AN EXPLOSIVE row at the heart of Fianna Fáil turned ugly last night as Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was embroiled in a bitter war of words with a member of the party’s top brass.
Fianna Fáil National Executive Committee (NEC) member Jerry Beades branded Mr Dempsey a “failed minister” and demanded he resign.
The row erupted at a meeting of the party’s NEC in which Mr Dempsey made personal remarks about Mr Beades.
The Cabinet minister’s anger was apparently triggered by Mr Beades’s public call last week for Mr Dempsey and five of his colleagues to be sacked in the looming reshuffle. The two men have a history of disputes going back to the time when Mr Dempsey was Environment Minister, but the very public row is deeply embarrassing for Fianna Fáil at a time when it is trying to present a united front in the wake of the forced resignation of Willie O’Dea and its historically low standing in the opinion polls.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the extraordinary spat was symptomatic of a “clapped-out Government falling apart”.
The NEC meeting on Thursday night was attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and 90 other leading party figures who heard Mr Beades repeat his call for Mr Dempsey to be sacked.
This provoked return-fire from Mr Dempsey, and Mr Beades demanded an apology for the claims and later released legal documents he claimed showed Mr Dempsey in a poor light regarding a planning dispute the NEC member says cost the taxpayer €1m which he claimed the then Environment Minister could have stopped. Still smarting above the showdown, Mr Beades said Mr Dempsey’s behaviour at the NEC meeting was not acceptable.
“It was a personal attack from a failed minister. There was no need for it. He has been under a lot of pressure recently and I think he should reconsider his position,” he said.
Mr Dempsey, heavily criticised for going on a sunshine holiday at the peak of the transport crisis last December, would not be drawn on what happened at the NEC, or respond to Mr Beades other claims.
Mr Gilmore said a Cabinet reshuffle would not save Fianna Fáil and the latest row at the top of the party was evidence of its terminal decline. “We are seeing a Government that is now clapped-out, and like any other engine that is clapped-out bits of it are going to stop working – and we’re going to hear a lot of clanking and clunking,” he said. Mr Beades, who was an active campaigner for former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in his North Dublin heartland, also called for Mr Cowen to sack Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, Health Minister Mary Harney, Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Éamon O Cuív and Tourism Minister Martin Cullen.
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