Opponents 'put careers on the line in interests of country'

 

NINE MEMBERS of the Fine Gael front bench “put their political careers on the line” by expressing no confidence in leader Enda Kenny yesterday, according to one of the group, Roscommon TD Denis Naughten.

Mr Naughten, flanked by Olivia Mitchell and Olwyn Enright, was also joined on the plinth outside Leinster House by Simon Coveney, Brian Hayes, Fergus O’Dowd, Leo Varadkar, Billy Timmins and Michael Creed.

“We’re putting our political careers on the line in what we believe is in the interests of this country and in the best interests of the Fine Gael party,” he said.

“There’s no wrong time to make the right decision. We believe that Enda hasn’t got the confidence of the public, he hasn’t got the support of the parliamentary party and because of that we believe now is the time for Enda to step aside.”

Mr Naughten said former deputy leader Richard Bruton was part of the group.

Asked if the group of nine was backing Mr Bruton for party leader, Mr Naughten said there was no leadership contest at this stage.

A leadership contest would be “very damaging” for the party.

Mr Naughten said he found what he was doing extremely difficult and his voice trembled at times.

“The majority of the front bench, I have to sadly say, isn’t supportive of the party leader and we believe that that is replicated throughout the parliamentary party.”

He said the group had the support of “one or two” other members of the front bench.

Asked who they were, Mr Naughten said it was up to them to decide when they’re going to “come out and declare their hand”.

The other members of the front bench are Charlie Flanagan, Alan Shatter, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Michael Ring, Jimmy Deenihan, James Reilly and Senator Frances Fitzgerald.

Mr Coveney, who issued a statement calling for unity at the weekend, denied “plotting” against Mr Kenny and “speaking in any sort of an inconsistent way”. He said “a Rubicon had been crossed”.

Mr Naughten also expressed disappointment that he had not been given an opportunity to ask Mr Kenny to step aside at a shadow cabinet meeting yesterday morning because the leader had “shut down” the meeting.

Most of the group had not spoken to the media because they wanted to resolve the issue internally.

Describing himself as one of Mr Kenny’s “most ardent supporters” for more than nine years, Mr Naughten said he had “expressed reservations” to the leader two years ago.

Mr Naughten praised Mr Kenny’s work since he took over as party leader in 2002, saying he “grabbed this party by the scruff of the neck and he built it up to a machine it was in the 2007 general election”.

However, Mr Naughten said change was needed subsequently and Mr Kenny had not been able to implement that change.

While he addressed the media, a number of Fine Gael Senators watched from the door of Leinster House.