Thursday 22 August 2019

Fine Gael doesn't need a 'flashy' new leader, says Reilly

Comments are being perceived as a veiled attack on Varadkar

Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly has warned colleagues against electing a "flashy" leader to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In comments perceived by some party members as an attack on Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar's leadership ambitions, Mr Reilly said: "People have a had a very painful experience of flashy leadership in the past.

"There is no substitute for hard work and honest endeavour and that is what Enda Kenny has brought as Taoiseach, and he still delivers," the Fine Gael senator told the Sunday Independent.

Responding to Mr Reilly's comments, a Fine Gael Cabinet minister suggested that they were aimed at Mr Varadkar. "You certainly wouldn't describe Frances Fitzgerald or Simon Coveney as flashy," the source said.

A number of senior Fine Gael figures moved to support Mr Kenny after this newspaper revealed Mr Varadkar had been assured of the support of more than 30 parliamentary party members ahead of the leadership campaign. Buoyed by a surprise rise in his personal popularity in a national opinion poll last week, Mr Kenny's supporters insisted there should be no pressure on him to step aside to make way for a successor.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan told the Sunday Independent people "underestimate" Mr Kenny's standing among other European leaders and said his EU connections will be essential during Brexit negotiations.

"With Brexit I spend a lot of my time in other countries, and particularly in the matter of Brexit I see first hand on a daily basis the esteem and respect with which Enda Kenny is held. In the context of Brexit, esteem and respect are two really important attributes," Mr Flanagan said.

Mr Kenny's leadership has come under pressure after it was reported in this newspaper that senior ministers were discussing the prospect of him stepping down next summer. There is concern that Mr Kenny will not quietly resign, but rather he will have to be removed through a heave.

Last week, however, senior party figures were for the first time suggesting the possibility of the Taoiseach fighting on as leader for a third term, due to the uncertainty around Brexit and the rise in Mr Kenny's personal support.

"It would be difficult for anyone to move on him if his popularity keeps increasing," a source said.

One Cabinet member pointed out that neither Mr Varadkar or Mr Coveney had spent time at high-level EU summits and were not known by key European leaders involved in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Coveney is becoming increasingly isolated among colleagues, with many wondering who would support him once the campaign officially begins. Several Fine Gael TDs last week questioned whether anyone in the party had pledged to back him for the leadership.

Many party members are disappointed with the minister's handling of both the water charges debacle and the housing crisis. He is also struggling to put his stamp on his much-hyped rental strategy, which is due to be published next week.

Government sources said Mr Coveney has not been able to convince the Department of Finance that elements of his strategy will not negatively impact on the rental sector, and Fine Gael TDs are also wary of his rental plan.

Sunday Independent

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