Kenny critical of TDs hostile to Croke Park agreement


TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny yesterday implicitly criticised eight Fine Gael TDs for publicly challenging the Government’s position on the Croke Park agreement that protects public sector pay rates.

An opinion article signed by the backbench deputies, published in the Irish Examiner, attacked the manner in which pay increments and allowances for public servants were being protected, and questioned in particular their retention for higher-paid employees.

The article put the TDs, all newly elected in the 2011 general election, at odds with their own party leadership and Labour Coalition partners, several of whose TDs accused them of having an anti-public service agenda.

The eight TDs are Seán Conlan, Brendan Griffin, Paul Connaughton, Seán Kyne, Pat Deering, Noel Harrington, Anthony Lawlor and Eoghan Murphy.

They have already clashed with the Taoiseach over holding meetings outside the parliamentary party structure and for co-ordinating on various issues, mostly connected with Croke Park. The group has been dubbed the “Five-a-Side” by party colleagues and one member, Mr Murphy, was previously admonished by Mr Kenny for organising the group.

Yesterday, Mr Kenny said the proper forums for raising those issues were parliamentary party meetings and committees.

Several of the TDs, including Mr Kyne and Mr Deering, stood over the article. Mr Griffin, a Kerry South TD, said he had no regrets and was perfectly entitled to express his view in public.

“The last time I looked this was still a democracy,” he said. “I think that it’s important that we have a debate about this vital issue. I have called for the increments not to be paid for over a year. How can we justify these when we will be asked to stand over decisions in December that have huge impact on people’s lives?”

Another member of the group, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said the TDs had tried to raise this issue at party meetings but had been rebuffed. “All we have got so far is silence.”

The party leadership was given no forewarning about the article and no contact was made by Mr Kenny’s aides with the eight TDs yesterday. The matter will come up at tomorrow’s weekly meeting of the party’s TDs and Senators.

Chairman Charlie Flanagan said the party had structures to deal with those issues.

There were mixed views from Fine Gael Ministers and TDs. Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said none should be disciplined. “This is a democracy . . . I certainly don’t think they should be censured or disciplined.”

Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton took issue with the method the eight TDs used. “I just find it a bit odd that eight TDs wouldn’t raise the issue directly rather than writing to the editor of a newspaper.”

However, the article raised tension with Labour Party TDs.Galway TD Derek Nolan accused the eight of being involved in a “sustained agenda within the Fine Gael party, [and] against the Fine Gael leadership because the Taoiseach is very much in favour of Croke Park delivering.”

Critical voices: Who's who

Seán Conlan (37), Cavan-Monaghan

A solicitor and publican from Ballybay, he is one of three FG TDs in the five-seater which loses a seat at the next election. First elected to the Dáil in the last general election, he is a former chairman of Young Fine Gael in UCD.

Paul Connaughton (30), Galway East

He succeeded his father, also Paul, who was TD for Galway East from 1981 to the last election. A former youth worker with Foróige, he was elected to Galway County Council in 2009. He is one of two FG TDs in the four-seater which loses a seat at the next election. His Mountbellow base has been cut in half in the redrawing of boundaries.

Pat Deering (45), Carlow-Kilkenny

A farmer from Ballyoliver, Rathvilly, Co Carlow, he was first elected to the Dáil, one of three FG TDs in the five-seater, at the last election. Deeply involved in the GAA, he was elected to Carlow County Council in 2009, replacing his father, Michael, who had served there for over 40 years.

Brendan Griffin (30), Kerry South

He replaced sitting FG TD Tom Sheahan, now a senator, when elected to the three-seater for the first time in the last election after topping the poll. One of his election promises was to accept just half his salary. Formerly a publican, he was elected to Kerry County Council in 2009. He will contest the revised Kerry five-seater next time.

Noel Harrington (41), Cork South-West

First elected to this three-seater in the last election, he missed election to the Seanad in 2007 by less than one vote on the 24th count. A postmaster from Castletownbere, he was elected to Cork County Council for the Bantry electoral area in 1999 and re-elected in 2004 and 2009. He was Cork county mayor in 2008.

Seán Kyne (37), Galway West

Another new TD, who won the last seat in the five-seater by 17 votes after two recounts in the last election. It was the last Dáil seat to be filled nationally. He was first elected to Galway County Council in 2004 and re-elected in 2009.

Anthony Lawlor (53), Kildare North

A farmer and formerly a teacher from Kill, he was co-opted to Kildare County Council in 1998, following the death of his mother, and was re-elected the following year as an Independent. He did not contest the 2004 local elections but successfully ran in 2009 having joined Fine Gael. He was elected to the Dáil for the first time at the last election.

Eoghan Murphy (30), Dublin South East

He joined Fine Gael in 2008 and was elected to Dublin City Council. He then left his job as a speechwriter at the nuclear test-ban treaty commission in Vienna to dedicate himself full-time to politics. It paid off, when he won a seat in the four-seater at the last election. MICHAEL O’REGAN