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They go back a long way - but not in friendship

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Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny

THE Taoiseach hesitated very briefly when asked to respond to a scathing attack upon his leadership by Ivan Yates which effectively said it was time for Mr Kenny to quit.

"I didn't read it," he said at first. But then he listened as this writer gave a quick summary of Ivan Yates' comment piece in the Irish Independent.

Mr Kenny smiled and in a quiet voice said: "Ivan's a mercenary. He's been very wrong in the past."

It is hardly a state secret that these two one-time Fine Gael Dail novices, who even shared a Leinster House office in times past, love each other not these days. By the time the 21-year-old Ivan Yates came to Dail Eireann in May 1981, Enda Kenny had just turned 30, had been a TD for over five years, and had won three elections. But they were bracketed as the same generation and socialised together.

They were both ministers in the 1994-97 Rainbow Coalition, Ivan Yates as Agriculture Minister and Enda Kenny as Transport & Tourism Minister. Ivan Yates insists that he voted for Enda Kenny out of friendship in the February 2001 Fine Gael bitter leadership contest. "He was always easy-going, likeable and inoffensive," Yates wrote in his memoir published last month. He also noted that it was Kenny's first time showing leadership ambition.

Ivan Yates himself had been tipped as a go-getter and frequently cited as a potential leader. There was surprise when he announced he was quitting politics in the run-in to the 2002 general election to devote all his energies to the bookmaking business previously run by his wife, Deirdre.

At the time it looked like a wise call. Following the May 2002 Fine Gael general election meltdown, Enda Kenny became leader of a battered party with a very uncertain future. Ivan Yates' business just got bigger and bigger. By 2008 Kenny was making slow progress to his goal of leading Fine Gael to government.

Yates's Celtic Bookmakers had 66 shops a turnover in Ireland of €180m, and four shops in Britain. This rapid expansion was funded by €10m borrowed from AIB in 2006, using his family farm in Wexford as security and giving personal guarantees. But the end of the boom saw betting collapse and with it Celtic Bookmakers, leading to bankruptcy and a heavy personal price. He went to Wales to live as a temporary bankrupt in exile, saying he had tried to engage with the bankers, but ended up feeling "hounded" by AIB. Luckily he had developed a parallel career as a journalist and broadcaster.

Enda Kenny's dark times as a struggling Fine Gael leader had included a disastrous outing on Newstalk's Breakfast show presented by Ivan Yates on January 28, 2010. Just days earlier then-Environment Minister John Gormley had published plans for water charges.

Enda Kenny dodged, floundered and tripped over his words. Ivan Yates, his old office-share buddy, pursued him ruthlessly insisting the voters were entitled to know.

Ivan Yates is widely disliked by the current crop of senior Fine Gael politicians who argue that his approach is all about generating polemic and shows little understanding for someone who knows the problems of government.

The Cabinet avoided comment on Ivan Yates' Irish Independent article yesterday. But time and place the Taoiseach could not resist having a pop at his old colleague now turned fierce critic.

Irish Independent