FG denies ‘hiding’ Kenny ahead of election

FINE GAEL are not hiding party leader Enda Kenny, finance spokesman Michael Noonan has insisted, dismissing such claims as ‘propaganda’.

Mr Noonan admitted there were “sometimes identifiable differences” in economic policy between Fine Gael and Labour, but insisted the two parties had enough in common to form “a strong, effective government”.

Fianna Fáil and Labour believe Fine Gael have adopted a deliberate strategy of limiting Mr Kenny’s media appearances in a bid to hide his weaknesses ahead of the general election, particularly when it comes to debating economic issues.

Mr Noonan, with other members of Fine Gael’s finance team including Richard Bruton, has been to the fore recently in discussing the party’s stance on the economy.

However, Mr Noonan denied there was any policy of hiding the party leader.

“No, no. He’s been out a lot actually on other issues,” Mr Noonan said in an interview with the Irish Examiner. “That’s the propaganda all the time from Fianna Fáil and Labour. Will you tell me which Fine Gael leader back to Garret’s time wasn’t undermined by the Fianna Fáil press office?”

Mr Noonan also rejected suggestions that the recent rise in Fine Gael support was attributable to him rather than Mr Kenny.

“I think it’s a response to the Fine Gael team. And I suppose of all the Fine Gael team, the people involved in finance and the economy have been to the forefront.

“So Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar and Brian Hayes are on (the airwaves) almost as often as I am, and Damien English is involved frequently as well. They’re looking like ministers, which is I suppose what the public are identifying with.”

Mr Noonan also insisted Fine Gael and Labour could overcome their differences to form “a strong, effective government”.

Fianna Fáil is expected to play up the differences between the two parties in the election campaign in a bid to portray the alternative coalition as irreconcilably divided. However, Mr Noonan claimed Fine Gael might not even bother responding to such attacks, saying nobody was listening to Fianna Fáil any more.

“We mightn’t even answer them, because my experience in the constituencies now is that nobody is listening to Fianna Fáil.

“What the public want, 90% of them — and that’s supported by the polls — is Fianna Fáil out.”

Mr Noonan said this had been demonstrated by the fact that Taoiseach Brian Cowen had performed “very well” by parliamentary standards in the last 10 days of the Dáil before Christmas, but Fianna Fáil “didn’t go up a tittle” in the polls.

“My own view is that they’re whistling past the graveyard, and there’s no point in having an argument with them,” he added.

Defence Minister Tony Killeen said yesterday that March remained the most likely time for the election.

But Labour said it would table a motion of no confidence in the Government by the end of January, if the Greens haven’t fulfilled their pledge to have a confirmed election date by then.

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