'Rebel' insists Kenny's exit must be faced on Dáil return
Published 01/08/2016 | 02:30
The 'Kerry rebel' has brushed aside suggestions that he was left in the lurch by colleagues when hardy came to hardy on the need to settle the Fine Gael leadership issue.
Up to half a dozen TDs made it clear that Enda Kenny's plan for departing as party leader must be swiftly spelt out. But Kerry's Brendan Griffin was a lone voice on July 11 last when he bluntly signalled it was "time-to-go time" for his party leader.
Back in Kerry this bank holiday weekend, obsessively following constituency concerns, he says he remains unrepentant: The leadership issue must be faced once the new political term begins.
The 34-year-old father of two cites the party's meeting of TDs and senators on September 12 in Newbridge, Co Kildare, before the Dáil returns, as a good opportunity for the issue to be discussed.
"Our first obligation is to provide stable government to meet the huge economic and social challenges out there now. That means the party must also have a strategy for self-preservation, and that in turn means a state of readiness to fight an election," he argues.
"Our partners in government and Fianna Fáil know we're not ready to fight an election. That means we're seen as the ones most likely to blink first when any issue comes up. That does not make good government."
Griffin is also very frank about his mistrust of Fianna Fáil, whose agreement is needed to keep the Fine Gael-led minority coalition in business.
"Micheál Martin is less likely for the moment to pull the plug because he has been obliged to say he will not do so. But that does not mean he will not find an excuse next year or even earlier. That means we have to resolve the leadership issue very soon," he says.
Griffin insists that other "would-be rebels" did not leave him in the lurch last month. "I did not tell the others I was going on radio to talk about leadership change. I did not want it to look like the work of a cabal or a faction who were planning something. I wanted to speak honestly and from the heart," he continues.
Other TDs and senators, supportive of Enda Kenny, argue that those criticising the Taoiseach are people disappointed at not getting appointed to the new Government team. But Griffin argues that he has good relations with "nearly all the members of the parliamentary party".
He is determined that his focus was not about promotion to government after Mr Kenny's departure. "I probably would have got promotion if I was a good boy who went to the Dáil and sat in the front of the room. But I'm not like that and my interest is Kerry."
In that regard, he notes that the February General Election, and subsequent opinion polls, have shown that too many ordinary people have disengaged from Fine Gael. "We need a generational change in leadership if we are to reconnect with the people who have abandoned us. I do not believe Enda Kenny, nor his deputy leader James Reilly, can lead that re-connection."
This brings us to the key question - does he have a preference for who should replace Enda Kenny?
"I have a preference, but I'm not going into that now. In the media it is painted as a contest between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. But there are others, including Frances Fitzgerald, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy.
"In fact we are blessed with the largest number of able potential leaders in the party's history. Fine Gael now has more potential leaders than any other party," he says determinedly.
Griffin also owns to a certain grudging regard for the performance of Micheál Martin as Fianna Fáil leader: "Of the four main party leaders in the General Election campaign, Micheál Martin often stood out as performing best. But I believe that Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney could blow Micheál Martin out of the water," he says.
For Brendan Griffin, Irish politics continues to become more "leader focused", which makes having a strong leader with a united party an imperative.
He is determined to continue as a Fine Gael TD. He first stood unsuccessfully for Kerry County Council in 2004 and survived a dogfight last February.