Tuesday 20 March 2018

Varadkar stands up for the truth, Bruton tells FG party meeting

Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Education Minister Richard Bruton has described his party colleague Leo Varadkar as a politician who "speaks truth to power" in a move that has fuelled speculation surrounding the upcoming leadership contest.

At a private meeting of Fine Gael members in Dublin Bay North, Mr Bruton heaped praise on Mr Varadkar, who he said has performed effectively in successive ministries.

The term 'speaking truth to power' was coined in the 1950s and refers to someone who challenges injustice.

While sources present said the remarks should not be seen as an endorsement for Mr Varadkar's leadership bid, they have boosted the confidence of supporters of the Social Protection Minister.

Mr Varadkar's close backers have in recent days expressed concern about the perception within political circles that his main rival, Simon Coveney, is more likely to secure the backing of the majority of Cabinet members.

"Bruton's description of Leo as being someone who speaks truth to power certainly caught people's attention," one source told the Irish Independent.

Mr Varadkar was one of many senior Fine Gael figures who broke rank in 2010 to back Mr Bruton during his unsuccessful heave against Enda Kenny.

During an infamous interview with broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan on 'Prime Time', Mr Varadkar said he asked himself the "3am question" as to which leader he would want to see answer the phone during a crisis.

Despite backing Mr Bruton, Mr Varadkar was soon appointed to Cabinet by Mr Kenny.

However, Mr Varadkar and Mr Bruton have kept a close relationship since the unsuccessful heave.

Mr Varadkar was invited to chair the AGM of the Dublin Bay North branch on Tuesday, during which the remarks were made.

During his own contribution, Mr Varadkar said Mr Bruton deserved credit for helping to create an environment in which "200,000 extra jobs were added in five years".

He told the meeting of Fine Gael members that Ireland's recovery was "unusual" because it was "jobs-rich" and "jobs-led".

"Usually, job growth lags a recovery," Mr Varadkar is understood to have said.

But sources among Mr Bruton supporters last night stressed that the Education Minister had yet to declare whether he himself was interested in contesting the FG leadership again. The same sources said they expected Mr Bruton to outline his intentions after Mr Kenny returned from the US.

The same approach is expected to be taken by Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who has in recent days been gauging the support within the parliamentary party for her own bid.

As revealed by the Irish Independent last week, a growing number of ministers believe Mr Kenny must clarify his plans to step aside on March 29, which is likely to be the first parliamentary party meeting he addresses following his return.

Fine Gael figures who would be seen publicly as supporters of Mr Kenny have expressed concern that he may try to prolong his tenure as Taoiseach.

Some supporters of the Mayo politician, such as European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy, have argued that he should remain in place for the start of the Brexit negotiations, which will commence as soon as British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50.

But a large number of TDs within the party have dismissed this prospect outright, saying Mr Kenny is a "lame duck" as he has already signalled his plans to step aside.

Irish Independent

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