Kenny chairs front bench talks amid leadership struggle
Embattled Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was chairing a meeting of his front bench today as a band of shadow cabinet members looked set to try to overthrow him.
A day after he sacked his once trusted deputy Richard Bruton, Mr Kenny is expected to challenge other senior members either to confirm their support for him, step down or face the sack.
The two sides of the parliamentary party will then go head to head on Thursday when the 51 TDs, 15 Senators and four MEPs vote on whether to keep Mr Kenny at the helm.
Insiders said the front bench could be split down the middle by the leadership battle.
It is understood several of those in the Bruton camp met at a hotel on the outskirts of Dublin this morning in advance of the Leinster House meeting.
Jimmy Deenihan, the party's defence spokesman, said the divisions were bad for the party as he walked into the front bench meeting with his leader.
"I don't think it's good for the party. We will have to wait and see the fall-out from it but certainly it's not helpful," Mr Deenihan said.
"I would hope that if there is a contest that people would speak in the best interests of the party."
The split is an unwelcome diversion for the party as Taoiseach Brian Cowen faces a motion of no confidence in the Dail tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny yesterday claimed he was forced to sack Mr Bruton from the front bench to avoid a repeat of damaging divisions which left the party in tatters after leadership battles in 2001 and 2002.
Despite that, Mr Bruton was unrepentant and said: "I think the party now needs to make a change of leader, to start afresh and build and convince people that Fine Gael has the capacity to lead change in this country for the security of our people who are under such stress."
Mr Kenny, a TD for 35 years, claimed he personally asked for Mr Bruton's support over the weekend and did not get it.
"Over the weekend, some unnamed people have done huge damage to Fine Gael through their anonymous comments to the media, which has resulted in an opinion poll dominating the news agenda at a time when all our energies should be focused on getting this Government out of office," Mr Kenny said.
He added: "I cannot tell you the scale of damage that has been done by unnamed people, unnamed public representatives making comment to the detriment of the Fine Gael party."