Government is beset on several fronts

Fine Gael furious over Independents’ insistence on free vote on fatal foetal abnormalities Bill

Enda Kenny is not having the best week of his political career. Nor is it the worst, but the Fine Gael-Independent minority Government is beset on a number of fronts today.

There is a lingering ill-feeling across Government following the Independent Alliance insistence on a free vote on Mick Wallace's fatal foetal abnormalities Bill. Our lead story this morning focuses on Kenny's warning to Cabinet yesterday that this will be a once off, and that they cannot shirk collective Cabinet responsibility again.

In an analysis piece, Pat Leahy says Fine Gael Ministers, while publicly shrugging off the incident, are privately furious.

Tough, say Ross and crew. “They’ll just have to get used to it,” said one member of the Independent Alliance after the Cabinet meeting yesterday.


Then there is the resignation of Joe O'Toole as chairman of the commission on water charges following ill-judged comments made to the Irish Examiner earlier this week.

O’Toole’s resignation came last night in an, at times, hilariously pompous statement that declared he “still stands ready to so the State some service whenever the opportunity arises but in the meantime ponder the truth of the old adage that a week is a long time in politics”.

You can take the man out of the Seanad . . .

The various controversies give rise to miserable reading for the Government in the newspapers for this morning, with The Irish Times editorial noting the "waning authority of Fine Gael".

The Independent lashes the Government across its front page in its lead story, and a page one article says the Government “is facing the biggest challenge in 40 years” in dealing with Brexit - perhaps forgetting the country came through a bailout in recent years.

Yet there is despair in some quarters of Leinster House at the turn politics has taken in recent weeks, with many reassessing their expectations of how long we will have to wait until an election.

Is revenge in the air?

At its meeting yesterday, the Cabinet also approved the nomination of one of Enda Kenny’s closest advisers, Andrew McDowell, to the board of the European Investment Bank (EIB), a €275,000-a-year post.

It is hard to overstate the influence McDowell has had on Fine Gael and government policy since starting work in Kenny's office in 2007, as we outline here.He was often held up as a Fine Gael bogeyman by Labour during the last government, the person who blocked many of their cherished policy goals, but those in Fine Gael insist he was always doing his duty by his party.

Labour's Alan Kelly has been on Morning Ireland querying the recommendation of McDowell to the EIB. While this came after a public advertisement and competitive process, Kelly claimed it is precisely the kind of appointment that Shane Ross would have railed against in the past.

Ross and his Independent Alliance colleague Finian McGrath did query the appointment at Cabinet but were reassured by Kenny and Noonan, with sources remarking afterwards the Independents were in no mood to rub salt in Fine Gael’s wounds, having already scored a victory with the free vote in Wallace’s Bill.

Besides, said one Independent: “Andrew is not a bad fella, he was very good to us in the [government]talks.”

Kelly, however, told RTÉ the appointment "doesn't look good", adding Ross and the Independent Alliance have "humiliated the Government" over Wallace's Bill.

“The quid pro quo here seems to be that the Taoiseach’s chief economic adviser is appointed to this plum job,” the Tipperary TD added. “This is not new politics.”

Although the former environment minister’s attack was mostly focused on Ross, there is one interesting subtext to his criticisms.

Kelly’s biggest row with Fine Gael during the last government was over his desire to link rent increases to the rate of inflation. Kelly eventually settled for “rent certainty”, with the rent-review period extended from one to two years.

One of the main opponents to Kelly’s idea of linking rent increases to the rate of inflation was one Andrew McDowell.