Tuesday 25 October 2016

Enda's ministers are put on parade in fightback

Published 03/09/2015 | 02:30

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald gave a long and detailed defence of the Taoiseach on 'Today With Seán O'Rourke'
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald gave a long and detailed defence of the Taoiseach on 'Today With Seán O'Rourke'

As if to give an indication of how serious they were about a fightback, Leo Varadakar led out the team yesterday morning.

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The Health Minister was the one who raised a flag of concern about the handling of garda issues through the torrid months of late 2013 and right through much of 2014. In fact, he enraged his Labour cabinet colleagues on a few occasions, loitering on the boundaries of dissent, while they stayed stoically silent to the dismay of their own party supporters.

But from early morning yesterday, Mr Varadkar was at his most strident defending his boss. His message was in essence repeated by the others who followed as he went through all the points and conceded virtually no ground.

It was ever so slightly reminiscent of scenes when Fianna Fáil ministers were being paraded in 2007 to defend Bertie Ahern. It was a sort of "my-leader-at-all-costs" display.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald gave a long and detailed defence of the Taoiseach on "Today With Seán O'Rourke". Others, including Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, did not concede an inch of ground.

All of them were guided on the report finding that Mr Kenny did not sack Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in March 2014. These were the words in the report which counted - the other 90,000-plus words were either details or being dealt with by ongoing reforms.

Fine Gael and Labour would stand united against the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin baying for heads and a motion of no confidence. That one will not be aired for nearly three weeks and it is not an issue which has huge popular traction.

"I'd rather the media were debating this Fennelly issue than dealing with say water charges," one leading figure summed up.

There can be no doubting that Labour as a coalition partner has no choice but to stand by Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. Otherwise, the Coalition falls and they face an election campaign on 6pc poll ratings. At all events, the average Labour stalwart was not a huge fan of Mr Callinan as Garda Commissioner. They have no reason for undue upset.

There is, however, a danger for Labour in getting too closely enmeshed with Fine Gael on this one. At heart the Labour people Joan Burton will be asking to pound the beat that the handling errors of justice issues throughout 2014 were all Fine Gael's own work. They will be wary of giving Labour any share of ownership - but that is part of the price of being in power.

Fine Gael and Labour will continue to rely on the arcane nature of this row to insulate them from real political damage. But both parties also know that the potential for popular damage lies with a view that this Government - whatever the details of the controversy - does not emerge as a group who are sure-footed and competent.

This is the core message the opposition will seek to ram home in the coming weeks. It is not a good way to begin a new political season which will set the ground work for a general election campaign.

The Coalition will want to switch the debate to matters economic as soon as possible.

Irish Independent

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