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Kenny takes on angry TDs at crisis meeting to launch his fightback

Enda Kenny has fended off some harsh criticism from his own party members after a "long, honest and blunt exchange".

The Fine Gael leader faced the wrath of backbenchers for the first time last night as it emerged that at least two frontbench TDs had made informal inquiries about the possibility of a heave.

Kenny's heir-apparent Richard Bruton missed last night's meeting which offered a "full endorsement" of the leader, instead remaining in the Dail for a debate on the Finance Bill.

Sources within Fine Gael now say that the threat to Kenny's leadership was real in the immediate hours after George Lee's resignation on Monday.

However, strong performances on news programmes the following day restored faith among some backbenchers who had started to waver.

The party's frontbench rallied around Kenny on Tuesday but only after at least two of their ranks made "subtle inquiries" about the level of support on offer for Bruton.

A small number of backbenchers are said to have readily offered their support but, in any event, it was concluded that Bruton had no real appetite to challenge Kenny.

Although he has admitted to harbouring leadership ambitions, sources say that Bruton has no intention of creating a potentially damaging rift within the party.

Last night the parliamentary party unanimously backed Mr Kenny after a five-hour meeting but it is understood that some TDs did have "a go".

The official line from Fine Gael last night was that the meeting "fully endorsed and supported the leadership of Enda Kenny".

Ovation

Chairman of the parliamentary party Tom Hayes said that Kenny had received a standing ovation and that members wished George Lee well in the future.

However, it is understood that a number of TDs and senators did express unhappiness with Mr Kenny's style of leadership and his communication with the media and within the party.

In particular, younger members such as Lucinda Creighton and John Paul Phelan are understood to have spoken up.

Ms Creighton is said to have told the party leader that he is "not up to the job".

She was not available for comment for this morning.

TD Paul Connaughton described the meeting as the "best in the past 30 years".

"Everybody is behind Enda Kenny," he said, adding: "He and he alone brought us to where we are today."

Bernard Allen said that he remains convinced that Kenny will lead the party into the next general election, "no matter what the polls say".

"I'm convinced Enda Kenny will be Taoiseach," he said.

The meeting came after frontbench energy spokesperson Simon Coveney sent what sounded like a stern warning to Mr Kenny about the "obvious consequences" if he didn't up his game.

"He doesn't always lead from the front. He allows his articulate, talented people often to speak for the party. But that different style of leadership, which isn't about ego, is something that I think will appeal to people in time.

"That's the challenge for Enda. He needs to step up to that mark and if he can't achieve it, well then there are the obvious consequences of that," he said on RTE radio.

Mr Coveney later tried to play down the remarks arguing that he was only stating the obvious.

kdoyle@herald.ie


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