Thursday 22 March 2018

New threat to Kenny as Lee fallout turns nasty

Coveney warns leader to raise game or face consequences

Aine Kerr

ONE of Enda Kenny's key lieutenants yesterday warned the Fine Gael leader he faces "obvious consequences" unless his performance improves.

The thinly veiled threat from Simon Coveney came as the main opposition party was convulsed in a bitter war of words as the fallout over George Lee's decision to quit got personal.

Fine Gael's latest line of attack on Mr Lee -- implying he was motivated by money -- backfired badly.

Party frontbencher Brian Hayes sparked a furious response when he suggested live on radio that Mr Lee was partly influenced by financial gain.

A furious Mr Lee then weighed into the deepening controversy, vehemently denying the claims of his former colleague and election agent.

"They're (Fine Gael) scraping the bottom of a barrel now to try and denigrate me and that's absolutely wrong," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny was told he must convince voters he has the ability to lead the country following a series of highly publicised gaffes.

The Fine Gael leader attempted to draw a line under the whole George Lee debacle at a lengthy meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators last night.

He urged his colleagues to "push on" and put Mr Lee's exit behind them.

Mr Kenny claimed there had been "full and frank" exchanges at the meeting which dragged on for more than two hours and heard from a cross-section of TDs and senators.

"Enda told us he's up for the job of Taoiseach, that he's prepared to make changes within the party and make sure people are happy at their work. There was huge support for him," one TD told the Irish Independent.

Others said the meeting was constructive and "devoid of anger or bitterness", and that the party hierarchy had rallied around Mr Kenny and his leadership.

"George is gone. It's over. We're moving on," another senior Fine Gael TD said.

However, the strongest criticism of Mr Kenny came from communications spokesman Mr Coveney, who is perceived by some as a future leader of Fine Gael.

The Cork South-Central TD insisted he still fully supported his leader, but warned Mr Kenny faced "obvious consequences" if he failed to win over the public. His comments suggested Mr Kenny only had a short timeframe to turn his popularity with the public around.

Borrowed time

Mr Coveney's statement also hinted that Mr Kenny was now on borrowed time in some quarters of Fine Gael following a Fianna Fail bounce in the opinion polls and recent lacklustre media displays.

The Fine Gael leader has pledged to "up his game" after he was ordered by senior TDs to better prepare for major public appearances and cut down on travelling the country for party meetings.

"That's the challenge for Enda. He needs to step up to that mark and if he can't achieve it, well then there are the obvious consequences of that," Mr Coveney said ahead of the parliamentary party meeting.

Mr Coveney last night insisted that he backed his party leader, despite his earlier comments.

"I've made it quite clear that I think Enda does have the capacity to deliver and he's shown that. We're very supportive of him," he said.

The parliamentary party meeting followed a robust exchange of views on Mr Kenny's performance during a meeting with Fine Gael's frontbench team on Tuesday night.

One frontbench TD claimed there was "a lot of hot air" about the dramatic exit of Mr Lee as the meeting dragged on for over an hour and a half before breaking for a Dail vote and then resuming again.

"There's a lot of people who want to have their say on George Lee so we're going back in for more," one TD said as they prepared to reconvene the meeting.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny and members of his economic team will discuss Fine Gael's policies with some of the world's top economists today. Mr Kenny, his deputy and finance spokesman Richard Bruton, deputy finance spokesman Kieran O'Donnell and enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar will meet members of the international think-tank, the OECD, in France over the next two days. Items on the agenda include employment policy, banking reform, tax reform, and public sector reform.

Irish Independent

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