Fionnan Sheahan: Surly and neglected backbench TDs may turn on their master
Published 29/11/2012 | 17:00
IMAGINE if a group of newly elected Labour Party TDs formed a private group and began publishing ideologically driven policy documents and criticising ministers.
The group would be interpreted as a challenge to the leadership and elements within Fine Gael would be up in arms complaining about their coalition partner's lack of discipline.
Yet, this is what is going on in Fine Gael at the moment with the so-called 'Five-A-Side Club' of newly elected TDs pushing their own agenda with no great effort from the leadership to shut them down.
The batch of young TDs have called for cuts to allowances and increments and published a bill to reduce bankers' pensions – both viewed as potshots at Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin.
"I would say our crowd would go apoplectic if there was a similar group in Labour," a Fine Gael TD observed.
"Most of our lads are getting pissed off with fellahs who are going out and doing their own thing without any consequences. There should be a signal from on high to those who are opening their traps, from Enda, which he would have done in opposition," a backbencher said. "He probably needs to realise there is growing dissent, which if not reined in will only get worse."
The Taoiseach is caught in the great conundrum of having a big majority: you've got large numbers of TDs but they grow restless kicking their heels on the backbenches.
Kenny paid close attention to the minor level TDs and senators when he was in opposition and these relationships are what kept him in the leadership when the crunch came.
But the world changes when you get into Government and your time becomes more pressed. As a result, he's not as in touch with the mood.
The abortion issue threatens to be the catalyst for the emergence of this dissatisfaction. A large number of Fine Gael backbenchers feel their views are not being taken into account in the Cabinet debate.
In particular, there's a sense that objections to the threat of suicide being a grounds for abortion isn't being represented at all. Dr James Reilly isn't trusted since declaring in the summer the Government would deal with the issue. Alan Shatter has merely added fuel to the fire with his lament about the limitations of the legal position and his stark declaration there being no option but to include suicide.
Depending on whose opinion is canvassed, the numbers of Fine Gael TDs and ministers with severe reservations runs from 10 to 25.
Among the Fine Gael TDs regarded as having strong concerns about the abortion issue are John O'Mahony and Michelle Mulherin in Mr Kenny's constituency of Mayo, Terence Flanagan from Dublin North-East, James Bannon from Longford, Billy Timmins from Wicklow and Peter Mathews from Dublin South.
Also viewed as having reservations are Tom Hayes from Tipperary and Pat Breen from Clare – both allies of Michael Noonan – Patrick O'Donovan from Limerick, John Deasy from Waterford and John-Paul Phelan from Kilkenny.
And there are some TDs who believe Laois's Charlie Flanagan and Michael Creed from Cork North-West fall into the same category. In the ministerial ranks, Lucinda Creighton has clearly voiced her views on the Government's rush to legislate.
But there are also some backbenchers who feel ministers Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar, Paul Kehoe and Dinny McGinley would also be categorised reluctant, even if they haven't expressed these views publicly.
Mr Kenny obviously felt his stance of ruling out a free vote would quell dissent. If anything, it has had the opposite effect. There's a long way to go before any vote in the Dail – and Mr Kenny will have to pay closer attention to the views of his TDs.
Whether the accusation of caving into Labour is fair or not, keeping the Coalition together is coming at a cost.