Saturday 16 November 2019

Dissent lingers at Fine Gael think-in

DANIEL McCONNELL

Amid strained smiles and forced bonhomie at last week's Fine Gael think-in in Westport, the whiff of frustration and dissent lingered large in the air, particularly among the party's younger TDs.

A group of such TDs had, before the summer break, taken to meeting in secret to vent their frustrations with the party's performance in Government.

Known as the 'Five-a-Side Club', the gang of 10 first-time TDs, all male, includes Eoghan Murphy; Martin Heydon; Brendan Griffin; Sean Kyne; Tony Lawlor; and Paul Connaughton.

"We used the cover of us organising a five-a-side soccer match, so that's how the name came about," said one of them. "I am being asked when are we meeting again, such is the frustration," he added.

"Some of us feel the direction of the party is not what it should be. This was not a plot to topple the leader, but rather a forum to vent and discuss what the party should be doing," another added.

All were reluctant to talk on the record about the gathering as they had previously been busted by Enda Kenny, who warned that he "doesn't want factions in his party".

Mr Murphy, the perceived ringleader, was given a dressing down by the Taoiseach in his office for his troubles.

According to many at the think-in, the price of coalition is becoming too high and even some senior ministers speaking at the think-in said there should be room for such discussion. Dissent has not gone away and a number of the Five-a-Side Club said they would meet again.

One erudite TD said the conference was about the "parameters of the permissible" for the next 12 months, but in reality, it was more like a party for the pissed.

Little actual business takes place at these gatherings. A few token discussions behind closed doors, a few set piece interactions with the media, and everyone goes off to get sozzled. This affair was no different. Then there was the Taoiseach's jocular mention of a possible cabinet reshuffle, just to add some spice.

After dinner and one or two drinks, the bar was near to capacity, heaving with banter.

You even had Mr Kenny, pint in hand, walking the fine line of not leaving the bar too early but not staying too long as to be as reckless as Brian Cowen. He, of course, had Morning Ireland to attend to in a few hours. Very quickly the mood shifted again as it became party-piece time and like an uncomfortable 60th birthday, the spotlight went around the room, as some of the more mature FGers headed off to bed.

They say iphones and Google have taken the mystery out of conversation, but they can also ruin a good sing-song.

As songs like Raglan Road and Dublin in the Rare Aul Times got to the difficult third line, the sight of senior members, including one cabinet minister, relying on their iPhones to remember the lyrics somewhat snuffed out the spontaneity.

The last of the gang shuffled off to bed at around 6am, just as some of the more modest FG members were taking to climb Croagh Patrick at dawn.

Sunday Independent

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