Denis Naughten: No absolution for Roscommon TD

Naughten’s political career saw him rise from Young Fine Gael to party’s frontbench

 Michael D Higgins and Denis Naughten  during an Appointment of Ministers Seal of Office ceremony. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Michael D Higgins and Denis Naughten during an Appointment of Ministers Seal of Office ceremony. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Denis Naughten’s resignation from the Cabinet marks the end to a ministerial career that many thought would not come for the Roscommon TD.

His wider political career over a number of decades saw him rise through all levels of Fine Gael from Young Fine Gael to the party’s frontbench, before being effectively ostracised for his role in the 2010 heave against Enda Kenny.

Yet, at Mr Kenny’s moment of need in the wake of the 2016 general election, Mr Naughten was appointed Minister for Communications in the Fine Gael-led minority government.

A former research scientist, he was first elected to the Dáil in 1997, and has been returned as a TD at every subsequent election. Prior to his election to the Dáil, he briefly served in the Seanad, having won a byelection to the Upper House caused by the death of his father, Liam Naughten, who had also served as a Fine Gael TD and senator.

Rebels

He served as spokesman in a number of portfolios during Fine Gael’s period in opposition between 1997 and 2010, when he played a leading role in the anti-Kenny heave.

Mr Naughten led a group of frontbenchers to the plinth as their moves against Mr Kenny burst into the open, and he said they were “putting our careers on the line” for the party and the country.

He was a Fine Gael blue blood and Mr Kenny took badly the decision of Mr Naughten – a fellow west of Ireland TD whose father had served alongside Mr Kenny in the Dáil – to back Richard Bruton for the leadership. Other leading rebels, such as Mr Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Lucinda Creighton, were forgiven and given Cabinet or junior ministerial positions when the party took power after the 2011 general election.

There was to be no absolution for Mr Naughten. He lost the Fine Gael whip just months after the 2011 election for voting against the Fine Gael-Labour government over the downgrading of hospital services in his Roscommon constituency. He topped the poll in Roscommon at the inconclusive election in 2016 and, as an Independent, was well placed as both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil tried to cobble together an administration.

During the lengthy negotiations to form the current Government, Mr Naughten was something of a leader of a group of rural TDs who attempted to form a negotiating bloc. Yet Mr Naughten was the only one of the group to enter Government.

Since then, he has been beset by difficulties, not just over the broadband plan, but also on the Government’s record on tackling climate change and reform of An Post and the post office network.

There has been consistent political chatter that Mr Naughten could eventually rejoin the party.

The Roscommon TD always said he was happy as an Independent and the events of the past 24 hours, with the now former minister and Taoiseach openly disputing the manner of his resignation, will surely bury talk of any rapprochement between Mr Naughten and his old party even further.