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Thursday 17 August 2017

'Who hasn't made a mistake?' asks Leo as FG's young guns call time on the Taoiseach

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Fine Gael's new generation of young-gun ministers have signalled to Enda Kenny it is time to step down as Taoiseach.

The starting gun on a leadership race was fired at a private party meeting last night when Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Simon Harris spoke of the need to be "election-ready".

Sources said that while there was no direct criticism of Mr Kenny's performance in recent days, the message was clear.

The Government last night won a motion of confidence by 57 votes to 52, with 44 TDs abstaining.

Earlier Mr Kenny had asked TDs and senators to allow him the "opportunity to talk with the parliamentary party at a differ- ent time".

This was widely seen as an acceptance by the Taoiseach that the growing unease over his leadership is coming to a head.

Sources close to the three ministers insisted their contributions were not coordinated.

Mr Varadkar was the first to speak, and began by defending Mr Kenny.

"We've all been there. Who hasn't made mistake?" he said.

Influential

However, he went on to say that Fianna Fail is preparing for an election and Fine Gael should do the same.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney addressed the party immediately afterwards and echoed the election warning.

Simon Harris, who is seen as an outsider in the leadership race but influential within the party, said they could "never have another week like this".

Leinster House has been rocked by shocking revelations of the treatment of garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

As word filtered back to the Dail chamber about events at the Fine Gael meeting, opposition TDs speculated about Mr Kenny's retirement.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, who worked alongside Mr Kenny in the last government, said he took "no joy to see the position that you now find yourself in, Taoiseach".

"There are many in this chamber who are waiting for your time as Taoiseach to come to an end.

"Some of them perhaps share the frontbench with you. If this debate proves to be a tipping point that brings that end closer, Taoiseach, know that you have made a significant contribution to this State. But know too, that the events of the last week are not an acceptable way for a country to be governed."

Meanwhile, Sgt McCabe has spoken of the "eight years of abuse" he has suffered.

He broke his silence in an interview with Anglo-Celt journalist Sean McMahon.

Asked if he would do it all over again, he said: "Oh, probably not, probably not, because of what they did to me. I did not do anything to them, they did it to me."

Describing the impact on his family, he said it was "eight years of constant abuse".

"We just want it to finish and let us go back to live our lives, the way we did eight years ago," he added.

Asked which has caused An Garda Siochana more damage, his allegations or how he was dealt with in the aftermath, he replied: "I think the latest thing, with HSE and Tusla and the guards, has been just vile."

Sgt McCabe had earlier released a statement which said his family had been "systematically attacked in a number of ways" by state agencies and people working for the State.

The statement heaped pressure on the Government to establish a public inquiry into the allegations, which has subsequently been confirmed.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has insisted she played no role in the peddling of false rumours against Sgt McCabe to blacken his name for exposing wrongdoing in the force.

The McCabes have also posed several questions for garda management in relation to the events that followed the creation of the false contents of a Tusla file.

Sgt McCabe also welcomed the fact that there would be a public inquiry to find out if there was a smear campaign against him, and whether it was orchestrated by senior gardai.

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