Monday 18 December 2017

'When I win this vote, I'll go on to become Taoiseach'

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

TEARS and cheers marked the packed Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting that saved Enda Kenny's leadership yesterday.

And if you were to believe the converted, it was Mr Kenny who saved himself with a steely speech at the start of the meeting and a fiery one at the end.

He spoke of his passionate commitment to Fine Gael, his plans to end unemployment and his desire to reach the job he has dreamed of for so long.

"When I win this vote, I'll go on to be Taoiseach," he said.

Mr Kenny told the party he was not going to tolerate the type of dissent he had been hearing in the past week.

And he took some of the rebels to task, telling enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar: "I stood by you."

He also referred to criticisms of him by Brian Hayes, Denis Naughten and Michael Creed.

At the end of the speech, Mr Kenny get a standing ovation from most (but not all) present and deafening applause. One TD said it was as loud as "those vuvuzela horns in South Africa".

That was where the tears came in. It all proved too much to take for the party secretary, Senator Pascal Donoghue, who was sitting at the top table in the Fine Gael room, alongside Mr Kenny and party chairman Padraic McCormack.

Divisions

But that was not to say that the anti-Kenny faction did not have their say. They were led by Richard Bruton, who gave a measured speech about the need for a change of leader and his plans to use the economy to build a better society.

There were no clear divisions between the two camps, with members of each side sitting next to each other.

There was a steady stream of people putting up their hands to seek permission to speak -- 47 in total. The 23 who didn't speak included former justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan, who had only declared his support for Mr Bruton the day before. But there were no major surprises -- all spoke privately as they had done publicly.

Senator Ciaran Cannon had the room in stitches with his contribution -- which was based on his forlorn experience as leader of the PDs.

"I was the last man to take out the gun and shoot myself as leader of the PDs," he said.

He warned his new party that former PD leader Mary Harney had enjoyed popularity ratings of more than 70pc -- but had got less than 4pc of the vote in general elections.

Some of those present thought Mr Kenny's speech was the defining moment, but most believed he had secured his victory long before that.

It had become increasingly obvious to even the most optimistic Brutonite, as speaker after speaker rose to back Mr Kenny, that their cause was lost.

After Mr Kenny's concluding speech, each member went behind a small curtain in the corner of the room to mark their ballot.

This ballot box was then taken away to a separate room where the 70 votes were counted by Mr Donoghue and Mr McCormack. The meeting had agreed that the ballot papers would be shredded immediately afterwards.

After about five minutes, the two tellers returned to the room and Mr McCormack announced: "The motion is carried". Mr Kenny told Mr McCormack: "I don't care what the vote was. I don't want to know."

Mr Bruton might have guessed the result but that did not make the announcement any easier to bear. He had the same devastated expression seen on the faces of defeated TDs in election count centres.

The effect was entirely different for Mr Kenny, whose body language relaxed visibly as the tension lifted from him.

He was hugged by his supporters as his election 'svengali' Phil Hogan sat back in his chair with, according to one of those present, a grin "like a Cheshire Cat".

Irish Independent

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