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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 8, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

    A Full Blown crisis for Fine Gael

    Harry McGee

    All day, Fine Gael TDs have publicly expressed disappointment at George Lee’s bolt out of the blue.

    What they should have been expressing is:

    1. Betrayal

    2. Bemusement

    3. Puzzlement

    4. Anger

    Simon Coveney took off the kid gloves tonight when he was speaking to me, saying he was very annoyed. He said that Lee’s decision would create real problems for the party. We will explore them briefly in a second.

    There is a but and the but is this. Lee’sdecision to leave was bizarre, unless there is an element of it that we are missing. Was he really cold-shouldered and excluded? His comments about Richard Bruton seemed to suggest that the party deputy leader and finance spokesman never warmed to him or took his views on board.

    But from today’s spin, the narratives of his inclusion or exclusion seem to diverge radically, depending on to whom you were talking.

    His rejection of a front bench position last week seems odd. Sure, it was late but it was still a significant offer. George rejected it on the basis that the offer was made under duress. Hah? His demands and his expectations after only eight months in politics seem to me to be both unrealistic and grandiloquent. It seems he belived some of the messianic hype that was thrown at him last year.

    Poor old Enda Kenny. He’s had a bad couple of weeks. Two lousy appearances on the Late Late and Newstalk. Continuous mutterings from discontents about his wherewithal. And now this! George who looked like a game-changer for Fine Gael suddenly looks more like a game-ender for Enda.

    All day today, certain TDs, but not all, were muttering that it has implications for Kenny’s leadership. There is a belief within the party that if Enda’s leadership was challenged, the Mayo man could muster no more than 25 votes out of some 70 TDs and Senators. And that the job would be Richard Bruton’s for the taking.

    Bruton was not to be found today. Has that told us much. Not really. There is a sense tonight that the party will circle the wagons and pull together, that there is no real sense that it will trigger a leadership contest, or challenge to Enda.

    In the longer term, there are clouds on the horizon for Kenny. there are no immediate dangers. You have to wonder now if Brian Cowen will outsurvive him as a party leader?

    • Zach says:

      Best Monday story in Irish politics in some time.

      Gorgeous George will come in for enough scrutiny. Weekend papers will have great fun with him. But let’s have a look at FG for a moment:

      Prior to this all the talk was of Enda the chairman, the man with such organisational ability that he could get the Cork hurling scene sorted out. Surely this episode, where his reputed people skills have been exposed in a bad light, has tarnished this image irreparably.
      Bruton surely must also come in for some questioning? Was he unwilling to let the chosen one have some of his brief? Et tu Leo?

      Finally, surely someone somewhere in the party HQ should have realised that their newly prized possession would be bored to tears addressing town halls up and down the country. He didn’t leave RTE to speak to everyone in person that he previously addressed via the telly.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      It simple cannot be possible that, whatever about the flaws Enda Kenny needs to address, any member of the FG PP can be under the delusion that Richard Bruton would be better.

      Anyone who has been involved with FG can provide all manner of reports of how you could almost cry or scream with frustration. It’s almost a wonder Lee held on so long.

      I was Richard’s constituency secretary for years in DNC and he is one of the nicest most decent people you’d ever meet – but my God he has not the slightest interest in changing procedures. He is an academic and like his brother he can’t intellectually conceive of why things like Dáil standing orders and the committee and whip systems are so much part of the problem. He doesn’t link the policy changes that are needed with procedure changes – one can’t succeed without the other changing.

      Just as 25 years in power has rotted FF to the core – 25 years in opposition has created a stilted mentality within FG – a victim mode in a way. Lee came in with new ideas and ways of doing things and instead of embracing the breath of fresh air – FG reverted to type and rallied the wagons to protect the old system.

      So FG panics when Lee tries to change it and we’re expected to believe this is the party going to breathe fresh life into our political and civil service functions!

      It’s a very disappointing revelation that in different ways FG is as unfit for power as FF has proven itself to be.

      Where’s the example from FG – Richard issues a statement having a go at the pay-cut farce for senior civil servants but can’t address the fact his own brother gets a pension from the Oireachtas and EU on top of his big deal in the corporate sector – why can’t FG understand the credibility gap there? Where is the committment for what will happen in the first day, week, month, year – where are the policies people can understand and committ to – can anyone name any policy FG stands for – out of all the policy documents issues does anyone know what they say?

      These are issues FG needs to face up to.

      Lee acted like a spolit child who didn’t get his own way – monumentally selfish and immature.

      But just blaming him isn’t good enough. FG needs to address the reason he reached breaking point.

