GEORGE LEE last night angrily accused Fine Gael of unleashing a dirty tricks campaign against him after the party claimed cash concerns, not his conscience, led him to quit the Dáil.
As the increasingly bitter war of words between the two descended into personal abuse, the crisis provoked by Mr Lee’s shock resignation continued to rock the party as Enda Kenny was put on notice by a senior frontbench member that he would suffer “the consequences” if he failed to raise his game.
Energy spokesman Simon Coveney made the most overt threat yet to Mr Kenny’s position as the party attempted to limit the damage caused by the Lee affair.
The Cork TD said people would warm to Mr Kenny’s “lack of ego” style of leadership but made it clear there would be a price for failure.
“That’s the challenge for Enda. He needs to step up to that mark and if he can’t achieve it, well then there are the obvious consequences of that,” he said.
The shot across Mr Kenny’s bows came as Fine Gael tried to regain the political initiative after Mr Lee’s dramatic exit from the party after claiming he had been “used and isolated” by senior colleagues.
A marathon meeting of the parliamentary party heard criticism of the leadership from outspoken TD Lucinda Creighton and others, in a gathering Mr Kenny described as a “full and frank” exchange of views over the Lee crisis.
Earlier, education spokesman Brian Hayes upped the stakes by suggesting Mr Lee had complained to him about a drop in salary after quitting RTÉ to become a TD last June. The suggestion incensed Mr Lee, who accused Fine Gael of launching a concerted attempt to damage his reputation.
“They are scraping the bottom of the barrel for an excuse to explain what has gone wrong. They are trying to denigrate me. There’s about 70 of them and an organisation with a whole press team. They know what they are doing, they are trying to turn it on me rather than focus on the issues. If it was about money I’d still be there [the Dáil]. I can’t believe they are resorting to that,” he said.
Mr Lee also hit out at a whispering campaign claiming he walked out so he could take up RTÉ’s glamour posting as Washington correspondent.
Mr Hayes, who managed Mr Lee’s by-election triumph, said Mr Lee was concerned at his drop in wages after leaving RTÉ. “He did see a major reduction in his salary. That’s the reality of the situation. I knew he was unhappy at that,” he told RTÉ.
The storm provoked by Mr Lee’s resignation had been blowing itself out until the comments by Mr Coveney and Mr Hayes forced the controversy centre stage once again as the FG parliamentary party met for over three hours.
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