TDs admit shock decision to quit will damage party
SENIOR Fine Gael TDs were last night shocked and dismayed at George Lee's resignation, admitting it was "damaging" to the party and represented a "significant setback".
His departure came only days after FG leader Enda Kenny is understood to have offered Mr Lee a specially-created portfolio of "economic development". Privately, some TDs described Mr Lee's decision as "pathetic", "drastic" and a sign of a "major ego".
The party's communications spokesman, Simon Coveney, claimed the resignation would be "damaging to Fine Gael" and a "significant setback" as it bids to attract new candidates and votes. "I don't care what the spin doctors in Fine Gael say. This is damaging to Fine Gael," he said. "This is a significant setback. It's not a mortal wound by any stretch of the imagination but it is a setback. There's no point in trying to spin it any other way."
The Cork South Central TD said Mr Lee had the ability and talent to be on any party's frontbench.
"It's not about pecking orders in parties. You pick the best team that's available to you and you put them on the front bench. Enda obviously had his reasons and I've never spoken to him about his decision-making regarding the frontbench but I do trust Enda's judgment and it's been by and large very good," he said. Frontbencher Olivia Mitchell, who shared a constituency with the journalist-turned-politician, said she was "gobsmacked" when told about Mr Lee's decision.
"I think it was kind of a shock to him the kind of life it was ... I think he probably missed the immediate impact of the 20-second soundbite on TV, that it's not the same when you're in politics. It's a hard slog," she said. "The daily life of a TD is not the same as the glamour of a TV career."
The party's enterprise spokesman, Leo Varadkar, said it was a "sad day for Fine Gael and a sad day for Irish politics" because Mr Lee could have had a great future in the Dail. "But he was offered a frontbench position and he didn't take it. He chaired a policy committee which never sat and he never called a meeting of it. He wanted to be consulted on economic policy but never produced a single paper or single document so I think it's a sad day for all of us," Mr Varadkar said.
Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton also said the decision was "bad news" for Fine Gael and Irish politics. "He wasn't handled particularly well and he wasn't managed particularly well. Hopefully there's a lesson for us in Fine Gael. You can't just throw people in at the deep end and let them sink or swim. You have to help and guide them," she said.
But she insisted Enda Kenny should not be judged on this one event, having attracted many new people to the party.
"There are issues and we have to address them in the party and what the role is for the leadership.
"And by that I don't just mean Enda Kenny but the people around him as well.
"Their job is to make sure we have a cohesive party and that everyone has a role," she said. The party's transport spokesman, Fergus O'Dowd, said Mr Lee would be a "big loss" and his decision had come as a "major shock".