Leader of the Fine Gael party Enda Kenny sacked his deputy leader Richard Bruton yesterday after he mounted a challenge for leadership of the party.

The Fine Gael front bench consists of 19 members with Bruton's supporters claiming more than half of them support his challenge.
Speaking on the current affairs panel show “Frontline” last night Bruton said, "It will be clear tomorrow that a number of frontbenchers have no confidence in him.”

Kenny sacked his deputy yesterday evening and called a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party for Thursday afternoon. The parliamentary party consists of all of Fine Gael's 69 MEPs, MPs and Senators.

Kenny will call on his supporters to vote to pledge their full support in him.

Fine Gael Health spokesman Dr James Reilly said he was confident that a "substantial majority" of the parliamentary party supported Kenny.

"I firmly believe that when it goes to the parliamentary party, as it will, that Enda Kenny will carry the day," said Reilly.

It is widely believed that Bruton will not have the complete support of the party but the majority of the front bench is expected to resign unless Kenny steps down. If the most promising members of the front bench resign, Fine Gael will be virtually ruined.

Kilkenny based Senator John Paul Phelan, has backed Bruton and said that he was "shocked and disappointed" by Kenny's behavior and his sacking of Bruton.

Phelan said he had "serious reservations" about Kenny's leadership qualities and felt Bruton would be a perfect replacement.

"I have the height of respect for Enda, he's done a lot for Fine Gael in my time over the last eight years, but there comes a juncture I suppose where you just have to say that the baton of leadership has to pass," said Phelan.

"There has to be a recognition among everyone that at this current juncture in time we cannot ignore the general public and we can't ignore the membership of the party."

Kenny replaced Bruton with Limerick MP Kieran O'Donnell as Finance spokesman. Kenny said he would announce a new front bench next week.

Last night Bruton called on his colleagues to put their loyalty with the Irish people and acknowledge the fact that the general public consistently disapprove of Kenny's leadership in opinion polls.

"There are many opinion polls and ratings of his leadership and many occasions on which he has faltered at crucial times – and we do need people’s confidence now.”

A phone poll has suggested that Kenny has 32 declared supporters with five others thought to be swaying towards Kenny. Bruton has eight declared supporters with a further 16 believed to be ready to support. A further eight Fine Gael politicians are undecided.

Enda Kenny