Saturday 14 December 2019

Kenny refuses 11 chances to rule out Lowry as a likely kingmaker

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the press during the Fine Gael ard fheis. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the press during the Fine Gael ard fheis. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny walks with delegate Maria Bailey at the party ard fheis in City West, Dublin. Photos: Gerry Mooney. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Michael Lowry. Photo: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has left the door wide open for disgraced former minister Michael Lowry to be a kingmaker in the next government.

Despite having admonished Mr Lowry in the wake of the Moriarty Tribunal report, Mr Kenny repeatedly refused to rule out seeking the Independent TD's support in the event the current coalition falls short of a majority.

Over the weekend, the Fine Gael leader was questioned on television and on radio at his party's ard fheis about a potential pact with the Tipperary politician.

In total, Mr Kenny was asked 11 times if he would be willing to do business with his former colleague to get back into power and on each occasion he skirted around the question.

Tánaiste Joan Burton also declined the opportunity yesterday to shun Mr Lowry.

"I'm not involved in any discussion in relation to any Independent or group of Independents. We're focusing on asking voters to give their support to the Labour Party and to Fine Gael," she said.

Fine Gael has vigorously denied that any discussions had taken place with Independents, although separate political sources claim "understandings" have developed with a small cohort.

Mr Lowry (inset) is believed to be open to the idea of supporting a Fine Gael-led government, but he confirmed that "no formal or informal arrangements" have been set out.

"When the election is over I'll assess my position at that stage," he said.

In its findings, the tribunal held that while Communications Minister in the mid-1990s, Mr Lowry conferred benefit on businessman Denis O'Brien, who had made or facilitated payments to Mr Lowry.

There was no finding Mr O'Brien had benefited from those payments and Mr Lowry has rejected the findings.

On RTÉ's 'This Week' programme yesterday, Mr Kenny was asked whether he would rule out working with Mr Lowry in the same way he has ruled out a coalition with both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.

The Taoiseach repeatedly said he had "no intention of having to do business with any Independent" but declined to give a 'yes' or 'no' answer.

His hesitancy was last night causing alarm for some TDs, who privately questioned the strategy. "I can't understand why he doesn't just say it straight. A lot of this speculation is being driven by Lowry but the Taoiseach could kill it," said one TD.

However, a Fine Gael strategist told the Irish Independent: "We can't rule out any Independents now. If we're short of numbers we will have to find some like-minded Independents but that would have to be done after the election."

The source added that Fine Gael has not considered who those Independents might be, but accepted that some are already playing up the idea. "It's a wonderful message for them. We're going to be kingmakers," the source said.

Several Labour Party sources expressed deep unease with both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste's refusal to rule out Mr Lowry.

One source said: "Labour has no interest in working with people who fell foul of the Moriarty Tribunal and are subject to CAB and Revenue investigations. Labour members would never sanction such a deal.

"Besides, Alan Kelly has left no stone unturned when it comes to looking after Tipperary when you look at the latest jobs he has brought there."

Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan, who shares a constituency with Mr Lowry, gave a cautious response when contacted by the Irish Independent last night.

"I'm not going to prejudge what the public will decide. Mr Lowry expects to get re-elected with massive support. His supporters have set the benchmark at 20,000 votes," he said.

Mr Coonan said there was "no point" discussing such issues until after the election, as it would be "pure speculation".

Tanaiste Joan Burton has said she would be “very concerned” by talk that the next government may need to be propped up by independents with “different personal agendas and different local agendas”.

“I do recall that when that arrangement worked on a previous occasion there were long debates in the Dáil over a period of five years to even find out what was in the agreements with the individuals that were propping up a Fianna Fail government,” she said today.

However, for the second day in a rule the Labour Party leader refused to categorically rule out Michael Lowry as an option.

“Let me be very clear, both Enda Kenny and myself, want a government of Fine Gael and Labour which is elected with sufficient numbers to have a mandate to continue the recovery.

“To actually hand a critical role in our government to different independents with different personal agendas and different local agendas that would be to put the very recovery at risk,” she said.

Irish Independent

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