Thursday 18 July 2019

Heir apparent keeps his cool as knives are sharpened for FG leader

Sam Smyth

IF Richard Bruton comes to believe that Enda Kenny's leadership is a hindrance to Fine Gael leading the next government -- it's "bye, bye Enda".

That could happen if, say, the next three opinion polls saw Fine Gael drop below 25pc with a consequent rise in support for Fianna Fail.

All he has to do is tell Kenny "it's over" to prompt a speedy resignation and to be installed as leader; he has the support of a majority of the parliamentary party. When the Fine Gael frontbench met yesterday morning, the sole topic on the agenda was: can Enda's leadership be recovered?

The meeting ended in what one source described as a "Kumbaya moment" with Enda promising to be "more of himself" in future. Although everyone who attended that frontbench meeting also left it knowing that Kenny's leadership was a gift from Bruton.

What Bruton is currently gifting, he can also take away and colleagues must be telling him about the murmurings from the Fine Gael branches around the country. Or maybe not. Richard Bruton is a very private man whose friendships in Fine Gael are more pleasantly polite than deep and passionate.

He is also stubborn -- "famously obstinate", according to one old friend who says that it is a character trait too often confused with "steely determination".

Yet an absence of bang-the-table shows of strength, and his unfailing good manners, does not mean that he will give way before squaring up for confrontation. Asked why he was not ruling himself out as a future leadership contender yesterday, he replied enigmatically that he had never ruled it out before.

Hurt

His reluctance to become embroiled in a leadership heave follows the personal hurt he felt when his brother John Bruton was pushed aside for Michael Noonan. But others say he enthusiastically supported his brother's heave against Alan Dukes so he does understand that politics can be brutish.

Knowing he would be in the media spotlight yesterday, Bruton wore his best suit but didn't bother with the sunglasses.

His fine wool, charcoal grey attire was a modest contrast to George Lee who chose the sort of power-dressing pinstripe favoured by Bill Cullen on 'The Apprentice'. And the deputy leader would never don the Clark Kent 'Superman' spectacles favoured by the former Fine Gael TD for Dublin South.

Shrill

Lee accused Bruton of ignoring him when he became a Fine Gael TD and said it was part of the reason why he quit politics. It was a jibe that hurt and irritated the party's economics spokesman who hit back yesterday by explaining that Lee had not sought out his counsel. Bruton said that he had spent time explaining to Lee how Fine Gael would reply to the Budget in December and didn't appear to understand his former colleague's complaints.

Although he would never say it, Bruton, who studied economics at Oxford, was not impressed by George Lee's shrill populism; and he must have been surprised by the lack of position papers from RTE's former economics editor.

Unlike Lee, Bruton, who was first elected in 1982, appears to enjoy the drudgery of constituency clinics and assiduously tends to his duties as a TD in North Dublin.

He is regularly seen shopping locally and every weekend does the rounds of the houses in his area -- as well as travelling around the country on party business.

Music is another passion that Bruton follows avidly in whatever free time he can muster. And with two sons and two daughters he enjoys a happy family life with wife Susan Meehan. All that, and he could be just three bad opinion polls away from being the bookie's favourite to be the next Taoiseach.

Irish Independent

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