    • Simon MacAonghusa says:

      As for Gorgeous George, could you, or any of your colleagues, not have found out today what exactly his policy disagreements with Enda and Bruton are?

      It would be interesting to know what he really thinks of their “good bank” proposal and what his own strategy for getting the country out of crisis would be.

    • Gary says:

      There’s so much of this that doesn’t make sense.

      He complains about a lack of ‘input’, yet he was certain of a front-bench position at the next reshuffle, and equally certain of a ministerial portfolio after the next election.

      And with Enda Kenny’s position very much in play, George Lee would have been hugely influential – if not a candidate himself – in any leadership election.

      As you posted, Harry, there has to be an element to this story that’s missing, even if that element is nothing more than George Lee’s pathologically self-regarding ego.

    • robespierre says:

      Well Richard would definitely have half the Dublin TD’s and a lot of the Leinster TD’s in the parliamentary party and you would assume the support of all the Senators given Kenny’s hostage to fortune so EK’s leadership is down to Richard Bruton.

      Not sure if FG have changed the structure back from 2002 however as I have not been active since around 2005. A move by RB would only remove EK, if there is anybody else interested the councillors and members may still have a say in a ballot.

    • barbera says:

      I just love Brian Cowen. He outclasses and will outlast the lot of them. George Lee’s nine month gestation period in FG might come under the category of political pseudocyesis but perhaps this experience might persuade him to Find Fertility (the clue is in the capital letters) elsewhere!

    • LiamK says:

      The fact that Enda offered George a portfolio right at the death smacks of desperation and damage limitation.

      George Lee comes out of this looking very foolish, but he made a mistake and, no longer in politics, he can move on. Enda on the other hand looks increasingly weak and indecisive.

      When FG lost the last election I assumed he wouldn’t get to fight another one as leader. Then the government wobbles last year made it look like he might get another shot, but with the next election now looking like it might be 2 years away, there’s no way he can last that long.

    • Harry says:

      Very astute comments, Desmond. Perhaps Richard Bruton might not be a suitable person to be leader, but then they said that about Enda too. It’s interesting to note that Richard Bruton has not issued a public statement yet.
      When George Lee sought a portfolio, there might have been an objection from Richard and others that it should not encroach on his territory. That would have left Enda Kenny in a bit of a bind. he wanted to accommodate George. But Richard Bruton is powerful and is a potential rival for leader so there was also a compelling need to keep him on side.
      I wonder what Richard Bruton’s attitude was to George being offered a front bench position on economic policy.

    • robespierre says:

      Very well put Desmond. You articulate the position of the foot soldier and die hard very well indeed.

      I would go a little further and say that at this stage they have all been sitting in the one bath tub for so long none of them can remember what clear water looks like.

      Mitchell, Shatter, Flanagan, Creed, O’Keeffe, Allen… they have been around the block so many times I can’t see them being able to rise to the challenge of power.

      And yet there they are…..

      As Lee said last night the place is institutionalised. And the reaction from most of the pol corr’s has led me to think that they in all likelihood are also institutionalised.

      Too close to the system to really call it as they see it. Pat Leahy tend to be the exception to the rule. The rest are all too frequently a bit like the Harry Enfield character “nice but dim”.

    • Enda says:

      You know if George had just walked away from FG but stayed on as an independent, he would have come across very well. Many would have respected his decision to walk away from a decrepit dinosaur of a party that couldn’t/wouldn’t change, but his decision to just leave politics and return to a cosy position in RTE is pathetic and cowardly, such a shame, he could have done a lot as an independent, maybe even actually pushed some changes through,,,, FG and FF can both go screw themselves as far as I’m concerned, one’s as bad as the other…..

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      To those wishing another Bruton as leader – they should be careful what they wish for. Remember how John Bruton was going to be the new saviour of the party? Look how that turned out.

      Fine Gael is a policy-driven party so why do people expect the leader to do everything?

      If Enda is failing in some areas but vastly successful in others then why can’t the front bench pick up some slack? If the media want a policy wonk to interview then ask for the policy wonk. Don’t ask for Enda, knowing full well he is not a policy wonk, and then slag him off for not being one.

      I can easily believe Lee was cold-shouldered but not in the way he implies. Politicians are humans so when confronted with the scale of change they need to go through it stands to reason they’ll run back to the safety of what they know – Lee should have had the guts to hold FG by the hand and FG should have had the guts to take a deep breath, close its eyes and jump into the future …

      Maybe this kick up the backside/shock will turn out to be a blessing if it gets them to face up to how deeply radical the changes in Irish politics need to be.

