Thursday 22 February 2018

TD quits new Fine Gael splinter groups over anti-Kenny fears

Brian Walsh, former Fine Gael deputy for Galway West
Brian Walsh, former Fine Gael deputy for Galway West

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

ONE of the TDs who lost the Fine Gael whip over abortion is abandoning plans to enter a new group being set up by fellow rebels because he feels it has its roots in the heave against Enda Kenny.

Galway West TD Brian Walsh was the first Fine Gael deputy to say he was voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

But he has now decided he wants no part in group being set up by other TDs and senators who voted against the bill because people will trace it back to the party’s divisive leadership heave.

Mr Walsh says the group is broadening its scope too wide beyond abortion and has the potential to destabilise the Government. He also says Mr Kenny still has his “respect and support”.

The other TDs to lose the whip over abortion are Lucinda Creighton, Billy Timmins, Terence Flanagan and Peter Mathews, while Roscommon TD Denis Naughten, who had already lost the whip after voting against cuts to his local hospital, is also set to join the group.

Two senators, Paul Bradford an Fidelma Healy-Eames, are also part of the group, which insists it is a Dail alliance and not a new political party.

Ms Creighton, Mr Timmins and Mr Naughten were among the most prominent TDs to oppose Mr Kenny in the 2010 heave, while Mr Mathews had yet to become a party member.

Mr Flanagan voted for Mr Kenny, and Mr Walsh had yet to be elected to the Dail.

Sources close to Mr Walsh, who took part in early meetings of the new splinter group, say he believes it has its roots “in the leadership heave” and he “didn’t want to be associated with that”.

He also felt the group would be voting against the Government on a range of issues, whereas he is prepared to back the Coalition on everything except abortion.

Mr Kenny told TDs they would not get on the party ticket for the next election if they voted against the abortion bill.

However, any rebels looking for a party nomination would have to support the Coalition if they have any chance of getting back onside with the Taoiseach.

Mr Walsh spelled out his concerns in an email to the other members today. One of the biggest worries is the approach being taken to the Seanad, with some members opposed to its abolition.

Fine Gael promised to abolish the Seanad in its election manifesto and Mr Walsh raised concerns this could look hypocritical.

The TDs were opposed to the abortion legislation because they felt it was breaking a pre-election pledge by the party. 

Mr Walsh’s emails says: “I believe the anti-government standpoint that has been proposed in relation to the forthcoming referendum on the Seanad is at odds with the electoral platform on which we campaigned as Fine Gael candidates in 2011.

“Given the importance that we attached to pre-election commitments in the recent debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, I contend that it would be cynical and inconsistent to adopt an alternative position now merely to gain relevance in the context of the debate surrounding the future of the Seanad.

“A departure from the core policy positions for which we received a mandate from the people would suggest that the group's reasons for voting against the Fine Gael whip last July extended beyond a single issue of conscience.”

And he added people could see it as an anti-Kenny group with its roots going back to the heave.

“It would reasonably be perceived that the group has an ulterior agenda that is rooted in historic divisions within the party, and would have the potential to prove damaging and divisive for Fine Gael and its leadership,” Mr Walsh said.

“As you may be aware, I have enjoyed a good personal and working relationship with the Taoiseach and, despite our differences in relation to a single issue last term, he continues to retain my respect and support.

“Obviously, that relationship has been damaged by the vote last July but I do not wish to further compromise it through my participation in a group that would have the potential to destabilise the work of Fine Gael in government.”

The group insists it is not a political party but is considering naming itself ‘Democracy Now’ or ‘New Agenda’ but Mr Walsh is also concerned about the move to adopt a formal name.

Mr Walsh said “the public will not differentiate between a parliamentary alliance and a formal political party, and those who participate in the group will effectively share collective responsibility for the statements and actions of their colleagues”.

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