leadership rumblings merely reiterated the influential role he commands within the party.

Irish Independent

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