Tuesday 19 September 2017

FG rebels put stop to 'political hanging'

Taoiseach's bid to oust FF McGuinness thwarted by his own outspoken troops

John Drennan and Daniel McConnell

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has this weekend been accused by members of his own party of trying to "organise a hanging" of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness and of undermining the committee's work.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that a furious row has broken out within Fine Gael amid concerns that an overly "autocratic" Mr Kenny and senior ministers are attempting to oust Mr McGuinness as chairman of the PAC.

Many within the party are deeply unhappy with Mr Kenny over his comments in Rome last Monday in which he said Micheal Martin should "reflect" on his decision to appoint Mr McGuinness as chair of the committee – which is normally independent of partisan party politics.

They feel Mr Kenny's comments represented a gross interference with the independence of the committee, which they say was "inevitably politicised" as a result.

Analysis, pages 14-15, 23, 26

The committee descended into "farce" last Thursday when government TD John Deasy claimed many in government circles felt Mr McGuinness had "crossed the line" in his role as chairman and that the controversy around him is being used as an "opportunity to get rid of you as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee".

In the wake of the claims by Mr Deasy, government members of the PAC denied that any pressure had been put upon them. However, these claims have since been contradicted by numerous sources within Fine Gael. Instead, anger is growing within the party over what one source described as "an attempted political execution" where the Taoiseach went "beyond his powers".

The Sunday Independent has established:

• Speaking privately, two of the Fine Gael members of the PAC admitted they had come under pressure from within FG to criticise their own chairman.

• Fine Gael figures rang TDs to seek quotes critical of Mr McGuinness in order to "attack a political enemy" – despite the traditional independence and non-partisan nature of the PAC.

• The spend on Mr McGuinness's trip on St Patrick's Day to Seattle (€22,000) was well below the claims of other ministers, one of which cost the taxpayer €75,000, but only details of Mr McGuinness's travel costs were highlighted.

"This is a hanging organised from the Taoiseach's office. This is coming from deep within the highest echelons of FG, Kenny and senior Fine Gael politicians," said one party figure.

"There was an edict issued for the political execution of Mr McGuinness. Kenny was acting like some king. He and his allies believe they have absolute power and can do whatever they want," said another.

Another Fine Gael TD said "it was coming from the Taoiseach's office".

Despite the controversy, Mr Deasy told the Sunday Independent it was "important that the committee now return to its critical work of protecting the interests of the taxpayer".

Government attempts to take Mr McGuinness out as chairman were thwarted at a "fraught" meeting of the Fine Gael sub-group of the PAC, it has been established.

At the meeting of the five Fine Gael TDs – Kieran O'Donnell, John Deasy, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris and Paul Connaughton Junior – three TDs were particularly critical of Mr McGuinness.

Wicklow TD Simon Harris (who had led the public criticism of Mr McGuinness last week) was, along with Mr Donohoe and Mr O'Donnell, of the opinion that they would only decide on their support for Mr McGuinness after he answered their questions. However, it is believed this position was strongly opposed by Mr Deasy.

Sources have said there were "strong exchanges," and at one point Mr Deasy told Mr Harris: "You come in here saying someone is out to get McGuinness, someone is leaking and your response to this is to say he should go. If that's your rationale for ruining someone's career, I wouldn't like to be relying on you if I was in trouble."

Mr Deasy reportedly added: "Unless you can prove McGuinness has done something wrong, I am not going to be part of some lynch mob."

Mr Connaughton concluded that the evidence was "not the basis for a hanging" with Eoghan Murphy TD indicating his support for Mr McGuinness via a text to Mr O'Donnell.

The PAC is to write to Mr Kenny and to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on Tuesday to "highlight the concerns raised at the meeting by members" last Thursday and to seek a response. At the meeting last Thursday, Mr McGuinness said he was "damn sure the information was being leaked by the department".

Last night, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said it "absolutely rejected any suggestion of the type made by Deputy McGuinness".

Last night, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he was astonished at Mr Deasy's comments. Mr Martin said the spectacle of Fine Gael TDs trying to restrain their own Taoiseach should give "everyone pause for thought" in a week when the Government made its first move to shut down the Seanad.

He added: "The prospect of a campaign to nobble the outspoken chair of the Oireachtas's most important and independent committee gives very little comfort about their commitment to allowing dissent and encouraging more transparency in the political system."

Irish Independent

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