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Friday 24 November 2017

Party of hitmen happy to get knives out for their leaders

Sam Smyth

THE fighting among Fine Gael is another reminder that it is the sort of party where bouncers are sometimes needed to frisk members at the door.

The knives were out last night after Richard Bruton was cut loose from the frontbench and Enda Kenny's enforcers moved to confront his supporters.

Mr Bruton spoke softly and fondly of his leader in whom he has lost confidence, and who he wants to replace.

An Oxford-educated economist with the good manners expected from a blue-blooded Fine Gaeler, Mr Bruton, like Mr Kenny, shares the values their party holds dear.

Yet culling the leader is another of the party's time-honoured rituals, a blood sport that can be played without getting up on a horse.

And for all their genteel aspirations through the years, Fine Gaelers have been less worried about toppling their leader than the other parties.

Alan Dukes, John Bruton and Michael Noonan have all bitten the dust over the past 20 years, and back in 1972 the political hitmen came for Liam Cosgrave.

He survived that day to go on to become Taiseach.

Likwewise, John Bruton successfully fought off two heaves against him in opposition, the second just a few months before he was elected Taoiseach in 1994.


He became leader of Fine Gael in 1990, leading a determined coup against Alan Dukes after the party's disastrous presidential election campaign.

Three years earlier, Mr Dukes had put country before party, implementing the Tallaght strategy where he didn't play politics in the economic crisis.

Although he resisted for a few days, Mr Dukes succumbed to Mr Bruton and his gang rather than face a potentially ruinous meeting of the parliamentary party.

John Bruton was ably assisted by his brother Richard in his campaign to replace Mr Dukes and Enda Kenny was another loyalist in the cause.

When he became Taoiseach of the Rainbow Coalition in 1994, Mr Bruton rewarded Mr Kenny by appointing him as Tourism Minister.

However, Alan Dukes and Michael Noonan, both of whom tried hard to topple John Bruton shortly before he became Taoiseach, were also appointed to senior cabinet positions.

John Bruton failed to capitalise on leading the government -- and Bertie Ahern led Fianna Fail to electoral success in the general election of 1997.

As Fine Gael slid down the polls, the TDs had another panic attack, and Michael Noonan became leader in 2001, a year before the party almost imploded in a general election.

The future of Fine Gael was on the line when Mr Noonan was replaced by Enda Kenny, who led them to unexpected victories in the local elections of 2004.

And now Mr Kenny's leadership is in crisis as another heave led by Richard Bruton grievously undermines his leadership.

It is not clear if Fine Gael operates a generous pension plan for its leaders.

But given the attrition rate it should be first thing Richard Bruton negotiates before taking up the position.

Irish Independent

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