TIMING is everything. The focus of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s press conference in Cavan yesterday was meant to be a new party report outlining ways of boosting economic development in the border counties.
The press conference began at noon, and had been well publicised, with party headquarters notifying the media about the event on Monday.
But a spanner was thrown in the works.
FG TD Lucinda Creighton was taking part in the morning session of the MacGill Summer School in Donegal, which began at 11am. Her office circulated her speech to the media at around 10.50am.
The speech could not have been any blunter. Ms Creighton called for an end to “cute-hoor politics” within her own party, following Fine Gael’s acceptance of a donation from a NAMA-bound developer at a golf classic last week.
“There can be no room in Fine Gael for the cute-hoor politics which has defined and tainted Irish public life like an incurable cancer.
“We cannot be satisfied with low standards in high places. Fine Gael in Government must be much more than simply ‘Fianna Fáil Light’,” she said.
Needless to say, given the recent split within the party, in which Ms Creighton supported the failed leadership challenger Richard Bruton, the speech was immediately seen as an attack on Mr Kenny, who played in the golf classic and who, after taking over as leader in 2002, reversed his predecessor Michael Noonan’s decision to stop taking corporate donations.
Ms Creighton denied in a subsequent radio interview that the speech was related to the failed heave. But that was the way the media saw it, and as a result, Mr Kenny was peppered with questions at his press conference.
He said he couldn’t comment on the speech, as he hadn’t read it yet, but was forced to defend FG’s donations policy.
“I will say this: Fine Gael’s activities are all perfectly legitimate and within the law,” he said.
All of which is true, of course, but as the old saying goes, when you’re explaining, you’re losing. Ms Creighton’s speech forced Enda Kenny on the back foot in circumstances where FG desperately wants to be seen to be moving forward. A day that was supposed to involve a good news cycle suddenly turned into a bad one.
Ms Creighton will believe she was 100% right and that it needed to be said. But her comments sparked another dispute of the kind that would not occur in a united, disciplined party focused on winning the next election.
FG is still focused on questions over its leader, to the detriment of the party. Mr Kenny must sometimes wonder why he gets all the blame for FG’s woes, when his TDs are doing a fine job themselves of damaging the party’s election prospects.
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