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Thursday 17 August 2017

Noonan speech quells rebellion at crisis meeting

Finance Minister Michael Noonan backed embattled Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Finance Minister Michael Noonan backed embattled Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has helped to quell a Fine Gael backbench rebellion by telling them to get back to concentrating on the economy.

Mr Noonan warned dissidents that the party needed to get the focus back on the recovery or they ran the risk of losing their seats in the next general election.

The keenly anticipated Fine Gael meeting followed a week of accusations of "cronyism" levelled at the Taoiseach Enda Kenny after the appointment of party activist and Seanad candidate John McNulty to a state board.

Crunch

At a crunch party meeting, the Finance Minister said the party had a more than 90pc chance of getting back into power, provided it could continue to make progress with the economic recovery.

Mr Noonan was described as delivering a "very strong speech" where he said the political narrative was drifting away from the economy.

"Michael Noonan made the speech of the night and he set the trend," a party source said.

"The economic recovery is the watchword now and the Government is determined to go to 2016," one insider said.

Mr Kenny again accepted responsibility for the debacle. But he claimed Seanad credential were not constructed for Mr McNulty through his appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

Fine Gael TDs John Deasy and Sean Conlan asked tough questions of Mr Kenny.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton said the criticism of the party over the handling of the affair was deserved.

Party backbencher Jerry Buttimer said Mr Kenny needed to reshuffle his team of advisers.But Fine Gael sources said the meeting was mainly positive.

Mr Kenny said he plans to take the power to select election candidates away from his party headquarters following the Seanad by-election debacle.

The Taoiseach said plans to change the party's internal structures were discussed at the recent Fine Gael 'think in' and he regretted he has not implemented them sooner.

Mr Kenny said he did not want to publicly name any party officials involved in the fiasco as he did not want them pilloried.

The Taoiseach told the Dail the official did not inform a Fine Gael national executive sub-committee, set up to deal Seanad by-election, about the appointment. The Taoiseach's spokesman said Mr Kenny was "angry" about the debacle but accepted overall responsibility.

Mr McNulty pulled out of the Seanad by-election race following instructions from Fine Gael headquarters.

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin said the Taoiseach's explanation of Mr McNulty's appointment was "unravelling".

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach why he was taking responsibility for the appointment if it was not his decision to give Mr McNulty a position on the board.

During Leaders' Questions in the Dail today, Mr Kenny also defended the appointment of Darragh Loftus, a neighbour, to the board of education agency Solas. He said Mr Loftus took 10 days' holidays from work to attend board meetings.

hnews@herald.ie

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