To the backdrop of at least one new convert within the Westmeath party ranks, Richard Bruton’s challenge to Enda Kenny’s leadership of Fine Gael proved unsuccessful yesterday [Thursday] evening.
With Deputy Kenny emerging victrious just before 5pm after a long day of talks, it appears Westmeath’s three outgoing Fine Gael mayors had divided loyalties regarding the leadership of their party, with one councillor even changing camps in the past few days to speak out in support of Deputy Bruton.
While declaring her backing for Deputy Kenny earlier in the week, Mullingar mayor Cllr Ruth Illingworth said yesterday (Thursday ) that having listened to Fine Gael supporters on the ground it was clear that Deputy Kenny had lost the confidence of the party. She would now be putting her weight behind Richard Bruton.
“My feelings were that I was supportive of Enda Kenny, as I thought he brought the party back from near dead. He is a very decent human being and has a lot to offer.
“But I have also been listening to the supporters on the ground, and the conclusion I have reached is that he will have to go. Despite his fine qualities he is not coming across to people as good Taoiseach material, and regrettably I think he will have to go,” she said.
“It is sad the situation has developed as it has, it is very poor timing in this week of all weeks when the Government was on the rocks.
“At the moment I would support Richard Bruton. If it comes to the stage where there is a third candidate and if there is a full election, I would consider my position again.
“My feeling is even if Enda Kenny wins today, he essentially loses. I think his leadership is effectively over. I would hope to see him play a part, but I feel he no longer enjoys the confidence of voters. I will be hoping there is a new leader.”
However, cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, and Mullingar native, Cllr Fintan Cooney, said yesterday he was backing party leader Enda Kenny.
“It is well known that Enda Kenny has not performed well in polls. I am aware of this, but I feel he is working very hard under pressure, and I feel as Taoiseach he would be very good.
“Richard Bruton is an excellent politician, I am not criticising him, but I think as finance spokesperson he is first class. If he moves to leader it would be a big loss in this role.”
Cllr Cooney said the newly divided party had come as “a bit of a shock to the ground level party supporters”.
“Either way it is divisive, but hopefully things will move on. It is likely to be a year and half before the next general election,” he added.
His nephew, mayor of Athlone Cllr Mark Cooney, however, refused to take sides.
“I have my own views as a member of the party and a Fine Gael councillor. Whatever decision is made at parliamentary party level I will support.
“Obviously if there is a contest for leadership, it would give public representatives a chance to have their say. It is something I will consider if I have to make a decision, but for now I leave it to the parliamentary party.”