ENDA Kenny still has to persuade the public he understands economic issues, Richard Bruton has said.
Fine Gael’s former deputy leader also admitted the failure of his heave against Mr Kenny had been “an enormous disappointment”.
But he denied ever saying during the leadership challenge that Mr Kenny didn’t grasp economic issues.
“I never said he didn’t understand economic matters. I suggested that I was in a position to sell with conviction an economic strategy,” Mr Bruton told RTÉ radio.
Asked if that meant Mr Kenny hadn’t convinced the public he understood economic matters, Mr Bruton replied: “Exactly, exactly – that there was an issue of the capacity to persuade.
“He has now recognised that himself – that is one of the tasks he has set himself.”
Despite saying during the heave it would be the “height of hypocrisy” to return to another frontbench under Mr Kenny, that is exactly what Mr Bruton did on Thursday when the shadow cabinet was unveiled. He was demoted from finance to enterprise spokesman, being replaced in the key role by Michael Noonan.
Leo Varadkar, who supported Mr Bruton during the heave, was also retained, being given the communications portfolio.
“He has put in place what I believe is a strong economic team,” Mr Bruton said of Mr Kenny.
“I’m still a strong element of that; Michael Noonan will bring experience and wiliness to the task and Leo will be there and others. So I believe we can carry this with conviction now.”
Asked what he would say to the former frontbenchers whose careers had “gone up in smoke” as a result of supporting him, Mr Bruton said it was “tough” on a human level.
“I took this initiative, they put their neck on the line and I feel very let-down for them. But I equally recognise that we’re in a profession where the leader’s prerogative is to select his team.”
But Mr Bruton said he had spoken to all of his supporters who were banished to the backbenches and they remained determined to help “make Fine Gael a success”. He also said his own constituents had influenced him to return to the frontbench, stating: “Almost universally, they wanted me back in the saddle.”
He said the heave was merely “business” and that he had always a “strong personal relationship” with Mr Kenny. “It was business – what happened was business. It was a professional decision I took and it proved unsuccessful, but I’m still professional, I’m still committed to the success of this country.”
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny will face an endurance test of a different kind today when he cycles the Ring of Kerry with his party colleague Jimmy Deenihan in aid of charity.
What Richard Bruton said during his failed heave: “I unfortunately no longer have confidence that Enda Kenny can provide the leadership that this country needs. It would be hypocritical for me to go in and work in a shadow cabinet in which I didn’t have confidence in the leader. That would be the height of hypocrisy… Fine Gael will only fulfil its potential under a new leader.”
What he said yesterday: “Clearly events have changed in that the party has now made a clear decision that it does have confidence in Enda Kenny’s leadership… I’ve spoken to all of those who supported me; I’ve listened to widespread opinion in the party and the consensus view is clearly that I should participate.”
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