Tuesday 25 October 2016

What's the Fine Gael think-in all about? Here are six hot topics up for discussion

Published 12/09/2016 | 11:10

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he will not lead Fine Gael into another general election. Picture Credit : Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he will not lead Fine Gael into another general election. Picture Credit : Frank McGrath

Racing and best-dressed ladies give way to politics today on the Curragh of Kildare as Fine Gael members gather to prepare for a new Dáil term.

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So what happens at the Fine Gael think-in? John Downing explains what the hot topics are:

1. General Election errors

At the Keadeen Hotel, on the edge of Ireland’s famous expanse of racing turf, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will face the music. Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs, will conduct an inquest into the loss of one third of their colleagues in this year’s general election.

There are two reports, one by a party-friendly academic and another by a team of TDs, which will lay the party’s dreadful campaign errors bare.

2. When will Kenny quit?

Campaign errors lead inevitably to the issue of Enda Kenny’s leadership. Kenny had more than his share of election campaign gaffes. Bluntly the parliamentarians want to know when and how he will quit. He has said he will not lead them in the next election.

They fear, that given the fragile state of this minority Government, a snap election could happen any time.

3. Brexit plans

The Taoiseach is no rush to go. He’s preparing for a major EU leaders’ summit in Bratislava, the Slovenian capital, on Friday. He says he will be pushing Ireland’s special case in a post-Brexit EU, without our key ally of the past 43 years of membership. Friday will be the first summit without a British Prime Minister present.

4. Power of the Independents

There are other big picture problems troubling the Fine Gael party, especially backbenchers. They fear Independent government supporters and Fianna Fáil, who are underpinning the minority coalition, have too much clout.

There will be much talk about the EU Commission ruling on Apple’s €13bn back-tax bill which leaves Ireland “piggy-in-the-middle.”  There’s a growing inevitability of an official inquiry, which the Government has resisted for two years, into NAMA’s operations. This will focus on its sale of “Project Eagle,” NAMA’s Northern Ireland properties, to the giant US “vulture fund” Cerberus for one third of its original book value.

5. Halligan's tough words

Then there is the extraordinary case of Independent junior minister, John Halligan, locked in a public war with his government colleagues over additional heart-treatment facilities at his local Waterford University Hospital.

In an extraordinary Sunday Independent interview he used foul language to accuse three Fine Gael ministers of “dirty politics” and a “stitch-up.” He called one of his own Independent colleagues, Kevin “Boxer” Moran “an idiot.”

Then he challenged the Government leaders to sack him. Fine Gael TDs want Halligan gone. Kenny fears tough action might bring down the Government.

6. Budget talk

To calm things, Enda Kenny wants the meeting to focus on the Budget, due for delivery on October 11. The deputies will get to grips with detailed budget demands aimed at helping their voters. They will also discuss homelessness and mental health issues.

The main sessions will be this afternoon and tomorrow morning, punctuated by drinks and dinner tonight.

The meetings will end at lunchtime tomorrow. The Curragh of Kildare will revert to racing.

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