Nine FG frontbenchers reject Kenny
Nine members of the Fine Gael shadow cabinet have declared they have no confidence in party leader Enda Kenny in the wake of this morning's fractious and dramatic front bench meeting.
Following the meeting, the nine senior Fine Gael frontbenchers gave a joint press conference on the plinth at Leinster House.
Denis Naughten, who spoke for the group, said that with the addition of former deputy leader Richard Bruton, who was sacked by Mr Kenny last night, those who no longer had confidence in the party leader comprised a majority of the 19-member front bench.
He said that one or two other members of the front bench, whom he refused to name, may also come out against the party leadership.
The others in the dissenting group are Olwyn Enright, Fergus O'Dowd, Simon Coveney, Brian Hayes, Leo Varadkar, Michael Creed, Billy Timmins and Olivia Mitchell.
Most members of the group met Mr Bruton at the Green Isle Hotel in Clondalkin early this morning to discuss the situation.
The development came a little over an hour after this morning's front bench meeting ended in disarray. Following the sacking of Mr Bruton, it was expected that those no longer supporting Mr Kenny would declare their positions at the meeting.
Mr Kenny admitted this evening that the attempt on his leadership is a “serious political challenge.”
Mr Kenny told RTÉ news: “In all of the elections I have fought – under my leadership, we’ve gained votes and seats and there is no other valid test of political leadership other than electoral results. And, on Thursday, I expect to win this contest and win it well”.
The Fine Gael leader said the contest is “a serious row, a serious political challenge”.
Defending his record, Mr Kenny said: “It is about leadership and I am the candidate with a proven record of leadership in showing generosity in using people’s talents to the full and I will do that for our party next week.”
The Fine Gael leader left the door open to his opponents when he suggested those who support him in Thursday's vote would not be precluded from featuring in his new front-bench, which he said he would unveil next week.
Earlier, the Fine Gael leader short-circuited his front bench meeting by delivering a 20-minute speech in which he castigated Mr Bruton and also criticised other front bench members. He then said that the meeting was concluded and, amid some confusion and commotion, left the room with his supporters, including Phil Hogan, James Reilly and Paul Kehoe.
A spokesman for Mr Kenny said that he had told his detractors some “home truths” during the course of the meeting before bringing it to a conclusion. He also said it was the last meeting of the current shadow cabinet before the motion of confidence in his leadership, which will be decided by the wider parliamentary party, of 70 people, on Thursday.
Those on the opposing side described Mr Kenny's address as a "rant" and accused him of shutting down the meeting.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Hogan said he was confident that Mr Kenny would comfortably win the motion of confidence on Thursday.
However, those opposing Mr Kenny's leadership say that the momentum will swing towards them over the next two days.
At lunchtime, the party's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan, who publicly declared his support for Mr Kenny at the weekend, refused to comment on how he intended to vote on Thursday, saying only that he would make his views known to the parliamentary party. It added to speculation that he may have switched his allegiance since the weekend.
The four Fine Gael MEPs - Gay Mitchell, Jim Higgins, Sean Kelly and Mairead McGuinness - today pledged to vote confidence in Mr Kenny.
Mr Kenny rang Mr Bruton yesterday afternoon to sack him after a number of phone conversations over the weekend and a face-to-face meeting on Sunday.
Mr Kenny’s decision to pre-empt the move by sacking Mr Bruton surprised most of the leading figures in the party and has left his frontbench opponents with serious decisions to make about whether to persist in their determination to call on him to go.
Mr Bruton last night appealed to his colleagues to put their loyalty to the Irish people above their loyalty to Mr Kenny and install him as their next leader. He strongly criticised Mr Kenny’s leadership, saying he has been unable to convince the public that he could manage the country’s economic problems.
“There are many opinion polls and ratings of his leadership and many occasions on which he has faltered at crucial times – and we do need people’s confidence now,” said Mr Bruton in an interview with RTÉ.
Throughout yesterday, Mr Kehoe - the party's chief whip - appealed to Mr Bruton to abandon his challenge. “It is political naivety and car crash politics,” he maintained.