Cabinet anger at Kenny over his 'reshuffle' threat
Taoiseach wants to attend White House events
Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30
Enda Kenny has until next May at the latest, a full year on from his re-election, to resign as Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach or he will face a leadership challenge, the Sunday Independent has learned.
But there is a widespread view in Fine Gael this weekend that Mr Kenny now intends to resist even the extended deadline to resign of May 2017 - a stand that would provoke a direct challenge to his leadership, which he is almost certain to lose.
There is also huge resentment at Cabinet and Minister of State level in Fine Gael after Mr Kenny last week hinted he was planning a reshuffle of ministers next year.
At the Fine Gael parliamentary party 'think-in' on Monday, Mr Kenny said: "My mandate is one I am not going to walk away from. I will, of course, reflect on the make-up of government and the Ministers of State next year."
Last night, a Fine Gael Cabinet minister said: "That comment has really, really annoyed everybody - even those closest to him." He added: "I don't think he has any plans to go any time soon."
Also this weekend, the Housing Minister, Simon Coveney, who is widely tipped as a successor to Mr Kenny, strongly denied that he had any prior knowledge of a newspaper article published last week which led to feverish speculation at the Fine Gael 'think-in' that Mr Kenny's leadership was under immediate threat. At that meeting, Mr Kenny dismissed speculation on his leadership and emphasised the mandate he had received from the Dail to form and lead a government.
Former Fine Gael Minister of State Tom Hayes had written that he had a "firm view" Mr Kenny should be replaced as the party leader.
Two Fine Gael TDs, Brendan Griffin and Jim Daly - said to be close to another potential successor, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar - last week also called for Mr Kenny's continued leadership to be discussed. Both Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar have consistently played down reports that they are 'stalking' Mr Kenny on the issue.
Until now, it has been speculated that Mr Kenny, who has said he will not lead Fine Gael into the next election, would stand down after the Budget, then at Christmas and then by February, the first anniversary of the calling of the election.
This weekend, senior Fine Gael sources said the latest timeframe - May next year - will allow Mr Kenny to attend the White House in Washington DC on St Patrick's weekend, where he will be received by a new US president, possibly Hillary Clinton.
Mr Kenny is said to be anxious to attend that event and then to see out a full year in his second term.
But last night a senior Fine Gael source said: "This is typical Enda - spinning times and dates to buy him time."
Another Fine Gael source said Mr Kenny currently resembled the character Malone in the Samuel Beckett novel Malone Dies, the plot of which is described as about "an old man who lies naked in bed in either an asylum or hospital."
Mr Kenny has not given any direct indication to even his closest colleagues as to when he will step down, but Fine Gael sources this weekend said they believed Mr Kenny would choose to resign in or around next May 6, the first anniversary of the formation of the minority Government.
Last night, a senior Fine Gael source said: "The Taoiseach managed to put the lid back on this issue last week, but that is only for the time being. He will know when the time is right to go as everybody says, but if he doesn't know, well - here's a newsflash - it's next May at the latest."
Housing Minister Simon Coveney has denied he had any advance knowledge of an article in the Irish Independent that caused speculation at the Fine Gael 'think-in' last week that a heave against Mr Kenny was imminent.
The article, by former Fine Gael TD and Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Tom Hayes, effectively fired the starting gun on Mr Kenny's departure. In that article, Mr Hayes said it was his "firm view" that Fine Gael must now take steps to replace Mr Kenny before Fianna Fail "pulls the plug" on the Government.
Mr Hayes said Mr Kenny should be allowed to pick a time of his choosing to hand over the leadership, but, he said, that might not be possible.
Read more: Kenny and Adams aim for a long goodbye