Saturday 15 December 2018

Ministers are warned to start playing FF 'at its own game'

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fine Gael ministers have been told to start playing Fianna Fáil "at its own game" amid growing expectation that an election is on the horizon.

A private gathering of senior and junior ministers from the main Government party heard rallying calls from senior figures who urged colleagues to lay the groundwork for a return to power.

Particular notice was taken of how prepared ministers are to put themselves forward for interviews on the national airwaves.

A "rough and ready" league table of broadcast appearances was read out by one of the Taoiseach's senior officials in a bid to show how some ministers are dodging the limelight.

The meeting of ministers is now a monthly event at the behest of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Sources claimed that there were two stand-out contributions from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Junior Housing Minister Damien English.

Mr Donohoe, who topped the list of media performers, said colleagues had to stop complaining about media coverage and set their own agenda.

"It was classic Paschal," said a source.

"He said it's up to us to create our own good fortune and the work done now will be what we can reference in the future."

Mr English, who is at the centre of the housing crisis with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, was described as making a particularly strong contribution during the meeting.

Sources say a number of minister raised concerns that Fianna Fáil is starting to get ahead on the ground and in some press coverage.

"Damien said Fine Gael needs to be out playing Fianna Fáil at its own game. We need to be pushing ourselves now," a minister said.

Sources say there was no direct conversation about an imminent general election but there was a "general awareness" that they need to be ready.

Mr Varadkar and one of his officials spoke briefly "but pointedly" about Fine Gael's potential coalition partners in a new government.

He warned that all talk of working with Sinn Féin was to be dropped as "it's not going to happen".

The comments were interpreted as a slap down of Minister for Older People Jim Daly who recently said he had "no ideological objection" to Sinn Féin in government.

Mr Varadkar did not reference those comments directly, but ministers present said it was "obvious" what he was talking about.

Mr Daly did not speak about his recent 'Hot Press' interview, but is understood to have spoken on other issues.

Separately Mr Varadkar is now also organising weekly briefing meetings for backbench TDs and senators where they will told about decisions taken at Cabinet.

Every Tuesday they will be invited to an "information briefing" where officials will take them through what was discussed at that Cabinet meeting and the outcomes.

A source said this is part of Mr Varadkar's efforts to be more inclusive and keep everybody in the party up to speed on the Government's work. It will also inform their interactions with local and national media.

The meeting is in addition to normal parliamentary party meetings on Wednesdays.

Irish Independent

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