Tuesday 23 January 2018

FG leader leaves the door ajar for beaten opponent

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

FORMER Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton could still be in line for a return to the frontbench despite his failed uprising against party leader Enda Kenny.

Mr Kenny left the door open last night by saying he wanted to maintain party unity and that he would be considering those who had opposed him for his frontbench.

Mr Bruton also refused to rule out the prospect, despite previously vowing that he would not serve under the man he sought to depose.

"I'm not going to be making any comment on matters like that," he said.

But if Mr Kenny re-appointed Mr Bruton, it would create an enormous credibility problem for him, given that Mr Bruton had expressed "no confidence" in his leadership.

And his defeat yesterday means Mr Bruton is unlikely to get back his position of deputy leader and may have fatally damaged his prospects of ever becoming Fine Gael leader.

According to Fine Gael sources, there is a general desire in the party for Mr Bruton, widely regarded as the party's greatest source of economic expertise, to be brought back as soon as possible to the frontbench. But given what has happened, they expect it will take some time.

Mr Kenny declared as recently as March that Mr Bruton would be his Finance Minister if he got into government, and he sounded a conciliatory note yesterday.

"My relationship and friendship with Richard Bruton is not broken by this," he said.

He and Mr Bruton shook hands before the behind-closed-doors parliamentary party meeting yesterday and again before the final result in favour of Mr Kenny was announced.

They also engaged in a public handshake on the plinth of Leinster House.

But Mr Kenny will be aware of the difficulties of trying to rebuild trust with Mr Bruton, who had loyally served him as finance spokesman and deputy leader for the past eight years.

Mr Bruton had spoken this week of his belief that the party needed to try something better -- and he had attacked Mr Kenny's ability to deal with economic policy.

"We have to restore economic security and we have to have a leader in whom people have faith and in his capacity to do that.

"And sadly, he hasn't been able to do that, despite huge other things that he's done for the party," he said last Monday.

Mr Kenny may not also be able to promote his deputy finance spokesman Kieran O'Donnell, who had publicly backed Mr Bruton.

Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Padraic McCormack said he hoped to see Mr Bruton serving again on the party's frontbench.

Fine Gael Clare TD Joe Carey said that the future role for Mr Bruton was a matter for Mr Kenny. But he said he was hugely encouraged by his show of unity on the plinth, standing side-by-side with Mr Kenny.

"He's regarded by the people of Ireland very highly and I'd imagine he will play a major role in Fine Gael going forward," he said.

Irish Independent

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