Rival camps: Anti-Kenny
THE group of nine rebel Fine Gael frontbenchers trying to unseat Enda Kenny last night claimed a majority in the party would back their attempts.
They had hoped to avoid a "very damaging" leadership contest by demanding his resignation yesterday behind closed doors. But they were prevented from carrying out their plan at the frontbench meeting in Leinster House after Mr Kenny refused to allow them to speak and closed the meeting down.
The main spokesman for the rebels, Roscommon South-Leitrim TD Denis Naughten, said they believed that they had the backing of the party in their challenge to Mr Kenny's position.
"We believe Enda hasn't got the confidence of the public, he hasn't got the support of the parliamentary party and, because of that, we believe now is the time for Enda to step aside," he said.
The nine rebels include five TDs with deep Fine Gael roots including Mr Naughten himself (son of former TD Liam Naughten), communications spokesman Simon Coveney (son of former Fine Gael minister Hugh Coveney), social protection spokeswoman Olwyn Enright (daughter of former TD Tom Enright), foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins (son of former TD Godfrey Timmins) and agriculture spokesman Michael Creed (son of former TD Donal Creed).
The others include arts spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell and transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd, who said it was time for a new leader.
They have acknowledged that their political careers are on the line after Mr Kenny effectively dismissed them by saying that a new frontbench line-up would be selected next week.
Mr Coveney had previously appealed for party unity and cautioned against "overreacting to a single opinion poll result". But yesterday he denied his public rebellion against Mr Kenny meant he had been speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
"I appealed for unity in the party and I still appeal for that. I think the Rubicon has been crossed. Enda has decided to put this to a vote. He obviously thinks he can win that, I don't think he can," he said.
Enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar, who was believed to be supporting Mr Kenny as recently as last weekend, made it clear he was now firmly opposed to the Mayo TD's leadership. "I agree with everything that has been said," he said.