Enda Kenny faces backbench backlash at Ard Fheis
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is facing an angry backlash from backbench TDs who feel they were snubbed by the organisers of today's Fine Gael Ard Fheis.
A number of Fine Gael members are up in arms over a decision to include four recently elected MEPs on a televised panel discussion in lieu of TDs who will be going before the electorate within the next year.
A debate on 'securing the recovery', which is being broadcast live on RTE on Saturday, will be chaired by Midlands North West MEP Mairead McGuinness and will feature contributions from her fellow MEPs Deirdre Clune, Brian Hayes and Sean Kelly.
Seven ministers, eight TDs and two senators will also appear on the television debate.
There will also be contributions from six councillors - half of whom were named on a secret list of potential candidates to fight the next election for the party.
However, the inclusion of four of the party's European representatives has led to resentment among TDs who fear losing their seats.
"Why are they being accommodated and getting their mugs put on television? They aren't facing the electorate in the next year," a Fine Gael TD said.
Another party source said: "You have to be either a woman or from Dublin to be getting anywhere in this party now."
A third TD said he believed deputies who have "put in the hard graft" over recent years should be "rewarded" with a TV slot.
A party spokesman said a "huge amount of time and effort" goes into planning the event and the party tries to ensure "there is as much balance as possible".
The conference is being held in Mr Kenny's home town of Castlebar, Co Mayo and a major garda operation will be in place to police an expected 1,000 anti-water charge protesters planning to picket the event.
Sources said a risk assessment and policing plan was carried out and gardaí held discussions with groups planning to stage demonstrations.
"Obviously a small group of the anti-water charge demonstrators have upped the ante and the hotel has to be secure while the event is on. Everyone has a right to protest but you can have people who aren't part of the protest causing trouble," a source said.
The concern among senior gardaí over security at the conference comes after the Taoiseach said he rejected an offer for increased security. Mr Kenny said he does not personally feel beefed-up security is necessary but that such an offer was extended to him.
He said he would, however, support the provision of extra security for President Michael D Higgins.
The two-day conference is being held in the Mayo Convention Centre in the TF Royal Hotel and Theatre in the heart of Castlebar.
This is the first time Fine Gael will hold a conference in Mr Kenny's constituency since he was elected as Taoiseach.
The homecoming event will be seen as a huge boost for a town where many believe they have not benefited from Mr Kenny's leadership of the country.
Local TD Michelle Mulherin is giving the opening address tonight, which will be followed by a debate on 'rural recovery' chaired by her constituency colleague John O'Mahony.
Fellow Mayo TD Michael Ring is understood to be the warm-up act before the Taoiseach's keynote address tomorrow evening.
Mayo senior football team goalkeeper Rob Hennelly is a special guest for a discussion on mental health, which will also include a contribution from Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Economist and Independent Newspapers columnist Dan O'Brien will speak during a debate on 'Making Work Pay'.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe will debate crime.