Fine Gael in turmoil

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has sacked Richard Bruton as the party’s finance spokesman and deputy leader as speculation mounts of a looming leadership challenge.

A recent opinion poll, which put the Labour Party as the main opposition party to the Fianna Fail/Green coalition government in the 26 Counties, appeared to have triggered a heave against Mr Kenny.

But this afternoon, Kenny acted first, sacking Bruton and preventing him from tabling a motion of no confidence in the leader at tomorrow’s weekly front bench meeting.

In a statement, Kenny said:

“Over the weekend, I had a meeting and other conversations with Deputy Richard Bruton during which he informed me that he is no longer prepared to support my leadership. I asked him to reconsider his position and to work with me to ensure that Fine Gael wins the next general election.

“As the Dail will debate a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach and Fine Gael’s motion on the banking inquiry this week, Richard’s decision leaves me with no option but to relieve him of his responsibilities as Deputy Leader and Finance Spokesperson with immediate effect.”

A colourless but affable Mayoman, Mr Kenny insisted he will lead the party into the next general election despite his poor showing in recent opinion polls. Kenny will put down a motion of confidence in himself at tomorrow’s meeting instead

Responding to his sacking, Mr Bruton said he did not believe Mr Kenny had the capacity to deal with the difficult problems faced by the country and said he would be opposing the motion of confidence in his party leader.

The opinion poll last week showed Fine Gael in second place to Labour and Mr Kenny’s personal rating down seven points to a dismal 24 per cent.

Transport spokesman Fergus O’Dowd is the only one of the frontbenchers to so far publicly pledge their support to Mr Bruton in the event of a leadership contest.

Speaking this morning, Mr Bruton said the party’s view would prevail in the matter. “What I’m saying is that I’m not commenting to the media about discussions I intend to have with parliamentary colleagues,” he said.

“I think the party needs to do serious thinking about its future, and that should be done with party colleagues and not through the media. . . . we’re an open, democratic party, we need to talk to each other about our difficulties, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Mr Kenny’s leadership was endorsed publicly yesterday by Mr Kehoe and fellow frontbenchers Phil Hogan, Alan Shatter, Dr James Reilly, Charlie Flanagan, Jimmy Deenihan, Michael Ring and Senator Frances Fitzgerald.

However, the situation escalated this afternoon after O’Dowd went public with his endorsement of Bruton and a direct confrontation between the leader and his challenger now seems inevitable.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said people were “increasingly aware” that Fine Gael is no different to Fianna Fail.

“However the Labour Party unfortunately still appears intent on putting Fine Gael into government.

“A Fine Gael/Labour coalition will not address the deep-rooted inequalities at the heart of Irish society or tackle the vested interests that have caused so much hardship to so many ordinary people.”

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