Rival camps: Pro-Kenny
RICHARD Bruton pulled back from fulfilling his responsibilities as Fine Gael's finance spokesman over the past few months, his opponents claimed last night.
The party's loss of support in opinion polls was linked to Mr Bruton's alleged withdrawal from doing media interviews and engaging in public events.
As senior figures divided over the leadership challenge, one of Mr Kenny's key lieutenants, Phil Hogan, accused the former finance spokesman of failing to fulfil his duties.
"It's well known that Richard has been less available for economic matters and banking matters over the past couple of months," said Mr Hogan, who is close to Mr Kenny.
He added: "The Government has probably got some traction in relation to those issues because of the absence of Richard on many of the key issues of the day, regrettably."
During that period, said Mr Hogan, Mr Bruton and other Fine Gael rebels had been discussing a potential leadership challenge.
"I think it's obvious over the last three or four months that these issues were being discussed in private without the knowledge of the leader. It's clear that some of the performances of the frontbench would lead you to believe that they were less than fully engaged in their responsibilities.
"Enda has to reflect on that when he is picking his new frontbench next week after he is re-elected on Thursday."
Confirming that the frontbench meeting had been terminated by Mr Kenny before dissenters could mount their opposition, Mr Hogan claimed the Fine Gael leader had often been treated as a "soft touch".
But Mr Kenny had shown "great bottle" and "great determination" in confronting a range of issues, he said.
During yesterday's brief meeting with the 19-member frontbench, the Fine Gael leader explained the circumstances of Mr Bruton's departure and outlined his meetings with him over the weekend.
The party leader also informed the frontbench about the values of "collective responsibility" and loyalty to the party, before announcing that a reshuffle would follow on Monday, said Mr Hogan.
"He (Mr Kenny) stated quite clearly that this was the last meeting of the current frontbench," he said.
The Fine Gael leader is "angry" about the whole leadership controversy and its timing but will win the crucial vote tomorrow, added Mr Hogan.
In a statement released immediately after the meeting with senior Fine Gael TDs, Mr Kenny announced that a new frontbench would be appointed early next week.
He also insisted that he would lead Fine Gael into the General Election, after which the party would lead the next Government.