A “rattled and shaken” Taoiseach Enda Kenny had his leadership called into question for the first time in six years by angry Fine Gael TDs and senators last night.
At a heated meeting of the parliamentary party in Leinster House, Mr Kenny was confronted by a barrage of criticism from TDs over the direction the party was taking.
In a pointed jibe at Mr Kenny, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd called for “new leadership” in Fine Gael, with several calls for Mr Kenny to stand up to Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross.
Speaking after the meeting, several TDs said the chances of a snap general election in the New Year have risen significantly given the events of the week.
Mr O’Dowd’s comments were seen as a coded attack on Mr Kenny. At least five other TDs, such as Kerry’s Brendan Griffin, Carlow- Kilkenny’s Pat Deering, and Louth’s Peter Fitzpatrick were damning in their criticism of the direction of the party at present.
To widespread bemusement, Mr Kenny stood up and told members that following a long conversation, he was reappointing James Reilly as deputy leader of the party, even though he had lost his Dáil seat in February’s general election.
Considerable bemusement as Enda Kenny reappoints James Reilly as deputy leader despite losing dail seat #iestaff— McConnellDaniel (@McConnellDaniel) July 6, 2016
TDs did not expect the announcement, as the position was widely expected to go to Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
According to several sources, Ms Fitzgerald was upset at the announcement, of which she had clearly been unaware.
“She almost fell out of her chair with the shock. She did not look happy,” said one TD.
However, the meeting was dominated by criticisms of the lack of leadership, as well as a lack of speaking rights for backbenchers under new Dáil rules.
Cork South West TD Jim Daly and Clare TD Pat Deering both criticised the Taoiseach’s failure to “stand up” to Mr Ross on the abortion bill, which will be voted on by the Dáil today.
Kerry TD Brendan Griffin said a free vote should have been given. He also made a key intervention by saying Fine Gael needs to prepare for “every eventuality”, such as another election.
Given that Mr Kenny is not standing again, many present took Mr Griffin’s comments to mean a change of leader is needed.
However, the tone and tenor of Mr Fitzpatrick’s direct criticisms surprised many.
“Peter [Fitzpatrick] had a right go saying the party he joined is unrecognisable to the party today. He had a right go at junior ministers who just six months ago would have been saying the same thing,” said one source.
Mr Reilly lost his Dublin Fingal Dáil seat at the last general election, but was appointed to the Seanad by Mr Kenny.
Last month, Mr Kenny said: “No. James is not the deputy leader of the party. Obviously, he was the deputy leader and he did a very good job.”
Several TDs noted the lack of support for Mr Kenny in the room from his loyal supporters, as has been the norm on previous occasions when he was under fire.
“It was like they didn’t want to annoy or upset any potential successor. That hasn’t happened before,” said one source.
Party chairman Martin Heydon confirmed there was a “general discussion” on the future of the party, but added that some initial online reports of the meeting had been “overstated”.
“There was a general discussion around the future of where the party was going, and that included planning for a snap election which can happen when you have a minority government and leadership was raised in that context,” said Mr Heydon.
“There was a discussion as to our preparedness for the autumn ahead. Every party has to be prepared, especially if there is a general election down the line.
“Leadership and everything that goes with that is all in the mix but it wasn’t a hugely long discussion.”
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny “blindsided and embarrassed” Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and his department by not involving him in his botched attempt to establish an All-Ireland forum to deal with Brexit, Fine Gael TDs have said.
In the Dáil yesterday, Fianna Fáil TD Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher defeated Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan by 69 votes to 68 to become leas ceann comhairle.
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