‘Grand audition’ as Fine Gael members jostle for roles

The Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting was described as a “grand audition” as party members jostled to gain Enda Kenny’s attention for a ministerial role.

Although some members of the party had been critical of the suspension of water charges earlier in the day, last night’s meeting was described as “calm” with members speaking of the deal with Fianna Fáil in a “dispassionate” manner.

As the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiation teams closed in on a deal which would see charges put on hold while an independent commission examines the future of Irish Water, the prospect of a minority government edged closer.

Members of Fine Gael’s parliamentary party met for around four hours yesterday afternoon with discussions centred around the deal which is expected to be finalised when the party negotiators meet again today.

A Fine Gael minister said there was an “atmosphere of ambition” during the meeting in which many members spoke in a bid to gain the attention of Mr Kenny.

One party member said: “The first 10 or 15 speakers were definitely making sure that they were 100% supportive, but towards the end speakers were more muted.”

Dara Murphy, Patrick O’Donovan, Simon Harris and Mary Mitchel-O’Connor were among those who stood up to strongly back the acting Taoiseach during the meeting and perhaps will be hoping for a promotion.

The suspension of water charges is a major climb-down for the party who had campaigned to retain the controversial levy in the lead up to the election.

Before the meeting it is understood chief whip Paul Kehoe contacted a number of newly elected TDs to ensure they towed the party line. Mr Kenny is also believed to have rang a number of outspoken TDs in recent days.

It is understood the acting Taoiseach pacified a number of his party members with promises of ministerial positions and other perks.

Although a number of party stalwarts did express their opposition to the deal one TD described it as “a very general debate, it was not emotional, we dealt with the issues in a disciplined fashion and looked at the options”.

“We maintain our line that Irish Water is a single utility and we are also in favour of retaining charges, the commission will make it’s recommendations and we will take it from there.”

Earlier in the day Regina Doherty admitted the party had “made a hames” of the introduction of water charges and the establishment of Irish Water.

Ms Doherty said: “We made a hames of an awful lot with regard to Irish Water and we have rued those mistakes and that’s why we find ourselves in the position that we are in now.”

“We are still having a single authority that is going to look after the national programme of investment in water and water infrastructure that’s a really good thing. We are going to start an educational programme which we really should have started from day one.

“The whole premise of starting to charge for water was so that we could educate people to the value of water, the amount of water we use so that if we use less we could have to treat less and the overall cost would come down,” she told RTÉ’s News at One programme.

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