Sunday 18 February 2018

Relations worsen between Kenny and Gilmore

Series of spats over pylons, bailout exit and Irish Water

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Daniel McConnell Political Correspondent

RELATIONS between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore are "at their most strained" since they went into Government following a series of inter-coalition spats.

With the parties ramping up their local and European election operations, there has been a marked cooling of relations at political, adviser and ministerial level.

Four ministers on both sides of the Coalition spoke to this newspaper to confirm the significant "change in dynamic" between Labour and Fine Gael in the wake of the Budget last October.

"The mood is certainly different, people aren't playing nice any more. Eamon and his team are growing increasingly unhappy with the Fine Gael style of doing business," said one Labour minister.

A series of disagreements in recent weeks is evidence of the worsening of relations between the parties.

They include the handling of the bailout exit, the pylons controversy, and Labour criticisms of the controversial spend of €50m by Irish Water on consultants.

"They have made us swallow hard on the abortion stuff; they want this gay marriage thing," said one disgruntled Fine Gael minister, before adding: "Joan (Burton) got away with murder in the Budget while they hammer James Reilly all the time. How are they team players?" At the very top of Government, the relationship between the Taoiseach and Tanaiste has been the bedrock upon which the Coalition has survived since taking office in March 2011. But this, too, has come under fresh strain in recent weeks.

Reports this weekend revealed that Mr Gilmore, at a meeting last week, blasted Mr Kenny for excluding him from the series of national television addresses to mark the exit of the bailout on December 15.

While representatives of other parties got TV slots to respond to Mr Kenny, Labour was completely excluded.

Mr Gilmore yesterday refused to deny that he confronted the Taoiseach over this matter, and the perceived spinning against Labour ministers by their Fine Gael colleagues.

Asked about reports of the heated meeting, Mr Gilmore said: "I discuss matters with the Taoiseach every week. My discussions with the Taoiseach are private, I have always kept them private and I intend to continue that practice."

During that meeting, Mr Gilmore also criticised Mr Kenny for allowing a series of media reports to emerge in which Labour ministers were being spun against by Fine Gael figures "from within Government Buildings".

Some coalition sources have said that it was inevitable that the cooling in the relationship between Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore would happen, after three bruising years in office.

Now that partnership faces more strain as the parties move to develop separate election and policy platforms. The state of the economy is sure to be a factor in the ongoing tension.

One Fine Gael minister, speaking to the Irish Independent, lashed out at Labour's economic track record in Government.

"We've saved the economy, not Labour. They would have ducked all of the hard decisions," they said.

Fine Gael ministers expressed anger at what is perceived as continued briefing against Health Minister James Reilly by Labour sources.

"James isn't the most natural politician but he is trying to reform the health system. Rather than support him, they undermine him every chance they get," one minister said.

They also voiced resentment at the "easy ride" afforded to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton in the Budget, when she got away with far lower spending cuts than Dr Reilly.

"She managed to save her department from the worst when James has had to cut over €500m," said the source.

Irish Independent

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