Last-gasp bid: Noonan pleads with Fine Gael not to throw Kenny out of office
- Noonan held series of private meetings with disgruntled TDs and senators
- Urged his colleagues to pull back from threats
- Wanted to gauge level of support
- Taoiseach will address party this evening
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has made a last-ditch intervention aimed at prolonging the Taoiseach’s time in the job.
Mr Noonan has held a series of private meetings with disgruntled TDs and senators, asking them: “Are we really going to throw a Taoiseach out of office?”
The Irish Independent has learned the minister urged his colleagues to pull back from threats of a no-confidence motion in Enda Kenny.
Significantly, Mr Noonan indicated Mr Kenny will not set out a firm timeline for stepping down when the Fine Gael parliamentary party meets tonight.
He warned that if Mr Kenny names a specific date, he will go to Washington for St Patrick’s Day as a “lame duck”.
The minister flew into Dublin from EU meetings yesterday and proceeded to summon a number of backbenchers to the Members’ Area of the Dáil bar.
According to several sources, Mr Noonan wanted to gauge the level of support for a motion of no confidence and was actively seeking to fend off any potential move against Mr Kenny.
There is still considerable anxiety within Fine Gael that Mr Kenny will attempt to avoid any specifics when he addresses the party this evening. However, sources said that even if this happens the frontrunners for his position, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, are unlikely to immediately intervene.
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“They will allow the dust to settle and consult with TDs and senators before deciding how to react,” a source said.
There is consensus Mr Kenny should be allowed to travel to the White House and then step aside in late March or early April.
The Taoiseach has already made plans to spend March 15-16 in Washington, and the following two days in New York.
Sources said he intends to add a number of other stops to the trip depending on the leadership situation.
Sources in the Varadkar camp believe Mr Noonan is pushing Mr Coveney as the next party leader.
But Mr Noonan has only ever publicly lent his support to Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, who has ruled himself out of the contest.
During the 2010 heave, Mr Noonan said he would not take a position given that he himself was a former party leader.
Asked in the Dáil yesterday by Fianna Fáil whether changes to the make-up of the Government were coming, Mr Kenny remained defiant.
He said the Government has “a serious agenda” involving preparations for Brexit and trade missions. “There is no change,” he said.
Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath also raised the issue at Cabinet, stating: “Taoiseach, we’re concerned about the instability in Government. Is there any update on that?”
Mr Kenny replied he would be dealing with the issue tonight.
Sources described the very quick Cabinet meeting as having “an air of unreality about it”.
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Fine Gael ministers believe the Taoiseach is determined not to be pushed out of office and wants to fulfil a series of international engagements between now and Easter.
However, the race to replace him is heating up, with Education Minister Richard Bruton said to have “all but told” constituency supporters that he is in the race.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is still considering her options, as is Health Minister Simon Harris.
Mr Harris received a “wholesome” apology from Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan over a WhatsApp message in which he suggested the Wicklow TD “wanted out of health”.
Mr Flanagan told a meeting of Fine Gael ministers that it was an ill-judged joke and shouldn’t have happened.