Wednesday 12 December 2018

Never bluff a bluffer: steely Kenny refuses to be bullied off the pitch

Leo Varadkar and Catherine Noone arrive for a charity event at Medley restaurant on Fleet Street last night. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Leo Varadkar and Catherine Noone arrive for a charity event at Medley restaurant on Fleet Street last night. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Fionnán Sheahan

After Enda Kenny's show-stopping performance, there was an insightful moment towards the end of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night.

Catherine Byrne, the Junior Health Minister, was defending the proposal to bring in consumption rooms, facilities where drug addicts can shoot up in safe surroundings with health supports available. The suggestion has been knocking around for about a decade-and-a-half now, and are finally about to materialise.

Sean Barrett, the veteran Fine Gael TD, was arguing the substances being consumed were illegal.

The main defender of the under-fire Byrne's position was actually Leo Varadkar, who pointed out he had dealt with the issue before in his time in the Department of Health and it was now time to just get it down. He spoke on the health effects and the importance of having it in a controlled environment.

Nonetheless, there was some surprise at Mr Varadkar's intervention on such a contentious issue.

"He spoke as a doctor, not as a TD. It was quite brave given the fact he is going to be a candidate. He didn't need to get involved. He is everything your typical TD is not. He speaks straight and looks you right in the eye," a party TD present said.

Simon Coveney also weighed in at the end to dismiss Mr Barrett's argument.

"He had nothing to add to the debate but still had to stick his oar in," a TD said.

There is a growing consensus there will only be two candidates in the forthcoming Fine Gael leadership race. "And when it comes to it, don't be surprised if there is only one," a party TD predicted. In that scenario, the view is Mr Varadkar will be the last man standing.

Unquestionably, he is a more polished and articulate performer in communicating with the public - depending on what form he is in.

"Leo versus Micheál Martin in a TV debate will be a real clash of the titans. Yer man could do anything, but that's what makes it interesting," a party veteran said last night.

It was a case of never bluff a bluffer as Mr Kenny stood firm against the rebels to buy himself time until Easter at least. He gets to go now on his terms.

"His words tonight were remarkably clear. Look, he doesn't want to leave the pitch with the McCabe issue raging and be bullied off by arseholes," a party TD said.

"Our hero is free for a short while until St Patrick's Day. He was very calm and everyone in the room was happy, bar the four or five really sore fellas who want him gone right away," a minister said.

Opinion was divided over whether his comments about the timeline he now envisages were directed at or supportive of Mr Coveney's weekend stance, where the Housing Minister suggested Mr Kenny would resolve the position after returning from Washington DC and would then set out a date bringing him into April.

"He was really putting Coveney back in his box. The only person who set a deadline was Coveney."

Although it's been officially put off for a month, the leadership race is well under way.

The intervening weeks before the whistle is blown give Mr Coveney a chance to get his campaign organised. "We are going to have a long race, which never suits the favourite. But this race has been going on since the last general election. That is why Simon has recently started making contact with the parliamentary party and Leo has been doing it for a year," another TD said.

And it presents Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny with an opportunity to try to cajole Paschal Donohoe into making a run.

The campaign will go on for three to four weeks as the long-winded process allows for a whole eight days for nominations.

Then there will be anything up to eight regional meetings around the country, no doubt with packed crowds and protests outside.

"The Blueshirts will love to walk through them. It will be great," a rural TD laughed.

The race will give the party a pep-up and serve as a way to rally the troops outside of a general election campaign context. "They are not just electing a Taoiseach here, they are electing someone for the next eight to 10 years, some of which will be in opposition," a Fine Gael TD said.

Irish Independent

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