Thursday 23 February 2017

'I no longer have confidence' - Fine Gael TD calls for Enda Kenny to step down

Gareth Morgan and Cormac McQuinn

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell Photo: Tom Burke

A Fine Gael backbencher has broken ranks to demand Taoiseach Enda Kenny stands down.

Alan Farrell is the first of the party's TDs to launch a direct attack on the leadership and described Mr Kenny's position as untenable.

"Unfortunately, I no longer have confidence in the ability of Enda Kenny TD to lead Fine Gael," he said.

Mr Farrell, TD for Dublin Fingal, spoke out amid deepening pressure from within the party's own ranks for the Taoiseach to name the date when he will step down as head of government.

"I wish to acknowledge Enda Kenny's unwavering commitment to public service and to working in the best interests of our society and the Irish public," Mr Farrell said.

"While I sincerely thank An Taoiseach for the work he has done in rebuilding our party since becoming leader in 2002 and even more so for his incredible stewardship of the country since 2011, I believe it is now time for him to step aside and allow a new leader, with a fresh approach, to lead us into the future."

Mr Farrell further added that he believes the Government came close to an election three times this week and urged his party to be ready for an election "at any time."

"We must be prepared to tackle the challenges which arise in our society. In doing so we require a leader who can lead with confidence, and highlight how the values and principles of Fine Gael can best benefit our society and every community across our country.

"Over the last number of days, we as a party have stumbled from one crisis to another, highlighting how fragile our arrangement as a minority Government is.

"Not only were we close to an election once, I firmly believe we came close three times. If anything should be learned from the events of the last few days it is that we must be ready for an election at any time," he added.

Meanwhile Charlie Flanagan has leapt to the defence of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

"I have confidence in the leadership of Enda Kenny. He's doing a very good job," the foreign affairs minister told Independent.ie.

Asked for his view on Mr Farrell's statement Mr Flanagan replied:

"Obviously we'll be having a parliamentary party meeting next week where I would assume this issue would be discussed.

"As far as I'm concerned I have confidence in Enda Kenny's leadership.

"Only this week the Dáil voted confidence in the government that he's leading," he said outside the government's All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit.

"We're here on a very important issue which is the withdrawal of our nearest neighbour the UK from the European Union.

"That process and our priorities are hampered because the assembly and the executive in Northern Ireland has been collapsed.

"The last thing we want is a dissolution of the Dáil here and an election.

"So it's important that everybody prioritises major issues for Ireland,the most important of which is Brexit. Which is what we're discussing today."

He reiterated:"I have confidence in the leadership of Enda Kenny. He's doing a very good job. He left here this morning having set the scene for our important engagement to a job announcement.

"There is no issue of greater importance to the Irish people and the country than the withdrawal of our neighbours from the European Union, something that was not of our making but something that has the potential to adversely affect and disrupt our economy and our society."

Who are the contenders to be our next Taoiseach

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Leo Varadkar (38)

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Career: Transport & Tourism Minister 2011-2014; Health Minister 2014-2016; Social Protection Minister 2016 to present.

First elected to Dublin West in 2007, re-elected 2011 and 2016.

Began on South Dublin CountyCouncil in 2004.

A medical doctor, Leo Varadkar is bright, and a good reader of the public mood. Engaged in Fine Gael politics since college days and combined activism with medical studies.

Over a decade at Leinster House, he has toned down right wing stances and attack-dog antics,to become more measured and astute. Is quick to grasp the details of a brief and has avoided big errors in three different ministries. But he disappointed as Health Minister given his youth and background in the business. He managed through while cooling public expectations on big promised reforms.

The son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse, he announced in January 2015 that he was gay, and helped deliver the successful same-sex marriage referendum four months later.

Bookie odds: 1-4money-on favourite.

Seen as most likely to win swift contest. Less clear-cut if election is dragged out. Has been garnering support for a long time both within parliamentary party and among members and councillors.

Known supporters include many Dublin TDs and senators, including Eoghan Murphy and NoelRock. Others include John Paul Phelan Brendan Griffin, Jim Daly and Pat Deering.

Simon Harris (30)

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Career: Health Minister 2016-present; Junior Finance Minister 2014-2016. First elected for Wicklow in 2011 and re-elected in 2016. Member of Wicklow County Council and Greystones Town Council 2009-2011. Adviser to Frances Fitzgerald during her term as senator 2007-2011.

