Senior figures tell 'wooden' Kenny to polish up act
Woo public not us, says party
Published 10/02/2010 | 05:00
FINE Gael leader Enda Kenny was ordered yesterday by his frontbench to better prepare for major public appearances and cut down on travelling the country for party meetings.
In the fallout from George Lee's resignation, the party's deputy leader Richard Bruton made it clear yesterday he still had ambitions to become leader.
And some within the party questioned if Mr Kenny would be able to recover from the damage done over recent weeks.
The party leader insisted there was no threat to his leadership over his handling of Mr Lee's resignation from the party.
But Mr Kenny got a dressing down from senior party figures about how he spends his time in the job.
The party leader received the unanimous backing of his frontbench after a meeting where Mr Lee's resignation was the main item. But the discussion moved directly on to the implications for Mr Kenny.
Although highly supportive of his leader, FG communications spokesman Simon Coveney stood out as he was reported to have been "honest and blunt" in his assessment of what the party leader needed to do and was backed up by education spokesman Brian Hayes.
The frontbench told Mr Kenny he no longer needed to spend so much time attending party meetings, as he had done for the past seven years, as he no longer had anything to prove within Fine Gael.
A party frontbench member told the Irish Independent that Mr Kenny was warned he had to prepare himself better for policy launches, Dail questions and media interviews.
"We want a better-organised performance. We want a better structure to his life in terms of how he spends his time. He now needs to concentrate on preparing Fine Gael for government," the source said.
"Don't be running around the country all the time. You need to be fresh -- in the Dail chamber and in the media.
"He needs to plan and channel himself around strategic events that will be important to him to position himself to become Taoiseach."
Another FG frontbencher said Mr Kenny's position was actually "strengthened".
"There was also unanimous agreement George Lee was self-serving," the senior TD said.
"Enda was also very frank and open today about his own performance. There wasn't finger-pointing at Enda over George Lee one bit. No matter what was done, it might still have happened.
"If anything, George Lee strengthened Enda's position. Our party won't be held to ransom by George Lee or anybody else," he said.
Tonight, the FG TDs and senators will be briefed by Mr Kenny at a meeting of the parliamentary party. The backing of Mr Kenny by the entire frontbench killed off talk of a heave being in the offing.
"There'll be a little bit of whingeing tomorrow night, but that's it," a source said.
On foot of the front-bench meeting, the party leader said he would "be myself".
Mr Kenny refused to admit failings on his part in handling of the former RTE economics editor, but conceded the affair was "damaging" to the party.
The FG leader said he gave "brilliant opportunities" to Mr Lee within the party and pointedly said politics was "not about instant self-gratification".
Mr Kenny said he offered Mr Lee a frontbench position and indicated he would be in strong contention for a cabinet position in government.
Mr Coveney said last night that there was frustration among party members that Mr Kenny sometimes "comes across as wooden" in interviews.
"He's going to try and let his own person come through in a way we haven't seen in the past. He needs to move from being a leader of Fine Gael to being the next Taoiseach," he said.
Mr Bruton said he would still "love to be leader of FG", but stressed he was "very loyal" to Mr Kenny, as he was to his predecessors as party leader.
"The issue of heaves or rumblings, that didn't come into it. This was a discussion about how we move forward," he said.
Mr Bruton denied he was approached to become leader.
Meanwhile, Mr Lee revealed that he was completely opposed to his party's economic policy.
"Fine Gael's core policy on the economy. . . was right down the line in terms of what right-wing economic commentators would suggest -- 'Crucify the economy; that will make everything better.' I don't believe that's going to work," he said.