Wednesday 13 December 2017

'AK47' Kelly fires shots at FG in funding fight

Environment Minister 'AK47' Alan Kelly
Environment Minister 'AK47' Alan Kelly

Fionnán Sheahan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Environment Minister Alan Kelly were involved in an unseemly spat over who got to take credit for a new fund for rural areas.

The jostling for position has left Labour Party figures concerned Fine Gael will squeeze the junior coalition partners out of upcoming good news announcements in the run up to the General Election.

Nicknamed "AK47", Mr Kelly has become something of a bête noire within Fine Gael.

His uncompromising approach has ruffled feathers in Fine Gael. But the Labour deputy leader's supporters argue he is pushing his party's agenda.

A new €30m scheme to improve rural areas hit by the economic downturn was announced by the Government at the National Ploughing Championships on Wednesday.

But it happened only after considerable wrangling in Government Buildings.

The €30m is part of the new capital investment plan to be announced next week.

Mr Kenny's officials worked with Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin's officials to bring the announcement of the €30m forward to coincide with the Ploughing.

Mr Kenny had planned to launch the fund with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney. Labour Party junior minister Ann Phelan would make up the numbers for the junior party.

But Mr Kelly got wind of the plan to announce the funding without his presence.

The money is going through local councils, which come under his remit, and the minister had negotiated the fund with Mr Howlin.

Mr Kelly insisted he also be involved in the launch and made sure the credit was quite clearly associated with him.

In the end, the announcement was made by the Taoiseach, Mr Kelly, Mr Coveney and Ms Phelan early on Wednesday. But details of the fund appeared in the Irish Independent that morning.

And a pre-recorded interview with Mr Kelly claiming credit for the fund was broadcast on RTE's 'Morning Ireland' while the Taoiseach was officially announcing the measure.

Coalition sources described the squabbling as "a lot of silly messing and bulls***ing".

"It was dictated that this was all happening and Alan Kelly wasn't being invited to the announcement. He did what anyone else would have done.

"Kelly was on air while the Taoiseach was making the announcement. In this one, Fine Gael were trying to pull a fast one.

"Labour was left out of the decision-making so there were some tetchy conversations in Government Buildings.

"This had nothing to do with the Department of Agriculture, so why was Simon Coveney there? It was a mistake on Fine Gael's part to think they could take over this issue which came through Alan Kelly."

A Fine Gael source said: "It was agreed it would be the Taoiseach and Ann Phelan. Alan Kelly was not a fan of that and got annoyed. Alan wasn't to be part of it. There was an assertion by Alan and his people that this was an effort to take it for Fine Gael.

"The Taoiseach made the announcement, but it had been leaked and pre-briefed by Kelly."

The venue was also changed from the Department of the Environment's stand at the site to the National Ploughing Association's headquarters.

The Taoiseach's spokesman said: "It was a very positive announcement. It's less important who made it."

The Environment Minister's spokesman said: "Minister Kelly was delighted with the Taoiseach's support for the joint proposal of his and Minister Phelan's and welcomes it being part of the capital plan. It will have a big impact on the areas that are able to avail of it."

Irish Independent

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