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John Drennan: FG chair slams the attitude of Quinn and O'Brien to law

The Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan has slammed a growing culture of "disrespect" amongst powerful businessmen such as Sean Quinn and Denis O'Brien for the courts and the "law of the land''.

In a further sign of serious unease within the party over the supportive stance of the Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly for the Quinn dynasty, Mr Flanagan, the party's former justice spokesperson, told the Sunday Independent that "politicians should be visibly seen to stand by the law of the land''.

In what will be seen by some as a thinly veiled criticism of Mr Kelly, Mr Flanagan added that "when it comes to decisions made by a sovereign Irish court, politicians are expected to act carefully to give a good example and moral leadership''.

Mr Flanagan, who was one of the few Fine Gael TDs to openly take a strong public stance in support of the findings of the Moriarty tribunal, also noted that "the line the Quinns are taking is very similar to the outrageous attacks indulged in by others on Mr Justice Moriarty''. And he added that "Sean Quinn's contemptousness towards the law of the land is similar to Denis O'Brien's contempt for the Moriarty tribunal''.

It is believed Mr Flanagan was referring to a series of attacks by Mr O'Brien on the Moriarty tribunal and the judiciary. However, unlike Mr Quinn, though Mr O'Brien hotly contested the tribunal's operations prior to and after the Moriarty report he was at no stage found to be in contempt of the tribunal or the courts.

Mr Flanagan also told the Sunday Independent that "politicians should tread carefully in criticising the courts lest they leave themselves open to charges of contempt'', and noted that "be it household charges or the utter contempt the Quinns have shown for the judicial process, politicians have a duty to accept the courts are a fundamental pillar of our democracy''.

Meanwhile, Mr Kelly's supportive remarks about the Quinn family have continued to spark fury within Fine Gael a week after their initial airing.

The close ally of Enda Kenny was swiftly slapped over the wrist by the Taoiseach in the wake of his praise of the "moral support" the Quinns had received from the community.

But although Mr Kelly subsequently withdrew his remarks, controversy continues to rage within Fine Gael.

Responding to pressure from party TDs, the Fine Gael press office has warned party representatives that they should not comment on the ongoing court case.

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In a statement, echoing the views of Mr Flanagan, Fine Gael TDs were reminded they were "effectively officers of the State" and told that "regardless of whatever strong opinions you may hold about various cases, it is worth bearing in mind that commentary on a case that has not been finalised leaves you open to potential charges of contempt of court, and/or charges of having prejudiced a trial that is sub judice at that time".

In private, meanwhile, Fine Gael TDs were even more scathing about the former GAA president Mr Kelly, who at one stage was being touted by Mr Kenny's inner circle as a possible presidential candidate.

They noted that "Kelly really let the mask slip, those comments were remarkably naive''.

One source claimed: "There is astonishment that anyone who was a member of Fine Gael would express themselves in that fashion, he sounded like a member of Fianna Fail lite.''

They added that "for some time a lot of Fine Gael figures have felt Kelly is a one-trick pony trading on going to GAA matches but this gombeen green gurrier stuff, poor Sean [Quinn] sure he's one of our own''.

Mr Kelly's woes are also likely to be compounded by the revelation that he -- who was seen as being closely aligned to the Kenny wing of Fine Gael -- now faces a real threat to his MEP seat.

The Sunday Independent has learnt that John Deasy, the high-profile anti-Kenny dissident, has been approached by a number of figures in Fine Gael and asked to run in the forthcoming European elections.

Any electoral battle between Mr Deasy and Mr Kelly has the potential to evolve into a fascinating trial of strength when it comes to the ongoing subliminal feud between the perceived pro and anti-Kenny wings of the party.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Deasy reluctantly confirmed he had been approached by a number of individuals. He added that "I am considering it'', but in a nod to geographical factors, he said: "I've always assumed the second nomination would go to a Cork candidate. I have Cork roots but not being a Cork TD is a serious disadvantage."

These factors mean it is believed Mr Deasy will only run if he secures the support of a number of high-profile Cork TDs and that this may be forthcoming.