Kenny calls for greater cohesion in Coalition

Taoiseach convenes special meeting of Fine Gael Ministers for ‘pep talk’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny clashed with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on Wednesday. Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Taoiseach Enda Kenny clashed with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on Wednesday. Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Fri, Apr 18, 2014, 01:00


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has privately urged Fine Gael Ministers to maintain “cohesion” with their Labour counterparts as they face into local and European polls next month.

After bitter exchanges between the parties on Wednesday over the new tax on water, Mr Kenny summoned senior and junior Fine Gael Ministers to a special meeting in Leinster House yesterday for talks on the election campaign.

The intervention by the Taoiseach, confirmed by two Government figures, is seen by some Fine Gael Ministers as an indirect signal to Labour that he wishes to put an end to tensions. “The general view was that we’ve just got to be conscious of the need for cohesion going into the next few weeks,” said a Minister who was at the meeting.

The hour-long talks, which began at about 8.30am, came amid anxiety in Cabinet about a sense of political drift this year and an increasing recognition that the Coalition needs to refocus after a series of disruptive controversies.

There was a heated Cabinet meeting over the water tax on Wednesday, at which Mr Kenny clashed with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Even before that meeting, it was acknowledged by Ministers in both parties that the Coalition needed to regain the initiative.


Investigations
The Government has been dealing with an assortment of investigations into Garda affairs and the most recent disagreement over water follows rows over the universal health insurance, electricity pylons and legal reforms.

When he met Fine Gael Ministers yesterday, Mr Kenny is said to have acknowledged recent difficulties.

His remarks were characterised by one participant as a “pep-talk” in advance of the Easter holiday, after which campaigning will begin in earnest for the polls on May 23rd.

The Taoiseach is said to have stressed the need for Fine Gael Ministers to take account of the particular political challenges faced by Labour, which is recognised to be in a vulnerable position going into the elections.

However, Mr Kenny also said Labour was equally obliged to recognise Fine Gael’s own concerns in its engagements with the senior Government party.

In addition, Mr Kenny is said to have told his Ministers that they must pay particular attention to the concerns of backbench TDs in Fine Gael and the issues raised with them by constituents.


Constituents’ concerns
Although Garda issues and the water tax have dominated the political agenda, the Taoiseach did not cite either among the top three concerns raised by constituents.

These were: the lack of availability of medical cards; farmers’ concerns over the price they are getting for certain products; and questions around regional development.

The regular meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday heard complaints that the recent performance of the Government has not been good enough.

According to an informed source, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan spoke forcefully at this meeting on “how the Government has lost its way and how things can be turned around.”

Among other concerns, the need for Ministers to prise swifter and more decisive action from their own departments was highlighted.

The argument was made this week that the Government would need to achieve greater focus even if there were no elections after Easter.

There is quiet talk of an effort to “reset” the Government’s agenda and some anticipation that the Cabinet reshuffle Mr Kenny signalled last year may be wider than expected.