Saturday 20 January 2018

Fine Gael revolt at Enda Kenny's political cronyism

Taoiseach's leadership on line as critics plot McNulty Seanad defeat

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

John Drennan and  Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing an unprecedented revolt against his plan to elect a "crony candidate" to the Seanad, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Around 30 Fine Gael TDs and Senators are planning to abstain or even vote for a candidate other than John McNulty, the controversial Fine Gael candidate in a Seanad by-election next month.

The backlash against what is being called a "vote for cronyism" has spread to Labour with between 10 and 20 TDs and Senators also considering abstaining in what will be a secret ballot.

With a majority of 131 votes to the combined opposition parties' 89, Fine Gael with the support of coalition partners Labour should comfortably win the Seanad by-election.

Fine Gael will lose, however, in the event that 50 Government members of the Oireachtas vote against the Taoiseach's candidate.

Even if Fine Gael manages to win, a significant revolt would seriously undermine Mr Kenny's authority and his continued leadership of Fine Gael would be called into question.

This weekend some of Mr Kenny's critics in Fine Gael are describing the Seanad by-election on October 10 next as a "referendum" on his leadership.

Yesterday a senior Fine Gael figure told the Sunday Independent: "There are about 30 of us figuring it out, whether we will just abstain or vote against Enda's crony.''

He said: ''This Seanad by-election will be a referendum on Kenny and on cronyism and if Enda loses Enda will have to go."

In Labour, meanwhile, Clare TD Michael McNamara told the Sunday Independent: "After this shambles it will be difficult to vote for Mr McNulty."

He added: "I haven't made up my mind yet, but it would take an awful lot to convince me. He will have to outline a wondrous vision for the arts''.

On Friday Mr Kenny finally accepted responsibility for the appointment of Mr McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in order to boost his credentials for the Seanad by-election.

However, in the Sunday Independent today former Justice Minister, Michael McDowell writes: "Hapless but decent [Arts Minister] Heather Humphreys was left twisting in the wind.

"When Enda said that she had made the McNulty appointment 'in her own right', he meant to convey the monumental political lie that she had acted independently of him and on her own initiative and for reasons wholly unconnected with his selection of McNulty to contest a Seanad by-election on the Culture and Educational panel.

"Alas poor Heather, what was she then to do? She knew she was being used as a fall-guy. She knew that she was being 'blooded' in the political culture of cynical deception of the public, just as described by John Deasy."

This weekend it is becoming clear that Mr Kenny's apology has utterly failed to stem a gathering crisis over cronyism in Government.

In an indication of the scale of the revolt, former Minister of State, Fergus O'Dowd yesterday warned: ''Our core Fine Gael voters were feeling upset, embarrassed and betrayed by this debacle.''

Mr O'Dowd becomes the latest member of the Fine Gael parliamentary party to publicly speak out after the withering criticism levelled at the Taoiseach last week by Waterford TD John Deasy.

Cavan/Monaghan TD, Sean Conlan, has also said the actions of Mr Kenny and Ms Humphreys had damaged Fine Gael.

Yesterday Mr O'Dowd said: ''Fine Gael was not elected to behave like Fianna Fail and their cronyism."

He added: "I still believe Enda should lead the country but he has to stop making basic political errors''.

One Labour source told the Sunday Independent: ''A lot of Labour TDs and Senators are openly expressing a reluctance to vote for cronyism. Around 10, maybe more, are planning a silent protest."

The Sunday Independent has learned that the Seanad by-election vote is not under the Whip and the ballot must be cast in secret.

The rapid tightening of the vote means many now believe Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting next week will be ''make or break" for Mr Kenny.

Yesterday a Fine Gael TD previously seen as loyal to Mr Kenny told the Sunday Independent: ''This is f**king unbelievable, next week's parliamentary meeting will go on until midnight''.

Former Minister of State, Mr O'Dowd also warned: ''This issue has to be satisfactorily resolved at next Wednesday's parliamentary party meeting.''

Although Labour leader, Joan Burton has welcomed Mr Kenny's stated intention to reform the state board appointments system, significantly, concern is growing at a senior level in Labour over the impact the increasingly erratic performance of the Taoiseach will have on the Government and Labour's fortunes.

A Labour Minister said: ''The stupidity is appalling. We are just at the point of regaining the support of the public and now Fine Gael are fighting with each other in public and appointing cronies in a manner that would embarrass Fianna Fail.''

He warned: ''We risk repeating the same mistake where the benefits of exiting from the Troika exit were squandered by a series of rows and controversies involving Fine Gael Ministers''.

Another Labour Minister said: ''Labour is not going to be blamed over the inability of the Taoiseach to get on with his Health Minister or appoint a Senator no-one has heard of to a board no-one knows about.''

He added: "This is utterly self-indulgent. Labour is not going to take the hit over this. We are getting very close to 'having a conversation with Enda time'.

Sunday Independent

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