Wednesday 22 November 2017

'FG rebels are disingenuous and unpatriotic,' says minister in Brexit warning

Minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor has criticised Fine Gael members’ attacks on Enda Kenny
Minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor has criticised Fine Gael members’ attacks on Enda Kenny

Kevin Doyle, Niall O'Connor and Caroline Crawford

Fine Gael TDs who publicly criticise Taoiseach Enda Kenny are "unpatriotic" and are undermining his ability to negotiate with other EU leaders, a Cabinet minister has said.

As Mr Kenny fended off the first murmurs of a heave since the General Election, Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor rounded on backbenchers who have been briefing against him.

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin
Kerry TD Brendan Griffin

The new minister told the Irish Independent: "In terms of Brexit, it's important that Enda Kenny has a really strong hand when he is going to negotiate with EU ministers and also with Theresa May when she becomes UK prime minister.

"I think it's really disingenuous at this point in time to be out there [criticising him]. I think it's actually unpatriotic."

Her statement came as Mr Kenny, who is in Berlin today to discuss the Brexit fallout with Angela Merkel, appeared to shore up enough support to quell backbench disquiet for now.

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin yesterday demanded the Fine Gael leader resign before the Budget - but his call was not echoed by a single TD or senator.

Instead a string of senior party figures, including Michael Noonan, were rolled out to put up staunch defences of the Taoiseach.

And addressing the controversy during a speech in Mayo, Mr Kenny said he would be going nowhere.

"Let me say I have no intention of being diverted from that work that I have undertaken and for which I have received a mandate to fulfil.

"That is my focus and my focus is entirely on the future and for those who might be interested I will not be diverted from that task and that duty and that responsibility which is the mandate given to me by the people," he said.

His constituency colleague Michael Ring also said the Taoiseach should not be "hounded" form office.

Senior party sources last night told the Irish Independent they do not expect any motions of confidence in the Taoiseach to be tabled when the Fine Gael parliamentary party meets tomorrow afternoon.

However it is likely that a number of senior ministers will defend Mr Kenny's performance and encourage TDs to "remain calm".

It is not yet clear whether the Taoiseach will use the meeting to give any further insight into his succession plan.

His leadership was brought into sharp focus after he suffered a series of setbacks and saw his credibility openly questioned by members of his own party last week.

There was some concern within Fine Gael yesterday morning after Mr Griffin told RTÉ the party was "rudderless" and "drifting".

But despite several deputies privately expressing no confidence in Mr Kenny, nobody publicly backed Mr Griffin's call for him to quit.

In contrast, Finance Minister Michael Noonan batted away any suggestion that Mr Kenny's leadership is under threat.

"I think the country and the party are fortunate to have Enda Kenny as Taoiseach now," he said.

"He led the government which took the country out of the biggest crisis they've had in two generations, when we nearly slipped into bankruptcy. He saw the back of the troika and he's presiding over the country that's growing at the fastest rate of the 28 in Europe.

"Now we're on the cusp of another crisis and his skills in crisis management and his international contacts are very, very important," Mr Noonan said in Brussels.

Read more: Leo Varadkar: 'I don’t think that it’s time for Enda Kenny to depart'

Read more: Taoiseach: 'I have no intention of being diverted' from running Government

Ms Mitchell O'Connor made a similar plea to backbenchers, stating: "We were elected to do the right thing for this country and I think we all need to remember that.

"It's not short-term gain. It's not politics and it's not political football now. When Ireland needs us we need to be able to step up to the plate."

Even Fergus O'Dowd, who criticised Mr Kenny last week, said a motion of no confidence is "not the right thing to do".

Meanwhile In Berlin today Mr Kenny will tell Ms Merkel that Ireland sees its future "at the heart of Europe" and that this view "is supported by the vast majority of the population".

He will also highlight to Ms Merkel Ireland's particular concerns in relation to Northern Ireland, North-South relations, the Common Travel Area and our inter-connected trade.

Irish Independent

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