Maeve Sheehan: The four horsemen who came close to bringing an apocalypse


How the actions of some members of the Fine Gael gene pool have threatened the Coalition


ReillyGate:

James Reilly can take credit for causing the first serious waves in the Coalition by triggering the second Labour walkout from government. Unease at his dismantling of the health service festered, and then came his deeply embarrassing appearance in Stubbs Gazette, when his hopes of making a profit out of a nursing home ended in a €1.9m debt. Labour backbenchers were concerned.

But it was his apparently dismissive dealings with junior health minister Roisin Shortall that brought coalition tensions to a head. For months, she claimed, he wouldn't take her calls. When he saw her final list of proposed primary care centres around Ireland – which had been Shortall's baby – he changed it. He bumped up two HSE health centres in his own constituency to the top of the list. Shortall walked – the second junior minister to go, as Willie Penrose had previously quit over a different issue (see ShatterGate, below).

Even a Fine Gael minster admitted it looked like stroke politics, but calm was restored when Eamon Gilmore, the Tanaiste and party leader, balked at standing by Roisin Shortall and declared his support instead for the health minister.

HoganGate:

Phil Hogan continually ruffles Labour feathers. He unveiled the €100 household charge to widespread confusion, even amongst his Labour government colleagues. Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton seemed to think it could be paid in a post office, while Hogan said it couldn't. Hogan was so combative that Labour backbenchers privately mumbled in agreement as the Opposition accused him of threatening, frightening and bullying people into paying the charge.

Hogan's habit of not being around when bad news hits has irritated his Labour colleagues. During Budget week, he was at a conference in Doha, a trip that cost taxpayers almost €35,000, while back home Labour ministers struggled to defend the swingeing €325 cut to the respite care grant. It didn't help that Hogan was photographed in company, kicking back in the hotel lounge: not a good image for a Government selling a message of austerity.

And he was in Brussels when residents in half-built ghost estates learnt that most of them would have to pay the property tax, having been led to believe they'd be exempt. Labour ministers and TDs were not happy, notably Sean Sherlock and Emmet Stagg. Hogan adroitly shifted the blame on to his Labour junior, Jan O'Sullivan.

LowryGate:

Two years ago, the government-appointed Moriarty Tribunal reported on the payments made by businessman Denis O'Brien to former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry. Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised to implement its recommendations but didn't. A year later, he shared a stage with O'Brien in New York, attracting the disapproval of Labour party colleagues such as Joan Burton.

When the Sunday Independent published a transcript of a taped phone call between Lowry and businessman Kevin Phelan, the Government shrugged it off, as much as to say "big deal". But as many others have pointed out, the tape was significant. The tape caught Michael Lowry discussing a £250,000 payment that he suggested the tribunal didn't know about and that it could "f***ing ruin" him if it came out.

The Taoiseach has ruled out re-opening the Moriarty Tribunal. Old hands in Labour who once shouted loudest stand by him. Disquiet still seeped through Labour's ranks. Alan Kelly, the Labour junior minister and a constituency rival, urged Lowry to "once and for all give a full account of his version of events".

Kevin Humphreys, the Dublin Labour TD, has gone further, voicing the public's concern over the Government's failure to act. Last month he told the Sunday Independent: "Lowry is part of the Fine Gael DNA pool and the suspicion among the public is that one of the reasons the tapes are not being reviewed is because of that DNA."

ShatterGate:

Alan Shatter scored a double whammy with his Prime Time jibe at independent Wexford TD Mick Wallace last month. Not only did it turn out to be a spectacular own goal, but the sneer roused the slumbering Labour Party's backbenchers from their early summer torpor.

Shatter has rankled Labour grass roots ever since he closed an army barracks in Willie Penrose's constituency, forcing the junior Labour housing minister to quit in protest. So wagons circled when Shatter announced on public television what the Garda Commissioner had told him privately in an "aside". He crowed that Wallace, crusader against a garda's discretionary right to quash penalty points, had himself been let off for driving with a mobile phone. Labour backbenchers – notably Kevin Humphreys – were off the starting blocks almost quicker than opposition parties, demanding an explanation for his disclosure of what was clearly confidential garda information.

Shatter's half-hearted apology landed him in more trouble, prompting a "deep throat" to come forward with claims that Shatter behaved improperly and rudely at a Dublin checkpoint. So rude that a female garda on duty was obliged to write up a report on him. The report, conveniently, never materialised, allowing Shatter's version of events to stand unchallenged. But his embarrassing checkpoint escapade allowed the Opposition to throw the book at him in a motion of no confidence in his performance, from his alleged double standards to cuts to garda stations.

By the time the vote came, the few dissenting Labour backbench voices had been whipped back in line. Shatter survived, although he now joins the ranks of Enda Kenny's walking wounded.

Irish Independent

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