Monday 18 December 2017

We're willing to serve on new frontbench, rebels tell Kenny

Aine Kerr Political Correspondent

FINE Gael dissidents are now queueing up to tell leader Enda Kenny that they are willing to serve on his new frontbench.

Less than 24 hours after they voted to have him removed as leader, rebel TDs such as Simon Coveney, Charles Flanagan and Olivia Mitchell said they are willing to serve under Mr Kenny in whatever capacity he sees fit.

Geographical location and the extent of their opposition to the Fine Gael leader during the divisive leadership controversy will play a huge part in Mr Kenny's decision, which will not be announced until the week after next.

Dublin-based TDs Alan Shatter and James Reilly are now primed for promotion following their public displays of loyalty to Mr Kenny.

And if they get promoted, the other three Dublin frontbenchers, Brian Hayes, Olivia Mitchell and Leo Varadkar, may find that there is not enough room for them all in the shadow cabinet.


An announcement on their fate and that of the other eight rebels will not be known until late next week as Mr Kenny decides on his new team following the failed leadership challenge.

The reinstated leader will also attempt to strike a balance between TDs from rural and urban constituencies for his fresh line-up.

Last night, most of the rebellious 11 were not ruling out serving under the leader they expressed no confidence in.

Cork South Central's Simon Coveney, who had appealed for unity last weekend before publicly backing leadership rival Mr Bruton, said he does not expect to receive an offer. But he stressed he would do anything the leader asks of him.

"Whatever Enda wants me to do, I'll respect that decision, and I'll do everything I can do it. But I don't expect to be in favour next week," he said.

While stressing he personally won't be doing anything to undermine the leader, Mr Coveney said he wouldn't pretend that he and others had not made things difficult for Mr Kenny going forward.

"I expect Fianna Fail will start taunting him with the nine dissidents and all that kind of stuff but I think most people will see through that," he said.

Former justice spokesman Charles Flanagan, who switched sides at the 11th hour said he would serve on the frontbench if asked. He said he would serve in "whatever capacity" the Fine Gael leader chooses.

Dublin South's Olivia Mitchell, who had been in charge of arts, sport and tourism, said there would be no more "wobbles" over Mr Kenny's leadership between now and the general election.

She, too, did not rule out a return to the frontbenches if asked -- despite publicly backing Mr Bruton. "Of course I would. Of course I would. Yes, I would. I'm not holding my breath, to be honest. Of course I would. I'd be delighted to serve in any guise, even in the backbenches, if that's what the leader wants," Ms Mitchell said.

Former agriculture spokesman Michael Creed said questions about the frontbench were "hypothetical" at this stage.

However, if contacted by Mr Kenny, he said he would, of course, consider the offer. This was echoed by former foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins who said he would not speculate on his or Mr Kenny's intentions.

Former social protection spokeswoman Olwyn Enright said she would talk to Mr Kenny if he contacted her. "I'll do whatever is in the best interests of the party," she said.

As Ms Enright and Mr Flanagan are from the same Laois-Offaly constituency, only one of them, at best, is likely to get a call from Mr Kenny, who will have to dish out jobs to his supporters.

Louth's Fergus O'Dowd, who had been transport spokesman, said he would serve the Fine Gael leader under "any capacity" and did not rule out a return to the frontbenches.

Failed leadership contender Mr Bruton has left the door open to a return to the frontbenches since Thursday's vote.

The Fine Gael leader's decision to delay announcing his frontbench, which had originally been scheduled for Monday, is designed to restore calm to the party while teasing out how to unite the party with his frontbench announcement.

In the aftermath of Thursday's result, former education spokesman Brian Hayes said he believed it was "highly unlikely" the leader would reappoint him next week.

During the week-long lobbying for votes, Mr Hayes claimed it would be "totally hypocritical" to turn around and serve under Mr Kenny.

Denis Naughten, who led the rebels, said he expected to be left on the backbenches and is not anticipating any call from Mr Kenny.

Sources claim Mr Naughten may now be overlooked having nominated Mr Kenny for the leadership eight years ago, only to support Mr Bruton ahead of Thursday's vote.

At the height of controversy earlier this week, enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar said it would be "very hypocritical" to take a frontbench position. The fate of the outspoken first-time TD is now unclear.

Some of those in the Bruton camp suggested that Mr Kenny should now show his confidence in the backbenchers who expressed confidence in him by promoting them.

However, many of Mr Kenny's own supporters are strongly urging him to reinstate some of his key players such as Mr Bruton.

Irish Independent

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