The line of leaders since FitzGerald


A challenge to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is set to come to a head tomorrow at the party's front bench meeting, and history has shown past meetings on the leadership have varied greatly in tone and intensity.

Eight years ago, for example, on June 6th, 2002, The Irish Times reported the meeting to elect a new Fine Gael leader appeared "to have been the epitome of civility and good manners".

At the meeting, which was preceded by an Ireland/Germany soccer game, candidate Richard Bruton noted it was "small guy" Robbie Keane who had put the ball in the net for Ireland. However, fellow leadership contender Phil Hogan - over six feet in height - laughingly pointed out that the ball had been passed to Keane by the lanky forward Niall Quinn.

At that meeting, however, it was Enda Kenny who hit the back of the net after he saw off Mr Bruton, Mr Hogan and Gay Mitchell for the leadership post.

Mr Kenny was proposed as leader by Michael Ring who said Mr Kenny may have been in the Dáil 27 years but would "look well on posters and had a nice fresh face". Mr Kenny's candidacy was seconded by the-then newly elected Laois/Offaly TD Olwyn Enright.

Longford/Roscommon TD Denis Naughten said the calm three-hour meeting was in stark contrast to when John Bruton was replaced by Michael Noonan in February 2001. "In the previous leadership contest you could literally cut the tension with a knife. This time it was very amicable, " said Mr Naughten.

Mr Noonan had succeeded Mr Bruton as leader after defeating Mr Kenny by a margin of 44 votes to 28 in a straight two-way vote. The other candidates earlier in the contest had been Bernard Allen and Jim Mitchell. A motion of no confidence had been passed in Mr Bruton's leadership after a tense seven-hour party meeting.

During the leadership contest Mr Mitchell had accused Mr Kenny of representing "the inert and conservative side of the party" while claiming he and Mr Noonan "represent the dynamic side of the party". In response, Mr Kenny accused Mr Mitchell of being "wholly wrong and mischievous".

Fine Gael's support increased by a massive 12 percentage points to 30 per cent on the eve of Mr Bruton's removal as leader, according to a private MRBI opinion poll at the time.

Mr Bruton, who became leader of the party in 1990, resigned his post after losing the no-confidence motion by 39 votes to 33. That motion was tabled by Mr Noonan and Mr Mitchell.

Mr Bruton had taken over from Alan Dukes, who himself had succeeded Garret FitzGerald in 1987. Mr Dukes's resignation followed modest improvements in the 1989 general election and the presidential election the following year in which Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, came third.

Mr Dukes had instigated the "Tallaght Strategy" that saw the party back unpopular but necessary economic decisions taken by the Fianna Fáil minority government of the day.