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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Bye George: Lee quits party and politics after being 'frozen out' by Fine Gael

Fionnan Sheahan, Aine Kerr and Fiach Kelly

GEORGE Lee was frozen out by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny because of tensions between him and fellow economic expert Richard Bruton.

Mr Lee's dramatic departure from the party and politics put Mr Kenny under mounting pressure last night to explain why his star TD felt he had to go -- leaving Fine Gael with a credibility crisis.

Mr Kenny went to ground yesterday as senior figures openly admitted the affair was damaging to the party.

Mr Lee stunned the political world by his sudden departure as he claimed his role in the party had been "very limited" and "unfulfilling".

"The reality, however, is that despite my best efforts I have had virtually no influence or input into shaping Fine Gael's economic policies at this most critical time," he said.

A senior party figure said there were problems between party finance spokesman Mr Bruton and Mr Lee over the latter's utterances on economics, which sometimes appeared to be at variance with party policy.

And it is understood that Mr Kenny was unwilling to promote Mr Lee because of a potential clash with Mr Bruton, the deputy leader.

"There was no issue with the leader really. I think he had a lot of tensions with Richard. I don't think Richard was in to George's populist bullshit. You often got the impression there was tensions between them," the source said.

In particular, the former Dublin South TD seemed to question the timescale for reducing the budget deficit, to which Fine Gael, under Mr Bruton's guidance, had signed up.

Mr Lee repeatedly failed to give Mr Kenny a vote of confidence to become the next Taoiseach, saying it was "up to other people to decide".

He confirmed there were "significant rumblings" and "mutterings" within Fine Gael about Mr Kenny's leadership.

Mr Lee was also less than effusive about his relationship with Mr Bruton.

"I did not have a lot of involvement with Richard Bruton," he said. "I had very minimal involvement with him throughout the nine months. I had a maximum of two or three conversations with Bruton in a total nine-month period."

When asked if Mr Bruton could have been more helpful and encouraging to him, Mr Lee added: "I assume being involved in policy formulation, especially in the economic area, would have had to involve something like that."

Denying he had been impatient, Mr Lee said he was being "entirely" realistic.

"They [Fine Gael] came looking for me, I didn't go looking for them. Nothing happened, it's over," he insisted.



Misjudging

Mr Lee also accused Mr Kenny of misjudging him and only offering him a place on the FG frontbench under duress. Mr Kenny told Mr Lee he would make him spokesman in the new post of economic development.

Mr Kenny's failure to respond in person to Mr Lee's resignation will reinforce the perception that he is incapable of thinking on his feet.

Mr Bruton was also unavailable for comment on Mr Lee's departure.

The former RTE economics editor, who won the seat for Fine Gael in last June's by-election, said he was stepping down because he has had little impact on the party's economic policies.

Mr Lee revealed he had only been offered a frontbench job after he said he was resigning.

And he continually hinted he was sidelined by the party in the development of economic policy. "Here I was in the middle of the greatest economic collapse the country had seen and nine months had gone by and I had no impact at all. I was completely silent," he said.

After leaving RTE in controversial circumstances less than a year ago, Mr Lee will now return to the national broadcaster. But he will not be allowed to immediately return to an editorial position in RTE because he is politically tainted -- even though he is expected to return on his full salary.

Mr Kenny was due to be the guest speaker at a public meeting in opposition to the growth of 'head shops' in his native Castlebar, Co Mayo, last night, but he didn't show up.

He will be in the Dail today and is also expected to do a range of interviews where he will defend his role in managing Mr Lee and his leadership style.

Senior party figures openly admitted Mr Lee's dramatic decision to leave politics is "damaging" to Fine Gael.

Communications spokesman Simon Coveney claimed the resignation was a "significant setback" as it bids to attract new candidates and votes.

"This is a significant setback There's no point in trying to spin it any other way," he said.

Irish Independent

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