Tuesday 16 January 2018

FG rebels to hold fire on Kenny at party think-in

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

FINE Gael rebels are expected to hold their fire on bruised leader Enda Kenny as the party meets today in an atmosphere described as "strange" and "dreadful".

The annual think-in of Fine Gael TDs and senators before the return of the Dail will be the first major party gathering since the fallout from the botched leadership heave.

The Fine Gael leader's internal critics say their view of him has not changed, but they won't be acting up when the party gathers today.

Mr Kenny's supporters believe, however, that the upheaval is over because TDs will now just be concentrating on holding on to their seats at the next General Election.

But the party leader's claim the discontent with his leadership is over and the "long grass has been cut", as he repeatedly puts it himself, is dismissed by TDs on both sides of the divide.

Following the frontbench reshuffle in the wake of the heave, Fine Gael had a relatively low-key summer, interspersed with pot shots fired by Brian Hayes, John Deasy and Lucinda Creighton at the party hierarchy.

Ms Creighton's call for Fine Gael to adopt a policy of banning corporate donations, following revelations about the party's big business backers, was felt by some to have damaged Mr Kenny and struck a chord when politics is being dragged through the mire by the Ivor Callely affair.

"You can't be giving out about the Galway tent and Fianna Fail and all that when you're no different yourself. People in Fine Gael were angry with Lucinda and there were all those attempts to suggest she got donations from business too. But in the public mind, she was the winner because she was calling for a clean break," a party TD said.

Several of those in the party who strongly believed Mr Kenny needed to be removed still believe he is an electoral liability and Fine Gael will fail to make gains in an election.

"We'll only be one seat up and one seat down here and there. Only one person in my constituency gave out to me for voting against him and she said I should have backed him to look after myself and get a job.

"Nobody ever says they see him as a Taoiseach and being different," another TD said.

But a leading supporter of Mr Kenny said TDs across all parties in Leinster House are solely focused now on holding on to their own seats.

The instability in the coalition government and the prospect of a general election being imminent will help Mr Kenny.

"It's up to them really. If they think that there's votes in it for them, they'll speak up. The whole concern now is about themselves. It's all about real politics and 'mind thy seat' in a volatile situation," the frontbench member said.

The atmosphere is "dreadful" and nobody is looking forward to the party think-in, another Fine Gael TD said.

But a critic of Mr Kenny said the gathering will be "uneventful" and the rebel TDs won't be kicking up in Waterford.

The leadership heave will still hang over the meeting, a party senator said. "It's a strange situation. It's the first one since the heave. Everybody will be watching. How will they all behave? Who will be talking to who and sitting with who and so on?" he said.

Fine Gael hold their parliamentary party think-in in Waterford today, as the party aims to give a boost to their by-election candidate, Senator Paudie Coffey.

The by-election to replace former Fianna Fail Minister Martin Cullen is regarded as the party's best chance of winning a seat from the current three vacancies in the Dail.

The parliamentary party meeting will focus on preparing for the General Election, the economy and banking, public service reform and suicide prevention.

The guest speakers at the meeting will be the National Treasury Management Agency's former chief executive Dr Michael Somers and the National Suicide Research Foundation director of research Dr Ella Arensman.

Irish Independent

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