Lee rejected Kenny offer of job on front bench

Tue, Feb 9, 2010, 00:00

GEORGE LEE rejected the offer of a frontbench position from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny last week because it was offered to him “under duress”.

Mr Lee yesterday described the series of events that led to his resignation from Fine Gael.

He said he first told Mr Kenny of his intention to quit during a meeting last Tuesday, at which point the party leader offered him the frontbench position as spokesman on economic planning.

Speaking to reporters outside Leinster House soon after his announcement, Mr Lee said it would have been dishonest of him to accept the position.

“I had absolutely no input for nine months. I think I had to be honest with myself and honest with the electorate about that and not pretend.”

Asked if his resignation was a vote of no confidence in Mr Kenny, Mr Lee said there were “certainly lots of large mutterings at the moment in relation to the leader’s position”.

He said he had “minimal involvement” with finance spokesman Richard Bruton, who is also deputy leader. “I had a maximum of two or three conversations with Richard Bruton in a total nine months period. I don’t know how my relationship is with [him],” he said.

Mr Kenny said he was saddened by Mr Lee’s decision to resign from Fine Gael only eight months after becoming a TD.

In a statement he noted Mr Lee had been appointed chair of the party’s committee on economic policy and also its forum.

“I had anticipated a very important role for [Mr Lee] in the coming period with Fine Gael.”

Mr Kenny’s spokesman later dismissed the proposition that the resignation had implications for his leadership. He cited the public endorsement of Mr Kenny by 20 Dáil deputies over the course of the weekend.

“People outside Fine Gael would like there to be instability. The party has learned over the years that stability that Enda Kenny has brought is important,” the spokesman said.

Asked about the position of Mr Bruton, the spokesman said: “Richard has offered nothing but the strongest support. He recognises cohesion, and he has been absolutely consistent in his support for the leader.”

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said Mr Lee’s decision came as a “big surprise” to him. He contended Fine Gael’s problem was that “it really did oversell George Lee from the very start”.

“They sold him as an economic messiah and obviously he accepted their word on that and felt that his messianic economic qualities were not being recognised,” Mr Lenihan told Today FM.

Among Fine Gael colleagues there was disappointment expressed at Mr Lee’s decision and public endorsement of Mr Kenny, although privately other TDs said it placed question marks over his long-term future as leader.

Former leader Michael Noonan said he was surprised at the decision. “I thought that George Lee was fitting in well,” he said, adding that he believed he would have been a cabinet member in a Fine Gael government.

On Mr Kenny’s leadership, he said the party was united and the leadership and front bench were doing a reasonably good job.

Energy spokesman Simon Coveney said he was “annoyed” at the manner in which Mr Lee had resigned. On Mr Kenny he said: “Obviously we need to discuss that at the Fine Gael front bench. I would like to hear Enda Kenny’s take on what happened and why. I feel it has no real implications for his leadership.”

Other TDs and Senators, including enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar, Michael Darcy, Lucinda Creighton, Paschal Donohoe, Joe McHugh, and Mr Lee’s constituency colleague Olivia Mitchell also expressed disappointment at Mr Lee’s decision.

One prominent TD, who wished to remain anonymous, said Mr Kenny needed to “up his game”.

Others said Mr Bruton would be made leader immediately if he challenged Mr Kenny.