Gormley bids to quell FF backbench unrest

A BID to quell growing disquiet on the Government backbenches was being launched by Green leader John Gormley as the Taoiseach faced down critics in his own party.

The Environment Minister is holding face-to-face meetings with concerned Fianna Fáil backbenchers in order to explain Green moves to reform hunting and planning laws. The move is being seen as an attempt to firm-up the coalition after some Fianna Fáil backbenchers expressed opposition to the Green agenda. A sharp drop in the opinion polls, which Foreign Minister Micheál Martin admitted would lead to a “significant hammering” for the party if repeated at an election, has further dented backbench morale following last week’s highly cautious Cabinet reshuffle.

Outspoken critic John McGuinness has pledged to raise concerns about Brian Cowen’s leadership at a meeting of the parliamentary party today. The Carlow-Kilkenny TD has demanded Mr Cowen’s resignation after accusing him of being “weak” and lacking energy and direction. Mr McGuinness’s constituency colleague Bobby Alyward has also put ministers on notice they cannot count on his vote to push through Green agenda items in the renegotiated programme for government.

Dislike of Mr Gormley’s planning and hunting reforms is also deepened by anger on Fianna Fáil benches at Carlow-Kilkenny Green TD Mary White being promoted to a second junior ministerial post for the party.

A Green Party spokesperson said the meeting between Mr Gormley and the FF group had been long planned and the minister was “not concerned” about threats from backbenchers to vote against the measures.

Many Fianna Fáil backbenchers are furious that only one of their number, Sean Connick, was elevated into the Government in the reshuffle which saw no minister sacked and only minor changes made to the structure of the economic departments.

Cabinet heavyweights like Mr Martin and Justice Minister Dermot Ahern have indicated Mr McGuinness and others will not face disciplinary action for outspoken remarks. The Dog Breeding Establishments Bill and the proposed ban on stag hunting by Mr Gormley have raised the hackles of some rural Fianna Fáil TDs, prompting Mr Gormley to meet them and try and head-off any anti-Green backlash.

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