Now Kenny’s allies are demanding an exit strategy
Defiant Taoiseach says he will see out full term but doubts grow on how long he can last
Ministers who have stood back from the leadership issue are growing impatient with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and want him to quickly spell out his exit strategy.
Ministers seen as being particularly loyal to Mr Kenny now say he must depart by the summer at the latest so as to allow for an orderly transition. Others within the party want the issue finalised before the end of this year.
Mr Kenny has stunned some of his closest allies by claiming at the Fine Gael think-in in Newbridge that he has no intention of leaving the job before the Government fulfils it full term.
In real terms that could mean up to three years as Fianna Fáil, who underpin the minority, coalition have promised support for three Budgets.
Some of Mr Kenny's supporters suspect he took the decision in a bid to kill off speculation about his leadership well ahead of the Dáil break next Christmas. But the issue has backfired and now ministers seen as being allies of Mr Kenny believe he should step aside next year. "It's becoming too big of an issue now," one Cabinet source said.
Mr Kenny had a strong and defiant message for would-be rebels yesterday after several assertions that he was going nowhere. "I've a mandate from the Oireachtas as Taoiseach and head of government in the most challenging times our country has seen for a long time," he told reporters in Newbridge.
He said party politics could not take precedence over Brexit, the upcoming Budget; developing Dublin's north inner city; housing, health and education.
At the close of the two-day pre-Dáil meeting there were renewed rumours that some rebel TDs might miss key votes in protest over Mr Kenny's refusal to step aside. But a number of TDs, seen as opposed to Mr Kenny remaining on as leader said they would not partake in such a strategy which would only further destabilise the Government.
Mr Kenny's claim on "another two years" was promptly and strongly challenged by two maverick Fine Gael TDs. The criticisms came little more than two hours after Mr Kenny signalled on national radio that he wanted to stay on for a longer period and "fulfil his mandate."
Two TDs, Brendan Griffin of Kerry and Jim Daly of Cork South West, said the party had to discuss the leadership issue soon. A third TD, Pat Deering, said it should be broached at the Christmas recess.
Mr Griffin said his views on the need for leadership change were shared by others in the party. "I certainly feel that, for the country's sake and for the party's sake, we need to confront this issue now," the Kerry TD said.
He said Fine Gael had 50pc more TDs a year ago and also lost over 100 councillors in the 2014 local elections. "If that's not a wake-up call for a party in any scenario, what is?" he asked.
The Cork South West TD, Jim Daly, stressed at length that Mr Kenny was a good Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader. He said the leadership issue only arose because Mr Kenny himself said he would not lead them in the next election, and current instability meant that could be any time between the Budget on October 11, and the following Budget in autumn 2017.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny is due to have showdown talks with junior minister John Halligan today. Mr Halligan told colleagues he has no intention of quitting government.
He has also revealed he feels under pressure from senior doctors in Waterford University Hospital to stand by his stance that a new cath lab is required.