Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rebels left hanging as Enda ignores calls to 'touch base'

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny was bombarded with calls over the weekend from rebels looking to speak with him -- and possibly save their places on the frontbench.

Members of the so-called 'Gang of Nine' who spearheaded last week's heave -- including Denis Naughten, Simon Coveney and Michael Creed -- are understood to have contacted Mr Kenny's office seeking talks with the leader.

But Mr Kenny is leaving the rebels hanging and is refusing to engage with them until tomorrow at the earliest -- while he may hold off naming his new frontbench for as long as another fortnight.

The Irish Independent has learnt that a number of Mr Kenny's frontbench opponents contacted him in recent days looking to "touch base".

"A few of them were on to him, or I presume people in his office, looking to arrange talks over the phone or a meeting with Enda," a source said.

"But he's leaving off talking to most of them until at least Tuesday. They were grovelling to get to him."


It also emerged that Mr Kenny has yet to speak to leadership challenger Richard Bruton. Last night, Mr Kenny admitted for the first time that he would like to have Mr Bruton, who unsuccessfully challenged him for the party leadership, back on the frontbench.

But he would not speculate on what position he would offer the Dublin North-Central TD.

"I won't comment on any individual appointment," Mr Kenny told RTE's 'The Week in Politics'. "It's only fair to everybody. If they feel that they can make a contribution to a new frontbench for Fine Gael, I'll consider all of those opportunities for them."

Mr Bruton could not be contacted last night.

However, it is highly unlikely that Mr Kenny will give him back his old finance portfolio, which is instead expected to go to former party leader Michael Noonan, who has said he would be willing to serve on the new frontbench.

Mr Noonan, a former health minister, was previously finance spokesman when Fine Gael was in opposition between 1997 and 2001, and also between 1987 and 1993.

Mr Bruton also rang a number of those who supported him over the weekend, simply to thank them for their backing and putting their careers on the line.

He was definitely not assessing the strength of opposition to Mr Kenny, according to sources who added: "Richard called people at the weekend to thank them for supporting him -- not much else."

Despite the tough approach to the rebels, Mr Kenny also has a vested interest in getting many of those frontbenchers back as soon as possible, according to one Fine Gael TD.

The party leader needs to show he has "normalised" the situation after the upheaval of last week.

"Kenny is desperate to bring back as many frontbench as possible, because he realises if he doesn't get them back in numbers he is finished long term. If he can't get them, it will be evident he is damaged goods," the TD said.

And he may be forced to reappoint some of the lead organisers in last week's heave -- such as Brian Hayes, the education spokesman -- in a bid to shore up support in the party's weak spot in Dublin.

It was previously thought that Mr Hayes, TD for Dublin South-West and the key organiser of the failed heave, was a certainty for demotion in the upcoming reshuffle.

But the fact that Mr Hayes is a high-profile TD in the capital may force Mr Kenny to include him in his top team.

Mr Kenny said last week's dramatic frontbench meeting was the final one for the current crop. While it is understood there will be no meeting this week, the current frontbenchers will operate in their portfolios until the reshuffle is announced.

Noonan the ideal choice to replace Bruton: Page 25

Irish Independent

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