Saturday 14 December 2019

Backbench revolt over Kenny reshuffle plan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys
TDs Simon Harris along with Mary Mitchell O'Connor
Regina Doherty
John O'Mahony,Fine Gael deputy for Mayo. Photo: Tom Burke
Noel Harrington, Fine Gael deputy for Cork South-West

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny faces an angry revolt among rural TDs if he goes ahead with plans to promote several new junior ministers from the greater Dublin area.

The FG leader has been urged to "stop obsessing" about Sinn Fein after the Irish Independent revealed his plans to thwart the rise of Gerry Adams's party by increasing the number of junior ministers in Dublin and adjoining counties.

Two prominent Fine Gael TDs, including the Taoiseach's constituency colleague John O'Mahony, publicly warned the party leadership about the move.

"There's no point solving one problem and causing another," the Mayo representative said.

Several more TDs privately expressed their discontent, with one minister saying it could lead to "all-out war" in the party.

The Coalition is under pressure as Sinn Fein made large gains in the local and European elections, mostly at the expense of Labour.

But the surge in support for the party in the capital has also become a real threat to Fine Gael, with a general election less than two years away.

Parts of south Dublin and Wicklow, generally considered Fine Gael strongholds, returned Sinn Fein councillors for the first time in the May local elections.

Mr Kenny is conscious he must bolster these areas against the Sinn Fein threat with several local TDs tipped for promotion in today's junior minister reshuffle.

Last week's cabinet reshuffle was greeted favourably within Fine Gael, with most TDs believing the Taoiseach struck a balance between the rural-urban divide.

But if there is too much focus on Dublin in the 'junior reshuffle' expected today, it will cause resentment among TDs from rural communities where services and businesses have been decimated during the recession.

Mr O'Mahony, who coached Galway to All-Ireland football glory, said too much focus on the capital "would not sit well" with party members.

"Everything is about getting the balance right, and the balance was right with the ministers. It's important it's right with the juniors as well. It needs

freshening up but it needs a similar balance."

Cork South-West TD Noel Harrington also said the party should "not obsess" about Sinn Fein.

"It doesn't stack up really," he said. "Sinn Fein is going to get the vote Sinn Fein is going to get.

"The traditional reasons for these appointments were geographic reasons, gender, ability or if a member of the Oireachtas had a particular interest or background in an area," he added.

And one minister said: "What more does that Dublin crowd want? If they neglect rural Ireland there'll be all-out war."

Cavan-Monaghan TD Joe O'Reilly said it was "highly improbable and unlikely" the Taoiseach would ignore rural Ireland in favour of the capital.

"I think it's very speculative and it won't happen," he said.

"I presume there will be a balance between Dublin and the rest of the country.

"The Taoiseach has enormous political experience and he's not going to do something daft like that."

But one Fine Gael junior minister disagreed with his rural-based colleagues and said the threat posed by Sinn Fein in the capital "needs to be heeded" by the leadership.


"The rationale here is by appointing junior ministers where Sinn Fein is becoming stronger, you boost the profile of Fine Gael locally. All politics is local, remember, so it makes sense," he said.

A Dublin TD also noted the majority of the Cabinet were now from outside of the capital.

However, Sinn Fein may have influenced the Taoiseach's decision to promote Heather Humphreys to Cabinet as her constituency in Cavan-Monaghan is fast becoming a stronghold for the republican party.

Meanwhile, the Labour leadership debates were also dominated with discussion about the rise of Sinn Fein after the party was annihilated in the local and European elections.

Mr Adams yesterday called on Mr Kenny to concentrate on his Government's "disastrous political direction" rather than "obsessing about the increasing electoral popularity of Sinn Fein".

The north-east and west of the country may suffer most if Mr Kenny goes ahead with the widely speculated axing of Donegal's Dinny McGinley, Sligo's John Perry and Galway's Ciaran Cannon.

Wicklow TD Simon Harris and Meath's Damien English have been mentioned as likely junior minister candidates.

In Dublin, deputies Eoghan Murphy and Mary Mitchell O'Connor are believed to be in line for promotion.

Fine Gael has nine junior ministerial positions – two of which have been filled by government chief whip Paul Kehoe and Jimmy Deenihan who was demoted to junior minister.

The promotion of Paschal Donohoe to Cabinet gives the Taoiseach one free post but other changes will come from sacking the seven sitting ministers.

Tipperary's Tom Hayes and Mayo's Michael Ring are believed to be safe in their positions.

Irish Independent

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