‘I was made to look like a fool,’ says FG backbencher

TDs critical of Varadkar and Fitzgerald over controversy as they look to filling vacancy

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: many backbench TDs are angry at what they see as a drawn-out controversy which angered the public and raised the vista of a pre-Christmas election.  Photograph: Press Association

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: many backbench TDs are angry at what they see as a drawn-out controversy which angered the public and raised the vista of a pre-Christmas election. Photograph: Press Association

 

Fine Gael backbenchers are keeping a low profile in the aftermath of the controversy leading to Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation.

Those angry with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fitzgerald for creating a damaging controversy do not want to raise their voices at a personally traumatic time for Fitzgerald.

More importantly, soon there will be a junior ministerial job going, as the Taoiseach fills vacancies created by Fitzgerald’s resignation.

So a vow of omerta and a dusting down of the CV is a smart move for an ambitious backbencher.

Those who spoke to The Irish Times confined their on-the-record remarks to paying tribute to Fitzgerald’s ministerial record.

This was summed up by Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell, who said she had been an excellent minister in a number of departments and that he admired her work ethic.

That is currently the public face of the average Fine Gael backbencher.

Privately, many are angry at what they see as a drawn-out controversy which angered the public and raised the appalling vista of a pre-Christmas election.

They were furious on Monday night when, with little warning, it emerged the former tánaiste had received three emails on two separate dates notifying her of the legal strategy pursued by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan against Sgt Maurice McCabe. One email described the strategy as “aggressive”.

‘A bombshell’

“It was a bombshell,’’ said one backbencher. “I was at a public meeting in my constituency and I got it in the neck from those there.’’

Another TD said he had repeatedly gone on his local radio station in recent weeks to defend Fitzgerald and the Taoiseach.

“I was made to look like a fool,’’ he added.

A number of TDs said the Taoiseach was damaged among his backbenchers and the broader organisation.

“Bear in mind, he is a recently elected leader with a considerable grassroots following,’’ said a TD. “Now they are questioning his judgment.’’

Others had a more benign view.

“I have some sympathy for her,’’ said a TD. “The Department of Justice is dysfunctional and it ended her career and that of Alan Shatter. ’’

Another explained that the Taoiseach’s loyalty was all about sending a message to the grassroots that he was first and last a staunch Fine Gael man.

“It won’t impress those outside the party,’’ the TD added.

Meanwhile, as the political agenda moves on, speculation is rife in Leinster House about who will get the jobs created by Fitzgerald’s resignation.

The backbenchers know it is unlikely one of them will be appointed to the vacant senior post, so it is a question of who will get the junior job as a Minister of State is elevated.

There is speculation that it will be a woman TD to maintain gender balance, and names like Josepha Madigan, Dublin Rathdown; Maria Bailey, Dún Laoghaire; and Hildegarde Naughton, Galway West, are being mentioned.

Bailey and Naughton both supported Simon Coveney in the leadership contest, so the smart money is on Madigan. But it is early days yet.

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