There was shock this week at the resignation from Fine Gael and the Dail of former television broadcaster, George Lee. He was a major catch for the party and going after 9 months seems a little short for a new job but also reflects his frustration with the political machine that runs Fine Gael. Being in opposition was also an impediment for a talented man who wants immediate political change. He is a great loss to public life and his departure may influence others from taking a political path.
We met him in Waterford last November when he chaired a seminar given by the financial heavy hitters of Fine Gael including Richard Bruton, Finance Spokesman; Leo Varadkar, Employment and Enterprise; Simon Coveney and leader Enda Kenny.
It was a very absorbing event but we did notice that when we questioned Richard Bruton, Leo Varadkay and George Lee, the former RTE man differed sometimes to his party colleagues. As a back bencher at the time, he was probably entitled to have special views especially when he was trained as an economist.
His views on the banking crisis and Anglo Irish bank differed. He did agree with a new state bank offering funds to business if private banks were not there to offer credit, a problem that exists today.
Rebranding Anglo Irish was a suggestion by the Munster Express that was rejected by Richard Bruton but some merit was seen in it by George Lee, who liked to see a State bank assisting in the credit crisis. Even Alan Dukes, a former Fine Gael leader and Government appointed director at the nationalized bank, sees an opportunity of that bad bank, being possibly given some new option using existing staff and infrastructure to give loans.
George Lee has that open mind which is lacking in politics where complaining
about the government is the order of the day and not offering enough solutions.
The Fine Gael front bench does have more ideas but without George Lee it is a poorer party. Maybe George should have toughed it out and got some more support for his thoughts. After all, that is what politicians do and he could have lobbied more for his case and his proposals.
He was going to get on the front bench so staying on until a new election was called would have been the right thing because he could have influenced policy. But it is hard to have patience when the country is suffering and the economy is still on a downswing and jobs going.
Maybe he could be persuaded to re consider. We did notice at the Waterford meeting that as chairman he was not afraid to slightly admonmish leader Enda Kenny when asked difficult questions by the audience.
“This is what you need to hear and respond to with proper answers”, he told Kenny which might have been a touch nervy for the party leader. George Lee was not afraid to differ in public with his party leader when another politician might have played the ‘Yes’ game to difficult situations.
A loss for Ireland and a loss for the political system, it will surely shake up Fine Gael to get their act together more strongly and put pressure on Kenny to deliver alternative policies to Fianna Fail.