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Thursday 22 February 2018

Fine Gael parliamentary party decides Kenny's future

The Fine Gael parliamentary party was today debating Enda Kenny's future at his leadership showdown in Leinster House.

Opponents and supporters of Kenny claim they have enough votes to win but it is believed about half a dozen members hold the key.

While most of the now defunct front-bench have rebelled against the leader, Mr Kenny's backers went on the offensive ahead of the crunch meeting.

Kenny-supporting MEP Jim Higgins raised the temperature with an astonishing attack on rival Richard Bruton's camp - accusing them of almost acting like fascists.

"They are simply, if you like, being anti-democratic, it's almost fascist, if you like, to say I will not serve under Enda Kenny, I will not accept the democratic choice," he said at the front gate of Leinster House.

"You either accept democracy or you don't, you can't half accept democracy."

Phil Hogan, a frontbencher who put himself forward as an ardent Kenny backer, said the leader had secured enough votes last night.

"I'm very confident that Enda Kenny will win today," he said. "The supporters of Enda Kenny are quite confident that we've hardened up our figures overnight."

The 70 party representatives - 51 TDs, 15 Senators and four MEPs - gathered in Leinster House at about 11.30am with Mr Kenny putting forward a motion of confidence in himself.

Each representative was to be given several minutes to put forward their case for or against Mr Kenny.

The parliamentarians are split down the middle with about half a dozen refusing to declare their hand ahead of the secret ballot and both sides claiming a narrow majority.

A steady stream of senior Fine Gael TDs - many in the camp of his rival Mr Bruton - walked into of Leinster House without making comment.

Mr Hogan warned the leadership contest will throw up one or two surprises but refused to be drawn on what they are.

"I don't think it would be appropriate to tell you," he said.

"I think the members of the parliamentary party are entitled to their say. They've heard the arguments for and against and I believe that the arguments to stay with Enda Kenny will eliminate the process of a protracted, summer-long election process to find a new leader for the party, which I think everybody will want to avoid.

"What we want is to redouble our efforts in an united way, a cohesive way, to ensure we are well prepared to find the next general election and that may come sooner rather than later.

Within minutes of Mr Hogan being ushered inside the Merrion Street gates by party handlers, a relaxed but confident Mr Kenny appeared.

"I'm feeling great," he said, refusing to be drawn on the leadership heave.

Mr Kenny, leader since 2002 and credited with rebuilding the party after a devastating election defeat, has lost the support of his frontbench.

The bid to remove the Mayo TD was instigated by his number two Mr Bruton, who has put himself forward to take over.

A verdict is not expected until late afternoon.

Twenty-two of Mr Kenny's supporters put up a show of strength and claimed a majority on the eve of the vote but opponents insisted they hold the bigger power base.

If Mr Kenny loses, the vote for a new leader is not expected to be in place for several weeks.

Mr Kenny and his supporters twice attempted to garner support within the parliamentary party.

Frontbench members, who were warned they faced the sack for not supporting Mr Kenny, were offered senior portfolios if they rowed in behind the leader. A number refused.

Secondly, Kenny campaigners approached backbenchers and promised a number of portfolios if they gave Mr Kenny their support.

Press Association

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