Wednesday 21 February 2018

Rebel TDs move to force Taoiseach into early departure

Final straw as U-turn on Reilly's post seals Taoiseach's fate

A handful of backbench TDs have held talks over whether they will table motions on Enda Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael while Chief Whip Regina Doherty (inset) reversed her earlier position that the Taoiseach should outline a timetable for his departure
A handful of backbench TDs have held talks over whether they will table motions on Enda Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael while Chief Whip Regina Doherty (inset) reversed her earlier position that the Taoiseach should outline a timetable for his departure

Cormac McQuinn, Mark O'Regan and Rachel Lavin

Fine Gael was in crisis last night as a group of rebel TDs moved to force Taoiseach Enda Kenny into an early departure.

The Sunday Independent has learned that a handful of backbench TDs have held talks over whether they will table motions on his leadership of the party and the country as early as next Wednesday.

It comes at the end of a miserable week for Kenny, his worst since he surviving a divisive leadership heave in 2010.

Read more: Fine Gael TDs consider motion calling on Enda Kenny to reveal departure timeline

As key members of the Cabinet mounted a rearguard action defending the Taoiseach, it emerged that a small group of backbench TDs have had what a source described as "discussions" about formally raising the issue of his continued leadership.

It came amid claim and counter claim - with TDs pointing the finger at their colleagues who were then forced to denying being part of the plot.

While some TDs tried to play down the extent of the fledgling revolt, it is clear that that momentum is building behind moves to force Enda Kenny to step down.

And as Kenny maintained a stony silence on the questions surrounding his future, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar hit out at chief whip Regina Doherty for what he said were her "unhelpful" remarks - when she said the Taoiseach should outline a timetable for his departure.

Doherty reversed her position less than 24 hours later - a further sign of the mounting chaos in which Fine Gael is now embroiled.

Read more: Leo has edge on Simon and Frances - but leader races are unpredictable

But it is Kenny's unexplained reappointment of 'sacked' James Reilly to his old job as deputy leader which has become a lightning rod for backbench anger, with one TD describing it as "the last straw".

Asked about the discussions among backbenchers, parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said: "I haven't received any motion, I also haven't been approached about a possible one either".

Meanwhile, a Fine Gael spokeswoman said she had "no comment" on reports that the action being considered by the TDs included a vote of no confidence motion.

One TD said he hoped the situation doesn't get to the point where motions are introduced at the meeting.

"I don't think it's the right thing to happen. I do think Enda Kenny indicating what his plans are is the right thing to happen.

"I don't think things being formalised to that extent is going to be helpful. I think he understands everybody wants him to step off the pitch."

Another backbencher said of the issues that arose during the week the most contentious was the decision to reappoint James Reilly.

"It was the last straw. Nobody can understand why he did it."

Read more: Suddenly, Enda has become an unlucky general

The move to reappoint Reilly - who lost his seat in Dublin Fingal before being installed in the Seanad by the Taoiseach - came just weeks after the Kenny told reporters he was no longer deputy leader.

Kenny's announcement at a Fine Gael meeting on Wednesday that Reilly was to return to the post came as a surprise to Cabinet colleagues and backbench TDs alike.

A minister said: "The Taoiseach's greatest friends and foes can't find the logic in that decision".

"At a fundamental level, it just really pissed people off," another backbencher said of the move, arguing that it's a "backward-looking choice".

Enda Kenny last night declined to offer any explanation for why he reappointed James Reilly.

Meanwhile, the deputy leader did not respond to attempts to contact him.

The party spokeswoman said: "The position of deputy leader of Fine Gael is a matter for the leader of the party. We won't be commenting further."

The ministerial source said that "events have caused confusion this week", pointing to Reilly's reappointment, the resignation of the chairman of the expert commission on water Joe O'Toole and the proposal for an all-island forum being shot down by the DUP.

They also said that with the Taoiseach's key financial advisor, Andrew McDowell, being appointed to the European Investment Bank, "you get the sense of things winding down".

Read more: Varadkar steals march on rivals as contest to succeed Kenny begins

The Sunday Independent can reveal that as well as his €277,000 salary, McDowell will be entitled to allowances totalling €50,000 a year.

Both Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald reasserted their support for Kenny yesterday.

Leo Varadkar said: "My view is that there is no vacancy. Enda Kenny is the leader of our party, and he is the Taoiseach elected by the Dail.

Frances Fitzgerald also insisted Kenny should decide "in his own time" when to step down.

Minister Varadkar also hit out at Regina Doherty's comments in a radio interview on Friday. "I think talking about a timeline or something like that is probably unhelpful," he said adding that leaders that announce a timeline for their departure "lose their authority".

Doherty took to the airwaves again yesterday and further rowed back on her comments, telling RTE's Claire Byrne: "What I've learnt from the last 24 hours is that you have to be exceptionally careful about what you say so that it can't be misconstrued.

"I have utter confidence in his leadership," she said. Doherty was among TDs who sang songs on the last show of the season - giving a rendition of That Old Devil Called Love.

Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea said its been "a very, very bad week for the Government" and that they "need to get their act together".

Sunday Independent

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