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Sunday 18 March 2018

Divide and conquer

Kenny tightens grip on FG as he rewards loyalty and splits rebels

Aine Kerr, Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

ENDA Kenny's divide-and-conquer strategy last night consolidated his grip on Fine Gael as he brought heavyweights back into the fold while splitting the rebels in his new-look frontbench.

The Fine Gael leader banished several of the key figures involved in the ill-fated heave against him to the party backbenches.

But he brought senior figures such as new finance spokesman Michael Noonan back from the political wilderness to bolster his leadership. To emphasise this, Mr Kenny confidently declared that there would be no more heaves against him.

"In the Fine Gael party, for the future, there is no long grass, it was all cut a couple of weeks ago," he said.

Mr Kenny has also beefed up the economic wing of the party -- identified during the leadership heave as his own weak point.

The party leader hopes Mr Noonan, combined with Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar, will boost Fine Gael's credibility on key economic issues.

FG gave no indication that it would be abandoning its approach of clearly setting out its policies and adopting a more populist approach, like Labour.

After being sacked as deputy leader for launching the heave, Mr Bruton returned to a beefed-up economic team, along with several other dissidents, including Mr Varadkar.

But there was no place for rebels Brian Hayes, Denis Naughten, Olivia Mitchell or Michael Creed, along with Olwyn Enright and Billy Timmins, who both ruled themselves out, although they were also expected to be dropped.

Mr Kenny bluntly admitted he had not spoken to some of the dissidents since the heave.

Consolidating his own position, he promoted a number of the loyalists who stood by him during the heave:

  • Phil Hogan becomes Fine Gael director of elections, a key internal post in the next general election.
  • James Reilly got the vacant deputy leader post.
  • Paul Kehoe's chief whip position was given more responsibilities.
  • Alan Shatter was promoted to the justice portfolio.
  • Michael Ring moved up to social protection and Jimmy Deenihan to tourism.
  • Sean Barrett, a long-time ally, got the plum foreign affairs post.

Mr Kenny also promoted Deirdre Clune, Frank Feighan, David Stanton, Andrew Doyle and John Perry to the frontbench.

Mr Noonan made it clear he admired the policy approach of Mr Bruton in the finance portfolio.

Setting out his initial stall as finance spokesman, Mr Noonan said he wanted to see the emphasis placed on spending cuts rather than tax increases in the next budget.

Irish Independent

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