Sunday 23 April 2017

Enda Kenny under pressure to name date for departure

Speculation is mounting that Enda Kenny's days at the helm of a fragile and minority coalition government are numbered
Speculation is mounting that Enda Kenny's days at the helm of a fragile and minority coalition government are numbered

Enda Kenny is coming under deepening pressure from within his own ranks to name the date when he will stand down.

Amid criticism over his handling of allegations of corruption in policing and after almost six years as Taoiseach, speculation is mounting that Mr Kenny's days at the helm of a fragile and minority coalition government are numbered.

One of the favourites to replace him, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, described Mr Kenny's leadership as "fabulous".

But he added: "The events of this week showed a timeline for a general election is now shorter than we might have thought.

"The Taoiseach has said he won't lead us into the next general election and I've absolutely every confidence that he will know when the right time is for himself and the party and the country to step aside."

Another of the frontrunners to replace him is Simon Coveney, Housing Minister, while rising star Simon Harris, the Health Minister, has also been named in some circles as a potential candidate.

Mr Kenny had already committed to stepping down as leader of his Fine Gael party ahead of the next election.

His supporters and colleagues will now be looking for a candidate to fill his sizeable reputation on the European stage as Brexit looms and Ireland needs someone at the helm of government to keep issues affecting relations with Britain, such as the border, customs, trade and travel, front and centre throughout negotiations.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan echoed that sentiment. He said another election was closer but added that Mr Kenny has a "skill set that is very valuable for the country".

The move against the Taoiseach was sparked when he was forced to correct responses over what he knew and when about a smear campaign against a whistleblower, allegedly being orchestrated by senior Garda officers, and the compiling of an unfounded and false report of child sex abuse against the whistleblower.

The leadership issue reared its head at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday evening as the Taoiseach faced down a motion of no confidence in the Government.

Focus will now switch to whether Mr Kenny is willing to set a date for his departure and whether colleagues will give him space to attend the traditional St Patrick's Day celebrations in the White House.

Voters last went to the polls last February but had to endure two months of painstaking negotiations for a minority government to be agreed.

The coalition only took power thanks to a handful of independents, three of whom got cabinet seats, and the support of Fine Gael's traditional rivals in Fianna Fail.

First elected to the Dail in 1975, Mr Kenny has been leader of the centre right Fine Gael party since 2002.

After years languishing in the opposition benches he led colleagues to a landmark general election success in 2011 when Fianna Fail was decimated at the ballot box for their stewardship of the country as it descended into bankruptcy.

But while Mr Kenny declared a "democratic revolution" six years ago he failed to sustain the electoral momentum.

Press Association

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