FG fury over Kenny election date climbdown
Taoiseach surprises own ministers in TV interview
Fine Gael has reacted with dismay following Taoiseach Enda Kenny's decision to bow to Labour Party pressure and end the intense speculation surrounding a snap General Election.
Mr Kenny took several of his own ministers by complete surprise after closing the door on a November poll during a TV interview.
Some of the Taoiseach's closest supporters believe his handling of the election date has presented a "weak" picture of his leadership.
Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin accused Mr Kenny of entering into a "humiliating climbdown" by signalling a Spring election date.
There is a strong view within the party that by declaring a Spring poll, Mr Kenny has effectively caved to pressure from Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton.
Throughout the weekend, there was an understanding within Fine Gael circles that Mr Kenny would use an interview on RTE's 'The Week in Politics' to leave open the door for an early General Election.
He had been expected to state that his preference has always been for an election in 2016, but that this view could change over time.
However, there was a clear consensus in both Fine Gael and Labour circles that the Taoiseach has now ended the prospect of a November election.
"He went much further than we had expected - it's caused some disquiet, that's for sure," a Fine Gael minister said.
Party sources said they had been of the belief Mr Kenny would wait to gauge the public reaction to next week's Budget before making a final decision.
"But he can't call it for November now or he will look like a complete fool," a Fine Gael strategist said.
Another senior Fine Gael source expressed the view that Mr Kenny's handling of the television interview, following a week of intense speculation, will be seen as Fine Gael "capitulating" to the demands of Labour.
"It presents us as being weak, and that includes the Taoiseach," the source said last night.
A number of Fine Gael deputies, several of whom were in favour of a November poll, expressed their shock at Mr Kenny's interview. "We are incensed that Kenny has caved because of a Labour Party tantrum," a deputy said.
During the interview, the Fine Gael leader told broadcaster Áine Lawlor that it is his "intention" to hold the General Election in the Spring of 2016 and that he sees "no reason" to change his mind in the coming weeks.
He insisted that he has always been consistent in his position that the election should be held in the Spring - despite days of intense speculation surrounding a November poll.
"I have been consistently very clear in this. It is my intention to hold the election in the Spring of 2016," Mr Kenny said.
Pressed on the prospect of a November election, Mr Kenny insisted: "I see no reason to change my mind".
He added: "The important thing is both parties - Fine Gael and Labour - go into this election on a joint electoral pact platform. Yes, we will have different programmes.
"This is not about me as Taoiseach or me as a public representative. This is about the future and people have to have the choice of continued stability and investment."
Last night, a spokesman for the Tánaiste said she supported the remarks made by the Taoiseach.
"We fully support the Taoiseach in his view that the election should be in the Spring of 2016," the spokesman said. "On Tuesday, we will underline the recovery this Government has been driving with a Budget that continues the process of raising living standards," he added.
Mr Martin said a Spring election would allow the Banking Inquiry to finish its work, but added: "The Taoiseach has only himself to blame for the political uncertainty created on the timing of the election".