Kenny 'shoots himself in foot' with pairings excuse
FINE Gael leader Enda Kenny last night failed to assuage concerns over his leadership amid the fallout from his controversial decision to withdraw pairings with Fianna Fail.
Some Fine Gael backbenchers claimed that Mr Kenny's first public comments on the party's poor showing in weekend opinion polls and his attempt to justify his no-nonsense approach on pairings had been "less than convincing" and "not strong enough".
One TD went as far as saying that Mr Kenny's attempt to explain the divisive decision to withdraw a pairing with Tanaiste Mary Coughlan had been "embarrassing".
Some TDs said the "get-tough approach" on pairings ahead of Ms Coughlan's trade mission to the US was designed to increase Mr Kenny's popularity ratings but was at odds with Fine Gael's constant mantra about the need for job creation.
One rebel TD claimed Mr Kenny had "shot himself in the foot" in a week when another opinion poll is due for publication.
Mr Kenny last night refused to be drawn on his own poor popularity ratings, claiming the entire party needed to "raise its game".
And he said he wasn't "interested in bright lights" when asked if Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was now outshining him.
Immediately after his interview on RTE's 'News at One', some Fine Gael backbench TDs received calls from concerned party members and councillors over the change of tactics on pairings and the failure to face up to the opinion poll results showing the party has stalled at around 30pc, with Mr Kenny on half the popularity ratings of Mr Gilmore.
The Fine Gael leader is under pressure to get the party rising in the polls again in order to stave off criticisms of his leadership and any threat of another heave.
Mr Kenny's interview came immediately after Labour's education spokesman and former finance minister Ruairi Quinn intervened in the pairings controversy by offering a pairing arrangement from within his party. Mr Quinn said that as a former finance minister and enterprise minister, he had led missions abroad and understood their potential to deliver jobs.
Trying to reclaim ground, Mr Kenny said he too had been a minister and understood the importance of "these things".
The FG leader was tourism minister from 1994 to 1997.
Justifying his decision to remove the pairing with Ms Coughlan, Mr Kenny repeatedly said he had "had enough" of ministers not living up to their Dail responsibilities.
And he claimed he wasn't "putting up" any longer with government ministers "gallivanting" around the country to functions when the Dail was sitting.
Ms Coughlan, he said, could travel after fulfilling her commitments in the Dail tomorrow.
"I recall going to America myself, out and back on the one day, because of Dail sittings and because of other matters," he said.
Fine Gael's education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd backed Mr Kenny who, he said, had been very clear about the need for the Government to be accountable to the Dail.
Mr Kenny's 24pc popularity rating is only 6pc higher than those of Taoiseach Brian Cowen, at a time when Mr Gilmore is racing ahead of both men with popularity ratings of 58pc.
Asked yesterday if he was concerned that Mr Gilmore was now outshining him, Mr Kenny said: "I'm not interested in bright lights."
The Fine Gael leader went on to detail how Fine Gael was focused on job creation, rebuilding the economy and fixing the banks.
Asked then if he simply did not want to discuss the opinion polls and what they said about his leadership, Mr Kenny said the poll wasn't a general election.
And he refused to be drawn on the question of whether he personally would need to up his game
Fianna Fail backbenchers waded into the controversy last night, with Thomas Byrne claiming that Mr Kenny's latest political stroke had fallen flat on its face.
The Fianna Fail backbencher claimed it was time for Mr Kenny to "stop digging".