Kenny camp plot 'sting' to scupper Bruton bid
ANGRY Enda Kenny supporters are threatening to spring a surprise leadership candidate to block Richard Bruton if he ousts his rival today.
Sections of the loyal Kenny camp are pressing for an alternative candidate to scupper Bruton's hopes of automatically taking up the reins.
Mr Kenny was last night struggling to secure the majority of votes he needs, after a number of high-profile defections to Mr Bruton.
However, such is the division within the party that plans were being hatched to thwart Mr Bruton.
As of last night, 31 party members had publicly declared their intention to back Mr Kenny -- five short of the required majority of 36. And the momentum was firmly with Mr Bruton as 20 members openly declared they would vote against Mr Kenny. The majority of those sitting on the fence are also believed to be thinking that way.
The best result Mr Kenny can hope for still seems to be a narrow win, which would severely undermine his leadership.
An anti-Kenny strategist, who has correctly called a number of crucial swing votes this week, predicted Mr Bruton would win.
But a prominent backer of Mr Kenny's said he was "confidently predicting" a winning margin of 10 to 12 votes for his man.
Frantic last-minute efforts to secure uncommitted voters were under way last night as both camps predicted victory.
The crunch vote comes at an 11.30am meeting today of the 70 Fine Gael TDs, senators and MEPs.
And such is the level of animosity generated by the leadership heave that several of Mr Kenny's supporters were predicting there would be a further contest with a new candidate introduced if Mr Bruton wins.
The fact that a fallback plan is being put in place suggests Mr Kenny's supporters are not as confident as they seem.
"Richard won't be the only candidate, I can assure you of that," a source said.
Fine Gael health spokesman James Reilly, who has loyally stood by Mr Kenny in recent days, was being mentioned.
However, it remains to be seen if the party wants any more blood-letting after one of the most dramatic weeks in its history.
And Mr Kenny's detractors claimed that the suggestion of a further contest was a ploy to create uncertainty and confusion.
"It's only going to go one way. It's nonsense put out by Kenny's side. There'll be nobody else, only Richard Bruton," a source said.
Key players, including Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Denis Naughten, who have all declared against Mr Kenny, yesterday ruled themselves out of a run at the leadership.
Mr Bruton said yesterday he would not serve on the Fine Gael frontbench if Mr Kenny stayed on as leader. But he did say he would offer Mr Kenny a job in his line-up were he to win the vote.
This was echoed by other frontbenchers, including Mr Varadkar, Olivia Mitchell and Brian Hayes, who went furthest in ruling out a return to the frontbench under Mr Kenny.
Another blow for the Kenny camp came after Kieran O'Donnell -- promoted as interim finance spokesman after Mr Bruton's sacking on Monday -- announced he would vote against his leader.
"The issue really is in terms of the party going forward in to the next General Election, I think Richard Bruton is the man to lead us," Mr O'Donnell said just 48 hours after his promotion.
In a sign of possible further slippage from Mr Kenny, Longford-Westmeath TD James Bannon refused to reiterate his previous support for the party leader last night.
"I'm voting in the best interests of the Fine Gael party," he said.
And another supporter of Mr Kenny looking shaky was Cavan-Monaghan's Seymour Crawford. Among those who remain officially on the fence, only Galway East Senator Ciaran Cannon is regarded as guaranteed to be voting for Mr Kenny.
The intentions are unknown of Dublin North-East TD Terence Flanagan TD, Cork South-Central Senator Jerry Buttimer, Tipperary North TD Noel Coonan and, surprisingly, Waterford senator Paudie Coffey, who was previously regarded as backing Mr Kenny.
After agonising over their decisions, Longford-Westmeath Senator Nicky McFadden, Cork South-Central TD Deirdre Clune and Cork East TD David Stanton were also thought to have made their minds up last night.
The pro-Kenny faction in the party mounted a show of strength with 20 TDs and senators emerging outside Leinster House to support him.
The choreographed move at tea time yesterday came after Mr Bruton had earlier turned up with a group of his supporters.
There were calls on both sides to maintain party unity despite the divisive contest for the leadership of Fine Gael.