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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 8, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    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.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Ah, for the love of God.

    • robespierre says:

      Just talking to somebody in FF a while ago and they are unsure how to take it. It means the 2 FG won’t knock a lot of each others vote out in Dub South.

      If Enda had put GL forward strongly and dropped Kieran O’Donnell then the Richard / George combo would have made Enda look even more otiose than usual.

      I would imagine that Lee’s was a star that had the potential to burn too brightly. There are plenty of others in FG not happy at sitting on the back benches when some very weak communicators have been put in their specialist area. Take Lucinda Creighton and the foreign affairs brief as an example – it is her specialist area.

    • dealga says:

      This is fantastic news. Already people who are too close to the system think it was about a front bench position. I don’t believe that. He simply wanted to be influential – to make a difference.

      The fact that he was more influential as a journalist than as a politician says bucket loads about the NIMBY, pothole fixing, hospital at every gap in the ditch, parish crap that Irish politics is. And the citizens of this country vote for that crap in election after election.

      Maybe 9 months isn’t long enough to make a difference, but it should be long enough to make your voice heard and try and be an influence.

      Hopefully he has done politics in this country a service today. But I doubt it.

    • Andrew says:

      George Lee was the most valuable asset to be given to FINNE GAEL, and in typical irish political form, he was squandered. While Brian cowen may be a flawed leader i am truly frightened of having the incompededent Enda at the forefront of shaping our future

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Dan @1 is that what’s known as taking the ‘pith’…? Proving if proof were necessary that brevity is indeed the soul of wit…Andrew…spelling darling!

    • robespierre says:

      By my comment I meant that she (Lucinda Creighton) is in a junior role in that area rather than the full brief.

      Like the civil service – FG doesn’t do meritocracy only length of service. Hence the leader is the father of the house and as somebody once said – his only real achievement in office was to ask the Irish to drink more around St Patricks day and to ask a few lads over for a bit of a cycle.

    • Fiona says:

      This is a bad day for Enda Kenny to squander such a resource as George Lee that the people had faith in. I think the electorate have been treated very badly by Enda’s attempt to bring a well known star personality into the party knowing that George Lee left his job in RTE to affect change in politics and was then bound and gagged in Fine Gael.

      I was not going to vote FF in the next election but now I dont know who to vote for. Fine Gael need to replace Enda Kenny fast.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      dealga, I tend to agree that my impresion is that this was not primarily about being on the front bench. It was about being able to influence policy, unfortunately George Lee wasn’t aware it would seem when he went in the Dáil that there is no formal structure in Irish political parties to influence policy whether you are a TD or an ordinary member.

      It’s frustrating that if you have an interest in politics from a policy rather than personality basis that you’re viewed for the most part as a crank in Ireland. That is very regrettable and has a lot to do with the mess we find ourselves in as a nation. We elect pols who often times couldn’t care less what the decision being made is so long as they are the one making the decision.

    • Buttercup says:

      Is this a sneak preview of the potential problems of those elected though a list system if one is introduced with the purpose of getting “national” politicans with particular expertise into the Dáil?

    • Ray D says:

      This is no surprise. You would want to be either braindead, the son/daughter of a dead politician and/or a rascal to want to be a politician

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      It is utterly inconceivable George Lee didn’t take the time to discuss joining Fine Gael with party members. All he had to do was ask and he’d have been told what he faced.

      Nor is it possible he thought he could change the system in 9 months or that he wouldn’t have understood the scale of force that would oppose him from within Fine Gael and elsewhere. He’s worked in RTE so he knows the mindset of places like that. Leinster House is probably the most insular ineffective civil service function in the entire country. He knew this.

      The fact he threw his toys out of the pram so soon doesn’t reflect too well on his maturity.

      On the other side, the fact Enda Kenny claims he will provide a team in government of talent has been shown to be untrue. George Lee should have been on the front bench as Enterprise and Employment spokesperson from day one.

      So what if he outshone other people – I thought Kenny wanted the best.

      People forget that Enda Kenny is as much a product of inbred backwoods politics as Brian Cowen is. Enda Kenny did not get elected to the Dail due to talent but because of a name.

      He deserves much credit for the revival of Fine Gael but he can’t coast on that forever.

      Internal Fine Gael politics is as stultifyingly dead-hand as Fianna Fáil’s but just in a different way. The damage done to the party mindset after 25 years in opposition is just as corrosive as the damage 25 years in government has been to Fianna Fáil.

      FG is on the up because FF is on the way down, not because of anything FG has done. It’s the massive mistakes of FF that have turned people to FG out of desperation. FG backroom people refuse to face up to that. The party powerbrokers refuse to accept the fact the party needs to step up its game radically and start setting out the precise specifics of what it wants to do in power and how it will do it – i.e., the first day, week, month, year: what milestones will be passed.

      I mean, who can name any Fine Gael policies on anything? Reams of policies and the public don’t know any of them. No connection or effort to connect made at all.

      Also, with regard to the issues FG can actually change, the record is utterly pathetic. Still no action to make FG public reps provide and publish receipts for what they claim, still FG reps taking pensions on top of income, still a headquarters where time has stood still since about 1997.

      I mean, what was the prep work for Kenny before he went on the Late Late and why does he keep repeating these mistakes. It can’t possibly be that the media team do not sit him down and watch a repeat and point out every single mistake he’s made.