Fine Gael’s ‘boywonder’ has impressed many with courtesy and ability since he announced himself by proposing Enda Kenny for Taoiseach on his  first day at Leinster House in March 2011.

Aged just 24, he began as the Dáil’s youngest TD and his progress since has been remarkable. He has been appointed to the most senior of the junior ministries, in charge of the Office of Public Works in July 2014.

When the minority coalition took office in May 2016 he was given the huge challenge of Health Minister. He has struggled since then but has impressed with his sincerity.

Bookie odds: 25/1

At Leinster House he is perceived as leadership material – but not just yet. Unclear as yet who may support him beyond former mentor Frances Fitzgerald should she decide not to field.

Paschal Donohoe (43)

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Career: Public Expenditure Minister 2016-present; Transport & Tourism Minister 2014-2016; Juniro EU Affairs Minister 2013-2014. First elected for Dublin Central in 2011 and again in 2016, after unsuccessfully contesting 2007 General Election and 2009 by-election. Senator 2007-2011. Member of Dublin City Counciul from 2004 to 2007.

Paschal Donohoe is a political battler who has coped with reverses and risen steadily through the ranks. Elected to Dublin Central on his third attempt, he also did a Houdini act to hold on last time, after a very disadvantageous constituency redraw.

He abandoned a promising business career in Britain to return to Ireland in 2003 and commit to politics. Served a political apprenticeship in local council and Seanad before getting promotion after the forced resignation of Lucinda Creighton in summer 2013.

He has spent recent weeks emphasising publicly and privately that he will not contest the leadership on this occasion. Some people think he may still be prevailed upon by former Kenny loyalists to upset an expected straight fight between Varadkar and Coveney.

Bookie Odds: 25/1

At Leinster House he is seen as a dark horse who might stand. Could be formidable contender if persuaded to change his mind. Former Kenny loyalists, especially those fearful one of the others would discard them from the ministerial team, would like to see him stand.

Frances Fitzgerald (66)

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Career: Children’s Minister 2011-2014; Justice Minister 2014-present. First elected for Dublin South East in 1992, but defeated in 2002; Senator 2007-2011; elected for Dublin Mid-West in 2011 and again in 2016. Member of Dublin City Council 1999-2004.

The State’s first ever full cabinet member responsible for children’s affairs took two decades of hard battling to establish herself firmly in Irish politics. For a decade she represented Dublin South East – once the bailiwick of Fine Gael Taoisigh John A Costello and Garret FitzGerald – but completely lost her political footing here after 2002.

Rebuilt a base in Dublin Mid-West and has been very loyal to Enda Kenny as leader. Her work as Children’s Minister was well received and she was appointed as Justice Minister after the controversial resignation of Alan Shatter in May 2014.

Always cited as an outsider, her candidature has been impaired by the recent week’s controversial events. A popular politician, she is approachable and a good manager of people.

Bookie Odds: 25/1

At Leinster House she is seen at very best as a potential compromise or caretaker if others prove unduly divisive. Could expect former protégé Simon Harris to be supportive, if his unlikely candidature peters out. Unclear as yet who else would support.

Simon Coveney (44)

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Career: Agriculture and Marine Minister 2011-2014; added Defence to those responsibilities 2014-2016; Housing Minister 2016-present. First elected to Cork South Central in a 1998 by-election and re-elected in four subsequent elections. Was an MEP from 2004 to 2007 and a member of Cork County Council (1999-2003).

Came to politics at age 26 by winning the by-election that followed the untimely death of his father Hugh Coveney. Took years to establish a reputation in his own right and was often perceived as “earnest and hardworking” rather than especially gifted. Proved his political nous as campaign director in several referendums, notably the 2015 same-sex marriage vote. Also helped negotiate the current coalition with Independents and the support deal with Fianna Fáil.

A farm manager by training, he impressed as Agriculture Minister, helped by the contrast between a buoyant farm sector and general economic woes. Acquitted himself in EU farm and fishery negotiations. As Defence Minister he backed the Irish Navy’s Mediterranean migrant rescue missions. Since the current government took office in May 2016, he has the tough task of tackling the housing crisis. Even militant critics acknowledge his commitment.

Bookie odds: 3/1

Seen as the real threat to Leo Varadkar’s success. Supporters are Damian English, Pat Breen, Joe Carey, and many in Munster and south Leinster area, though there are local rivalries, especially in Cork.

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