PUBLIC anger at Fine Gael’s handling of George Lee will see the party suffer heavily in forthcoming opinion polls, party frontbenchers have predicted.
The polls are already shaping up as the next crucial test of Enda Kenny’s leadership after he survived the immediate crisis caused by Mr Lee’s resignation.
The party’s frontbench put on a united front by giving their unanimous support to Mr Kenny at a meeting in Leinster House yesterday.
They also tried to take the focus off Mr Kenny by repeatedly attacking Mr Lee for walking away from politics after just eight months as a TD.
But Mr Kenny himself admitted the party had been damaged by the loss of its biggest star. And frontbenchers acknowledged Mr Kenny’s difficulties were far from over, saying the party would lose support as a result of the resignation.
But in a pre-emptive attempt at damage limitation, they urged people not to make “rash decisions” as a result of the polls.
“Only a fool would make the case that in the next opinion poll FG aren’t going to be damaged,” said frontbench TD Simon Coveney. “There’s a lot of anger among FG supporters, who see this as a massive own goal.”
He predicted the party would “take a hit of somewhere between 3% and 4%”, adding: “Enda can expect to take a hit as well, but if he does, I hope that people keep a cool head.”
But Mr Coveney and other frontbenchers insisted it was Mr Lee rather than Mr Kenny who was at fault for the debacle.
Mr Kenny himself delivered a withering putdown of Mr Lee, saying on RTÉ news: “Politics is not about instant self-gratification; it is about public service.”
The FG leader came through a difficult day relatively unscathed after deputy leader Richard Bruton insisted Mr Kenny’s position was “not under threat”.
But Mr Kenny effectively acknowledged internal dissatisfaction with his leadership by vowing to change.
“What I’m going to do now is be myself,” he said.
When asked what this meant, given he has been party leader since 2002, he said he had to “loosen up” during media appearances. He compared his failure to keep Mr Lee with Irish soccer manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s inability to convince Stephen Ireland to play for the team.
Mr Bruton, meanwhile, claimed Mr Lee had been naive about politics.
The issue is expected to be discussed further tonight at the weekly parliamentary party meeting.
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