      More importantly, where is the influence of his wife? She is a media savy professional – just like Sarah Brown – and while Sarah Brown can only do so much you can see a real change in perception on issues where she has an involvement. Why is Fionnuala Kenny not doing the same?

      Also, don’t underestimate how much of an academic Richard Bruton is. He can’t conceive of the level of change that needs to take place in how politics is done in Ireland. Fine Gael can spend hour after hour arguing over some point of order nonsense and completely missing the point of the debate.

      All is not well in FG and Lee might have done the party a favour to get its head out of its ass where its been since about 1997, or he might have inflicted a mortal wound.

      Time for Fine Gael to get the head-shrinks in to change the attitude from doom and gloom opposing everything to setting out a bright future under the next FG government – if sports people can change their attitude to end a losing streak why can’t politicians?

    • Donal says:

      Enda, you did a great job with the reorganisation and rebuilding of FG, so that we still have an alternative and not just a one party state. However the country now needs a real vision and real leadership and unfortunately you just dont have it to offer. Your role or lack of same in allowing the talents of George Lee to be squandered is proof positive that its time for you to move on. He was your lottery ticket to the big prize and you just lost it. This country needs a real alternative to the current group of incompetents and guys such as George Lee should be listened to and given their chance. The old political system of quick winks, buying pints, family dynasties, brown paper bags and I’m ur man anoracks have to end. Its time for professional competencies to be brought to bare. Time for voices beyond politics to be listened to. Time for us to have a real vision, real policies and to effect real change. Move over Enda, your party and your country needs a new leader!

    • Donal says:

      As for George, so much you could have done for your constituents and for your country, why did you walk away so easily without what seems as even a determined fight? Your words this evening, “they came looking for me”. So I guess because of that, they should have given you the opportunity you deserved. Hmmm, a little of the spoilt child syndrome. Yes they failed badly for not using your knowledge and skills, but doesnt sound as you fought very hard to to be heard, or perhaps there is something you have not shared with us yet. Could this be next Christmas’s autobiography?

    • James D says:

      I think there is far too much being made about this entire affair, just as we all over-hyped Lee’s entry to politics. Politics requires staying power and a willingness to learn the ropes. Fine Gael and the country will survive.

    • George Lee is far too honest for a place like Dail Eireann. He has far too much integrity, he is too sincere. He has exposed Dail Eireann for what it really is: a sham and a charade. In saying no he has done us all a great service.

    • Ann Murphy says:

      If Fine Gael was spending its own money on George Lee, Enda Kenny would have had him in every day asking for his input. When it is the tax payers money why bother? What CEO doesn’t take expertise from senior managers that they recruit for their field of expertise at a time of crisis? 

    • Mary Dwyer says:

      George Lee, does he know where he is going? Like his old partner Charlie Bird I presume he is heading back to the cosy comfort of the mother ship out in Montrose where he can make his programmes rather than try and influence policies .
      Fine Gael will have to try and get candidates who really want to stand for them.

    • Thomas B says:

      Well I think it’s just another sad day for honesty and integrity. The bully boy, spindoctors have won again and we the general public have lost again and will pay for it in our pockets…… unless !!

    • Ciara says:

      Well done to GL for not selling his soul to toe the party line. If every politician stuck to their principles instead of accepting the status quo in exchange for the promise of a front bench position & a pension we might actually see some change.

    • The General Lee says:

      George Lee didn’t leave his job in RTE, he took a one-year sabbatical, to test the water. That year is almost up, and he’s obviously decided to take the easy option of a safe little job back at the mothership.
      The real problem for Enda Kenny in all this is that he’s been made out to look pathetic by Lee. Offering him all sorts of front-bench positions etc., as he’s walking out the door looks pretty desperate.
      Fine Gael are probably better off without George Lee if he hasn’t got the maturity, or the strength of his convictions to outlast his one-year RTE holiday.
      They’d probably be better off without Enda Kenny, and his half-arsed leadership as well. It looks like this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back..

    • robespierre says:

      Desmond – nail on the head.

      A total failure of vision by Kenny. The problem with a lot of front benchers is that they have no career to speak of outside of politics.

      They get a guy with professional skills and to put manners on him they leave him stewing on the backbenches, don’t give a specific brief and areas to research and investigate.

      It is a shocking waste of an immediately identifiable and fluent communicator. While you can argue about truculence, he had and has a professional life, he offered himself, he wasn’t used and he went away.

      Kenny didn’t do much with Brody Sweeney either. Sweeney could have been brough into the Senate and wasn’t.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      The other side of party politics is all those politicians that run for elections,that take the risk that they might never be elected, and many of them never do, but they fight the good fight because they believe in the ideas of their party. And those party members that put aside their own egos and go out and canvass for their party candidates because they believe that their party in Government will make a difference for the better.

      George Lee made the decision that he did. It is a pity but not unprecedented. James Larkin Senior was elected in a bye election and served only 8 months before being found bankrupt during his term of office. Mark Durkan stepped down as SDLP Leader while younger than most Party Leaders are when they are elected leaders. All very good people but no one has a monopoly in terms of their ability to provide something worthwhile to politics and to parliament.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Just for the record on Big Jim Larkin, I had it a bit wrong above. He was elected in 1927 in a General Election but never got to take up his seat because he was declared bankrupt when he would not pay a libel award against him. He then ran for the bye election that was caused by his own disqualification but failed to be elected. He ran again in 1929, 1932 and was elected in 1937, lost his seat in 1938, was elected for Labour in 1943 and 1944.

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