      Fine Gael could start by banning all its public reps claiming any expense or allowance (every one of them can well afford to pay their own petrol and accommodation costs), ban FG people taking extra salary for chairing committee meetings, make FG reps cent by cent account for everything connected to their political life (before, during and after campaigns and not just the three-week campaign itself), stop FG reps claiming pensions, get anyone who was an FG rep to stop claiming a pension while they are also getting private income etc etc.

      Then FG will have the moral authority to oblige other people in the civil service to take proper pay-cuts.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @2 Would the real Desmond Fitzgerald please stand up and send this imposter back to his mothership! A veritable EPIPHANY…if I might say so…Can this blogger, apparently on first name terms with members of a POLITICAL DYNASTY, be the same Des that accuses others of cosying up to the dynasties of the rival Party…and has hissy Fitz at the mere idea of Political nepotism…etc etc etc…? It’s even brought Barb.ie out of hibernation, a love-in all round…Or is it just smoke and mirrors?

    • barbera says:

      @ 10 Des(mond) Fitz(Gerald)


      Fitting epitaph for FG — but nice work Des, trying to spin something positive out of the latest FG debacle. Why, even “George’s Marvellous Medicine” couldn’t work its magic there.

    • barbera says:

      Kevin Myers’ column (today’s Indo), “With such a motley crew, no wonder he jumped ship”, has exhausted every possible bit of hilarity/glee/humour/wit/ that we are ever going to get out of George’s leaving FG. It just flows out of him — there’s nothing left to be said. The images it conjures up would make a great animated short film actually, in my opinion. Don’t know how quick they can churn them out these days but a weekly animated short — based on the political ‘highlight’ of the week — would be a bit o’craic.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      @14 I don’t get the male obsession with the Cap’n Pugwash smutty pseudonyms, but this is one of the better pastiches and on this occasion…to paraphrase another sexual innuEnda…’I'll have whatever he’s having’…

    • barbera says:

      @ 15 — Likewise (re not getting, as you say, “the male obsession with the Cap’n Pugwash smutty pseudonyms”) but one must allow for la différence — otherwise, it’s stalemate, or worse, war (between the sexes); but then are we reverting to stereotypes here? I mean is the obsession you mention a particularly male obsession or is this type of fixation exhibited by just some males — or even just one? Yeah, Kevin Myers is unique. I guess this is what they mean by logic.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      And then right on cue to prove exactly how out of touch politicians are – they’ve come up with another stroke and scam to rip off more expenses.

      It simply beggars belief any of them seriously think thi new system is enough of a reform?

      Seems Lenihan’s judgement is even more seriously impaired that he has admitted to.

      How difficult is it for them to grasp the fact that every single cent they claim needs to be backed up with a receipt? Every single cent.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Barb.ie something on which we are ad idem…! Sacre Bleu! Re sex war well as far as I’m concerned if you’re gonna be a bear be a Grizzly! For the record I am NOT a Myers fan but I can appreciate humour whatever the source!

    • Kyansas anny more says:

      There’s a kind of a honeymoon period when leaders change. The polity gives them loads of leeway pardon and the freshness and newness they seem to bring to the position as head of party and potential head of government adds a ball of brownie points. Which is why Inda and BIFFO will remain as heads of their parties until right before even be that the eleventh hour the next election. Then mirrors will slide across mirrors secret doors open and close surfaces shift and change as the little men behind the smoke-filled curtained rooms spin their wheels and turn their dials and KAAZAAM from both sides of the stage leap Super-T-Shocks. And we all fall down in worship and vote the way our parents and grandparents voted. And perhaps fate cuts a lucky hand a totally by coincidence it begins to rain or interest rates dip or something. And perhaps fate does not. And off we go again in a whirlwind to…well it ain’t

    • kynos says:

      But will anything change? Well that’s about the only absolute truth there is imo in terms of this particular dimensionally-bound brane-bubble. The only question being will it happen by degrees or catastrophically? Will it happen because Super-T-Shock delivers change we can believe in? Always miracles to hope for. Likely we’ll keep skipping down the yellow brick road that’s paved with all the good intentions badly in need of good courage good brains at least most of us have the good hearts. Barring those FFew who never before in the history of Irish wo/men kind have owed so much to so many. That sociopathic 3%. I’m very much afraid they’ll just end up telling Super-T-Shock what to do all the time. Holding various bits of interesting information about whatever party Super-T belongs to in button-down mode doubtless as long as things go the way they want them to.

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