Tuesday 22 October 2019

Explained: John Deasy TD, no confidence, the spat in Waterford and claims of bullying in Fine Gael

Waterford Fine Gael members pass unanimous no-confidence motion in TD

Discussions: John Deasy. Picture: Tom Burke
Discussions: John Deasy. Picture: Tom Burke
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

A MOTION of no confidence in Fine Gael TD John Deasy - which was passed unanimously by party members in Waterford last night - was tabled by the brother of his party colleague and rival Paudie Coffey.

A bitter row has broken out between supporters of Mr Deasy and Mr Coffey, a former junior minister, who missed out on a Dáil seat to Mr Deasy in the 2016 general election.

Here, Independent.ie political correspondent Hugh O'Connell explains exactly what's going on.

So, what’s happened?

Around 60 Fine Gael members in Waterford voted unanimously in favour of a motion of no confidence in their local TD John Deasy at a meeting in Lawlor’s Hotel in Dungarvan last night. Mr Deasy was not at the meeting.

Who is John Deasy?

The son of the late former agriculture minister Austin Deasy, Mr Deasy succeeded his father as a TD for Waterford in the 2002 general election. As a former legislative assistant in the US Senate, Mr Deasy was considered a rising star in Fine Gael, but in 2004 Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny sacked him from his frontbench for smoking in the members’ bar at Leinster House just days after the smoking ban was introduced.

Mr Deasy was consigned to the backbenches thereafter and overlooked for a ministerial portfolio when Fine Gael came into government in 2011 despite topping the poll in Waterford. He was a frequent critic of Mr Kenny’s, saying once that “people are becoming disgusted with the way Fine Gael is being run”.

Despite this he became vice chair of the Public Accounts Committee in 2014 where he was critical of other members of the committee claiming they were using it for “political ends”. When Enda Kenny was succeeded as Taoiseach by Leo Varadkar it was expected that Mr Deasy would secure a ministerial portfolio. But he was overlooked and instead had to settle for the role of government envoy to the United States where he has been working on issues related to undocumented, or illegal, Irish emigrants.

Why are members in his own constituency unhappy with him?

According to those present at the meeting last night there was strong criticism of Deasy’s performance as TD. Members are unhappy with his lack of engagement with the party in recent years and report it as having been an issue on the doors during the local election campaign. It is said to pre-date his appointment as an envoy to the US. There have also been disputes over candidate selection at a local level and the filling of constituency organisation positions. Fine Gael’s director of elections for the recent local elections, ex-senator Maurice Cummins, resigned during the recent campaign in protest at what he said was a “lack of engagement” from Deasy. 

There has also long been unease between supporters of Deasy and those who back Paudie Coffey, a senator and former junior minister, who is the Fine Gael candidate for the general election. Mr Deasy was not selected at a convention in November 2017 as he was recovering from hip surgery. It’s unclear if he is running for the Dáil again, and the party has not yet added him to the ticket. Sources present at the meeting last night denied that the no confidence motion was part of a proxy battle between Mr Deasy and Mr Coffey.

Paudie Coffey2 (6).jpg
Former minister Paudie Coffey. Picture: Collins

“I think it’s quite simple. John Deasy just isn’t doing his job as a constituency TD for Waterford and he hasn’t been performing for quite some time. He hasn’t been visible and he hasn’t been active on the issues that are important to the people of Waterford. It has been a talking point now for quite some time,” local Fine Gael councillor Damien Geoghegan explained on WLR FM this morning.

What is John Deasy saying?

Speaking to independent.ie this morning, Mr Deasy claimed that there had been “continual abuse and bullying for years” in the local party organisation and said the entire local organisation needs to be “stood down immediately”.

“The behaviour last night is commonplace in Waterford and has been for years,” he said. “At the highest level of Fine Gael warning have been given for years and ignored.”

Mr Deasy said there is documented evidence “with regard to continual abuse and bully for years. They have sat on it”.

What is Fine Gael saying?

A Fine Gael spokesman said this morning: "After receiving a mandate from the Waterford electorate at the 2016 General Election, Fine Gael Deputy John Deasy was appointed special envoy to the US by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and has since been doing important work on a special visa scheme for Irish citizens.

"Fine Gael’s General Secretary Tom Curran will soon be consulting with members and elected representatives in Waterford on finalising the party’s General Election ticket for the constituency. One candidate, Senator Paudie Coffey, was previously selected at convention to contest the next General Election."

What happens now?

The motion of no confidence will now have to be considered by Fine Gael’s national executive which will have to decide what to do next. Deasy’s political future is uncertain but he is expected to decide soon whether he is running for re-election. His claims of “bullying” are likely to be explored further in the coming days and prompt questions and problems for the Taoiseach and senior figures in Fine Gael.

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