James Reilly defends his re-appointment following criticism at strained FG meeting

Senator accuses some colleagues of using him to undermine party leadership

James Reilly, health minister, National Children's Hospital, medical card scheme, budget, regrets

James Reilly at Fine Gael election campaign HQ in Dublin | Image: Rollingnews.ie

The deputy leader of Fine Gael has defended his appointment to the post by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In an interview on Newstalk Breakfast, Senator James Reilly acknowledged that colleagues had raised concerns about the move at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party last night.

However, he disputed arguments that the role should be filled by a sitting TD. 

"I've done the job before as a minister, five years of which involved me being a minister and being extremely busy with those duties. I’ll have much more time to do it now," Mr Reilly told the programme. 

"As a senator, I will have the time that ministers wouldn't have. Given the tight voting numbers in the Dáil, it would make it very difficult for sitting TDs to get out around the country," he added. 

Mr Reilly, who lost his seat in the last election, earlier accused some backbench TDs of using his re-appointment as a way to question the party leadership.

The decision came up for discussion during heated scenes at last night's parliamentary party meeting.

One junior minister called on party colleagues to either unite or become independents, while Mr Kenny offered to meet those who raised concerns for coffee.

The meeting had only just begun when the issue of Mr Reilly's re-appointment as deputy leader was raised.

TDs Jim Daly, John Paul Phelan, Brendan Griffin and John Deasy all urged Mr Kenny to reconsider the move.

Mr Reilly defended his position and accused some of those present of using him as a proxy to question the party leader. 

Minister of State Catherine Byrne spoke passionately, pleading with colleagues to stick together and telling those who could not be loyal to break away from the party. 

Mr Kenny himself received a round of applause and offered to meet up with his critics.

He was seen shortly afterwards dining with Pat Deering and Fergus O'Dowd, who had been vocally critical of his leadership last week.