Monday 19 February 2018

Pressure on Kenny to bring back Bruton

Fionnan Sheahan, Barry Duggan and Aine Kerr

ENDA Kenny was under huge pressure last night to dramatically return rebel Richard Bruton to the Fine Gael front ranks.

Mr Kenny said yesterday he would announce his new-look frontbench the week after next as behind-the-scenes talks on who would get the top party positions continued.

But Mr Bruton's presence in the new-look line up -- possibly as education spokesman -- is regarded within senior party circles as vital for Mr Kenny.

Party grandee and former FG leader Michael Noonan said yesterday he had already told Mr Kenny that the return of Mr Bruton should be his first move.

Mr Bruton was sacked as deputy leader and finance spokesman this week as he lined up an ultimately doomed challenge for the leadership.

However, he is widely respected and is one of the few left in the party with cabinet experience.

Bringing Mr Bruton back into the fold, albeit not as finance spokesman, would show Mr Kenny is determined to unify the party following the rift caused by the heave.

His presence is also needed in Dublin -- a crucial battleground for Fine Gael in the next general election.

Finding a face-saving mechanism to bring him back after the deeply divisive power struggle will be a key part of Mr Kenny's recovery.

Mr Noonan told the Irish Independent he had already urged Mr Kenny to reappoint Mr Bruton to the frontbench.

"I said it already to Enda. I said your first move should be to talk to Richard and get him back onto the frontbench.

"Richard said he'd find it difficult to serve on the frontbench because he expressed no confidence in the leader. But confidence is a thing that you can lose and after some time, it can be restored," he said.

"So if he (Mr Bruton) wasn't to come back immediately, I see no reason why he couldn't come back in the early autumn," he added.

Mr Noonan said it would be a "great boost to the party" to see the Dublin TD back in his former role of finance spokesman, but added that he also had "other strengths".

"He was very good in education. He put out an education policy four or five years ago called 'Another Brick in the Wall', which was an excellent piece of educational work."

And Mr Bruton himself actually echoed these sentiments when he was questioned about a possible frontbench position under Mr Kenny, which he had ruled out earlier in the week.

"People will recall that I was spokesman on education and health. The economy is all pervasive and there is experience I can bring to other roles," he said.

"I think the skills that I have will equip me no matter what role I have in the future."

Mr Bruton has in the past said he wanted to become Education Minister, as he had a massive interest in the area.

The education portfolio in the party is currently occupied by Brian Hayes, who is expected to be dropped by Mr Kenny after his major role in the heave.

Aside from Mr Bruton and Mr Hayes, the futures of Leo Varadkar and Olivia Mitchell are also in doubt after the leadership challenge. But removing all four from the frontbench would severely weaken the party's profile in Dublin.

Incoming Lord Mayor of Dublin, Fine Gael Councillor Gerry Breen, also said that Mr Bruton should be back on the frontbench.

Support

"In terms of our national support figures, we lag behind in Dublin. We need whatever we can do and Richard would be a vital aspect of that," he said.

Fine Gael's opinion poll support rating in Dublin is currently half that of the Labour Party's. The 47 Dail seats up for grabs in the capital means Dublin is a key battleground for Fine Gael.

Fine Gael Seanad leader Frances Fitzgerald, who backed Mr Kenny, also wants to see a strong Dublin contingent.

To maintain the party's standing in the capital, Dr James Reilly has emerged as the favourite to become the new Fine Gael deputy leader. The Dublin North TD and health spokesman stood firmly by Mr Kenny during the heave.

Mr Kenny will actually travel to Northern Ireland on Monday with a number of those involved in the plot to take him out. Among the delegation accompanying Mr Kenny is Mr Hayes.

Irish Independent

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