Enda Kenny managed to see off a challenge to his leadership of the Fine Gael party yesterday evening after a marathon meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party in Dublin. The result, which came in just before 5pm, was not revealed to the public, MEP Jim Higgins told the Mayo Advertiser after the vote.
“There was a decision taken by the members before the meeting that the votes would be shredded after they were verified,” Mr Higgins said. However sources within the party said that the vote was in the region of 38-32 in favour of Kenny.
The MEP went on to say it was a good day, and now was the time for the party to unite behind Enda Kenny as they push towards the next general election. “It’s a good day and now we’re calling on the other camp to come in behind Enda Kenny and accept the democratic mandate of the party,” he said. “This happened before in 1994 when there was a heave against John Bruton, which I was involved in myself, but when the results came out we accepted them and then we were in Government a few short months after that.”
Higgins criticised those who started the revolt, saying that the timing of the attempted push against Kenny was crazy. “It was a crazy reaction to an opinion poll, this is a time that we should have had Fianna Fáil on the rack for the banking crisis, it was a crazy thing to do.”
The meeting of the parliamentary party, which consists of all elected Oireachtas members and MEPs, saw Mr Kenny needing to gain at least 36 votes out of the 70 members of the parliamentary grouping.
An Irish Times poll the previous week provided the catalyst for the challenge to Kenny’s leadership after it showed that Fine Gael had slipped behind Labour in the popularity stakes, with satisfaction in his leadership of the party down seven per cent to 24 per cent. Kenny’s leadership was challenged by Dep Richard Bruton, whom Kenny subsequently sacked as the party’s spokesperson on finance and as deputy leader of the party along with the rest of the front bench.
The 70-member Fine Gael parliamentary party is made up of all serving TDs, senators, and MEPs, with the Mayo delegation consisting of Dep Kenny, Dep Michael Ring, Dep John O’Mahony, Jim Higgins MEP, and Senator Paddy Burke.
Kenny first became a TD in 1975, replacing his late father, and is currently the longest serving member of the Dáil. He has previously been Minister for Tourism and Trade from 1994 to 1997. He became the leader of Fine Gael in June 2002, succeeding Michael Noonan after a disastrous general election which saw Fine Gael return only 31 seats, a loss of 23 from the previous election. Kenny led Fine Gael into the 2007 general election which they eventually lost, but saw the party win back 20 precious seats lost in the previous plebiscite. Kenny has also overseen Fine Gael become the most popular party in the country after last years local elections.