Short Visits Make Long Friends: The Case of George Lee
Deaglán de Bréadún
The recruitment of George Lee and his subsequent by-election success were the best things that happened to Fine Gael for years. Now he’s gone: just like that. After the local and European elections, I asked party leader Enda Kenny if and when he would be putting Lee on the front bench. All in good time, was the essence of his reply.
The story of Lee’s resignation has just broken and some obvious questions arise. Did he forewarn Kenny of his departure? Presumably he did. If so, Kenny should have offered him the sun, moon and stars to stay on.
Lee was in a difficult constituency. There are already two FG frontbenchers there, Alan Shatter and Olivia Mitchell. They would be legitimately see themselves as cabinet material in a future FG-led government.
Even in the present climate, it was a big ask for FG to hold three seats in the general election, although presumably Lee would have been a shoo-in, given his profile. One wondered if he would be moved to, say, Dún Laoghaire.
Recruiting media stars is a double-edged sword. George spoke to the nation night after night on the Nine O’Clock News. It was a big adjustment to being way down the pecking-order in Fine Gael. He only got to make a very limited contribution to the Nama debate, for example.
It’s bad news for Enda Kenny, coming in the wake of two disastrous media interviews, one on the Late Late Show, the other on Newstalk. If this is reflected in forthcoming polls, there will be a lot of worry and concern within the party.
Even at this late stage, can he persuade Lee to change his mind? Seems doubtful. Your humble scribe is in Belfast today, covering the INLA decommissioning story so he is at remove from developments in Leinster House. SDLP people are saying here that Brian Cowen was in very good form at the party’s conference over the weekend. You can bet that George Lee’s departure has put an even broader smile on his face.