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FF and FG dissidents planning new party

The failed attempt to remove Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael has served to intensify speculation that a move will be made to establish a new political party within months, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

TDs in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are known to be deeply unhappy with the leadership and direction of their parties and are said by reliable sources in both parties this weekend to be "considering their options".

It remains highly unlikely that another effort will be made to replace Mr Kenny, and it is thought that Mr Cowen's leadership of Fianna Fail is safe until the next election, particularly after events in Fine Gael last week.

But an undeniable undercurrent of discontent exists within the two main parties and it is this which is fuelling debate among TDs and senators that the time may now be right to set up a centre or right-of-centre based party.

A Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research nationwide poll of 500 people, conducted on Friday, found majority support.

Asked simply if a new political party was needed, 51 per cent said Yes and 49 per cent said No.

Analysis and poll details pages 12, 22, 32

"If it is going to happen, it is going to have to happen quickly, by the autumn I would say," a Fine Gael TD told the Sunday Independent yesterday.

A Fianna Fail TD said: "There is talk about it, yes. There is no doubt there is an appetite for it, and a market for it too."

TDs from both parties are adamant that the formation of such a new party could only happen if a "significant group" of sitting TDs from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael showed support.

While discussion is still "only embryonic at this stage", TDs in both parties are convinced that a large swathe of the electorate would support such a new political organisation.

"Both the main parties and their leaders have failed to provide inspiration during this economic crisis. That is leaving a vacuum which needs to be filled. It will either be filled or it won't. We will know after summer," one TD said.

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One of the issues already being discussed is the leader of such a party. A consensus seems to be that a "new independent leader" may emerge, somebody from outside of politics, who has achieved success in business, and with a "social motivation".

As to the realistic prospects of such a party actually being established, several TDs to whom the Sunday Independent spoke to last week variously said it was "at the moment" between five per cent and 20 per cent.

Within political circles there has been speculation for over a year that a new party may be established.

Speculation initially surfaced in the aftermath of the Lisbon Treaty debate, during which the Libertas organisation emerged. There was subsequent speculation that the former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell and the former MEP Pat Cox had discussed the possibility.

Nothing evidential ever emerged from that speculation, however. Notwithstanding that, Mr McDowell is said by those close to him to be again interested in public life.

Yesterday, Mr McDowell said he was unaware of any attempt to set up a new party.

Last week, a cross section of these TDs told the Sunday Independent: "What is motivating this is a generational mood, a generation shift."

"The idea is coming from those who believe that the electorate is sick and tired of the current tweedledum tweedledee politics."

One Fine Gael TD claimed that former minister Michael Lowry had been asked to put pressure on TDs to support Mr Kenny's leadership. "One of Kenny's men spoke at the parliamentary party meeting in praise of Lowry's fundraising abilities. When I heard that I asked myself is this the party for me anymore."

Mr Lowry could not be contacted last week.

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