Five may contest FG leadership


Five Fine Gael TDs are being mooted as potential candidates to challenge for the Fine Gael leadership, following the resignation of Mr Michael Noonan in the wake of the party's disastrous election performance.

They are: Dublin North Central TD, Mr Richard Bruton, Mayo TD, Mr Enda Kenny, Longford/ Roscommon TD, Mr Denis Naughten, Dublin South Central TD, Mr Gay Mitchell and possibly, former leader and Taoiseach, Mr John Bruton.

As yet there are no declared candidates and last night sources close to Mr John Bruton said he did not want the position.

Demoralised by the election outcome, the party appears unsure of how quickly it needs to replace Mr Noonan, following his offer to stay on in a caretaker capacity.

The leadership race will get underway late this week at a meeting to be called by the chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, Mr Padraic McCormack, Galway West TD.

However, there appear to be differing views about whether the race should be delayed until the Seanad elections are over in mid-July, or whether the current senators should be left with the task.

But Fine Gael's grassroots are unlikely to be given any role in selecting Mr Noonan's successor - even though FG ardfheis delegates in February demanded exactly such an input.

Acknowledging the scale of the disaster, former Fine Gael minister Mr Richard Bruton said yesterday that nobody in the party had anticipated the scale of the party's defeat.

"I think people were prepared from the opinion polls for the fact that we were going to be in difficulties.

"But it has been very wounding. It has come as a huge shock to us. There is a lot of hurt out there that has to be overome," he said.

He said he believed the party would have done better if his brother, John, had not been forced to resign in January 2001.

Fine Gael had followed "will 'o the wisp" policies that had damaged its credibility with voters and it had failed to take clear policy stands, he added.

The belief that Mr Noonan would have enjoyed "a honeymoon period" with the voters was proven incorrect by events. His brother would have been "a better match" for the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, he believed.

Urging calm reflection, Dublin South TD Ms Olivia Mitchell said: "We have lost our way. We have to decide where we want to go before we decide who we want to take us there," she told The Irish Times.

Fine Gael's former chief whip, Mr Paul Bradford, who lost his seat in Cork East to Labour's Joe Sherlock even though he got 7,000 first preferences, agreed. "For better or worse, we have time on our hands."