Tuesday 23 January 2018

Kenny tightens grip, but the door is left open for Bruton

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

Triumphant Enda Kenny will banish a group of key rebels to the backbenches -- but last night left the door open for defeated leadership rival Richard Bruton to return to the frontbench.

Mr Kenny, whose victory tightened his grip on the party, last night pledged to unify his shattered troops after he narrowly survived a highly divisive leadership contest.

He emerged victorious by what was believed to be a margin of six votes following a dramatic meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party yesterday.

But the party leadership's refusal to reveal the exact result will reinforce the view that Mr Kenny came within just a few votes of being toppled by Mr Bruton.

Anti-Kenny camp members believe the margin was as narrow as four votes, but the party leader's supporters believe it was 10.

Key supporters of Mr Kenny last night felt the party leader would definitely drop a number of frontbenchers who opposed him this week.

Among those thought to definitely be on the way out were education spokesman Brian Hayes, immigration spokesman Denis Naughten and tourism spokesman Olivia Mitchell.

And there is also a belief there will be retribution for agriculture spokesman Michael Creed, justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan and foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins.

The party's enterprise spokesman, Leo Varadkar, and interim finance spokesman Kieran O'Donnell are also thought to be on the way to the backbenches, although their fate is less certain and they may be offered a reprieve.

Along with Mr Bruton, there may be a way back for communications spokesman Simon Coveney, social welfare spokesperson Olwyn Enright and transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd. The party's health spokesman Dr James Reilly -- a key Mr Kenny loyalist in the battle -- is regarded as the favourite for the number-two spot, as the party leader will need to retain a strong Dublin presence on his frontbench.

Alan Shatter is expected to be promoted from his current position as children's spokesman, probably to the justice portfolio.

A number of other supporters of Mr Kenny, such as environment spokesman Phil Hogan, community affairs spokesman Michael Ring and chief whip Paul Kehoe, are owed by the leader.

Former party leader Michael Noonan and Oireachtas committee chairman John Perry appear poised for frontbench positions.

With Mr Naughten off the scene, Mr Ring is considered to have a strong chance of a ministry, if the party gets into government.

And an opponent of Mr Kenny's said the rancour in the party leader's closing speech, where he singled out individuals, was a sign there was bad feeling after the heave.

"He really drove it in to them in a nasty personal way. I can't see them ever wanting to work with Enda ever again. It would have been better if there was a stand-up row today to clear the air," the party source told the Irish Independent.

Mr Kenny refused to be drawn on his plans for a new team and insisted he had made no promises on frontbench jobs as he lobbied TDs for their support in recent days.

"I'm not going to make any comment on any appointments now. I did say on more than one occasion that everyone in the Fine Gael parliamentary party has a contribution to make and everybody will be enabled to make that contribution," he said.

A clearly relieved Mr Kenny insisted his friendship with his rival Mr Bruton was not broken.


Mr Bruton failed to express confidence in Mr Kenny, but said the issue had now been debated in the party, was dealt with and there would be no more heaves.

He declined to comment on the possibility of serving on Mr Kenny's frontbench, leaving the door open for him to renege on his claim he would not take up a position if the leader survived.

"It's not a decision for today. I'm not going to comment on that. Fine Gael has shown we are a very democratic party.

"I think there's a determination now to unite behind Enda, who has now gotten an endorsement from the parliamentary party," he said.

Mr Kenny said he was prepared to put the comments made by his opponents behind him. "In the heat of battle, people will say things in electoral contest. When the electoral contests are over and concluded, we move on. That's what the Fine Gael party will do now," he said.

Mr Kenny has postponed the announcement of his new frontbench, beyond next week to allow the dust to settle after the bitter leadership battle.

Speaking after the debate, Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Padraic McCormack said the decision had been made not to disclose the vote results and that the ballot papers would be "shredded".

Mr Hogan, the key strategist behind the heave, insisted there was "no doubt" this marked the end of any problems members of the parliamentary party had with Mr Kenny's leadership.

Irish Independent

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