James Reilly’s reappointment comes as a surprise to many

It had been assumed post of deputy leader of Fine Gael would go to Frances Fitzgerald

Dr James Reilly: he had assumed that, having lost his Dáil seat, he would no longer be deputy leader.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Dr James Reilly: he had assumed that, having lost his Dáil seat, he would no longer be deputy leader. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The chain of events that culminated with the surprise reappointment of Dr James Reilly as deputy leader of Fine Gael began with a phone call to inform the former minister of a different appointment, one that was almost seen as a slight.

Last Friday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was calling the Fine Gael Senators to inform them of the portfolios they were being allocated in the Seanad. Dr Reilly, who made his name as an opposition health spokesman in the Dáil before becoming Minister for Health, was made Fine Gael spokesman on jobs, enterprise and innovation. He was appointed to the Upper House by Mr Kenny as one of the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees.

Some observers believed the former Dublin North deputy would be given the health brief, but this went to Colm Burke from Cork.

But it was in this first conversation between Mr Kenny and Dr Reilly that the position of deputy leader was “tangentially” mentioned and both men agreed to meet face to face to further discuss the matter.

Monday meeting

This meeting took place on Monday and it is believed Dr Reilly raised the manner in which he was previously stripped of the position.

He had assumed that, having lost his Dáil seat, he would no longer be deputy leader but Fine Gael informed journalists he still was. Mr Kenny himself subsequently told political correspondents that Dr Reilly was, in fact, no longer deputy leader and Dr Reilly was informed of this by his wife, who heard a radio report of the Taoiseach’s comments.

Details are sketchy, but the outcome of Monday’s meeting was that Mr Kenny offered Dr Reilly the position once more. It had been widely assumed the post, entirely in the gift of the Fine Gael leader, would go to Frances Fitzgerald but the Tánaiste only found out about Dr Reilly’s appointment minutes before the Taoiseach announced it to the parliamentary party on Wednesday evening.

Shock and applause

The parliamentary party was shocked, but Dr Reilly told RTÉ yesterday he was given a round of applause by TDs and Senators at the meeting.

He also said that such a job will involve travelling the country to speak to Fine Gael members in an attempt to learn the lessons of the recent general election. The precarious nature of the minority Fine Gael-led government – living by the seat of its pants in every Dáil vote – would have made it difficult for a TD to take up such a role.

Dr Reilly says it is important that Fine Gael maintains a stable government to continue economic stability that will allow further investment in services.

Dr Reilly, who was to the fore in defending Mr Kenny in the 2010 heave, also defended his leader again yesterday as others circled.

He said last night that the “last thing” Fine Gael needs at the moment is a “schism” in the party, adding: “We have in Enda Kenny a man who can pick up the phone to the other leaders in Europe. someone we need at the helm.”