Kenny's leadership on line over Brexit 'shambles'
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's leadership has been brought into sharp focus following his "shambolic" attempt to establish a post-Brexit all-island forum, as well as his controversial decision to allow Independent ministers a free vote on abortion.
The Fine Gael leader was strongly criticised and openly questioned at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party last night.
One of the main issues raised was the Government's botched attempt to establish the all-island forum, without consulting DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster in advance.
But several backbenchers also let fly over the decision to allow the Independent Alliance to vote freely on the issue of Mick Wallace's bill on fatal foetal abnormalities, which comes before the Dáil today.
Three backbench TDs stood up at the meeting and criticised Mr Kenny in a move that will heap pressure on the embattled Taoiseach. Cork South West TD Jim Daly said Mr Kenny should have "stood up" to Mr Ross at the Cabinet meeting this week.
Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd mentioned the issue of "leadership" on three occasions in what is perceived by some within the party as a call for Mr Kenny to be replaced.
Carlow/Kilkenny TD Pat Deering, who described Mr Ross this week as an "a la carte minister", told the meeting that he completely endorses the view that the Alliance's request for a free vote should have been shot down.
Several sources present said there had not been a meeting in months where the party leadership came under such stringent attack.
Mr Kenny did not properly address the criticism, instead emphasising the importance of Ireland putting up a robust response to Brexit.
However, there was surprise when Mr Kenny re-appointed James Reilly as the party's deputy leader just weeks after he was effectively sacked.
"We now have a scenario where there are two political corpses running the party," one TD suggested last night.
But the dissent over Mr Kenny's leadership was clear before last night's meeting.
It emerged that Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan would have "strongly advised" against the Government's botched approach to the establishment of an all-island Brexit forum had he been consulted in advance by the Taoiseach.
Fine Gael ministers and senior Government figures also believe relations with the DUP have been "severely damaged" after efforts to establish the forum took place without first contacting First Minister Foster.
It's also emerged Ms Foster learned of the proposals through the media just hours before the North South Ministerial Council meeting in Dublin Castle on Monday. The DUP leader slapped down Mr Kenny over the plan, which has now been effectively scrapped.
But well-placed Government sources told the Irish Independent that Mr Flanagan would have advised against the Government's approach to the issue had he been consulted. It is also felt a longer period was required before any such proposal should have been tabled from Dublin, sources say.
Fine Gael TD for Waterford John Deasy last night said it is clear the credibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs has been damaged as a result.
"It's now clear the department was blind-sided and its credibility has taken a huge hit in the eyes of some senior Northern politicians," Mr Deasy told the Irish Independent.
"When the most senior political office in the land does a solo run without consulting the critical government department, it constitutes a major malfunction within Government," he added.
But Education Minister Richard Bruton dismissed criticism and said Mr Kenny is in a "pivotal" position in the post-Brexit negotiations.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael TDs expressed anger over alleged leaks to the media while the meeting was taking place. One suggested there should be a "signal blocker" on the room while party chairman Martin Heydon said it had been suggested to him previously that TDs should place their phones in a bucket on arrival.