Party rallies around Kenny in wake of shock departure

MEMBERS of Fine Gael have rallied around their leader Enda Kenny as the party comes to terms with the shock departure of their star recruit.

George Lee’s resignation from politics came as a surprise to the entire party despite the frequency of commentary about whether the backbenches were enough for the high-profile deputy.

Frank Flannery, one of the party’s most senior strategists, said he could not understand how Mr Lee could make his decision after just 19 weeks of active Dáil time. He said the move was totally “out of the blue”.

Mr Flannery said a senior position was there for Mr Lee “on a plate” if he had stuck at it.

Bernard Allen, who has served in the Dáil since 1981 and was demoted by Mr Kenny, said there was no evidence of a move against the leader even if Mr Lee’s departure was a disappointment.

He said he had seen a number of people come from top jobs into the Dáil and it had proved to be a disaster because they were not suited to political life.

“I was surprised. It was a short apprenticeship with only six months of Dáil sitting time. But we have to get on with our job in opposition,” he said.

At the last parliamentary party meeting, two weeks ago, Mr Lee spoke but gave no indication of his anger at the role he had been playing. He was due to travel to Paris on Friday as part of the party’s delegation to the OECD.

Lucinda Creighton, who had a high-profile spat with Mr Kenny over her role last year, said the party was bigger than Mr Lee.

She said he had not made an effort to engage with the rest of his party colleagues.

When she arrived as a new recruit in 2007 she said there was guidance and support coming from the elder statesmen Michael Noonan and Jim O’Keeffe.

Likewise Leo Varadkar told RTÉ Mr Lee failed to embrace the opportunity he had been given. He said he had not provided policy input for Fine Gael’s new economic initiative when he was asked to do so and this would have been his role as chair of the economic policy committee.

Mr Lee’s Dublin South colleague Olivia Mitchell said the novice’s economic policy committee never met and it was supposed to. However, she said everybody assumed he would have been a minister in a Fine Gael-led government.

Mr Varadkar said he felt Mr Lee saw his personal life suffer since his switch to politics. Both Ms Creighton and Mr Varadkar, who arrived in 2007, said there was nothing to Mr Lee’s suggestion that a heave against the party’s leader was looming.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Kenny had apologised to last week’s front bench meeting for his failure to perform well during recent interviews on RTÉ and Newstalk. However, he said this was evidence of Mr Kenny’s sincerity rather than a signal of major party strife.


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