Taoiseach has just a short grace period to make hard decisions
Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30
Enda Kenny's "long goodbye" just might not be so long after all. But it could well be acrimonious if he sticks to his signalled assertion that he wants to stay something like two to three more years.
History teaches us that he could be very hard to shift, even if the heavers got on the case. The events of June 2010, when he beat off a team of his own lieutenants, remains fresh in Fine Gael stalwarts' minds.
He was close to the action in other political conflicts over his 40-plus years at Leinster House. And this time his key allies would have it that he is even better fixed when you do the brutal arithmetic.
Twenty seven out of 50 Fine Gael TDs have jobs as either senior or junior ministers. Like the "honest Kerrymen" of yore, once bought they should stay bought.
Well, that could prove to be a dangerous assumption. All of those 27 must again find their career path in a post-Kenny world; some can with confidence feel they would make the cut on another government leader's team; and some of them are cited as capable of taking Mr Kenny's job.
Granted, Mr Kenny does have a more potent weapon to help him stay on if he really wishes. He can point out that it would be wrong to presume that Fianna Fáil would underpin a minority coalition under a new Fine Gael leader.
Many within Micheál Martin's party could reasonably ask why they should facilitate a smooth change of leader in their arch-rivals' house. Why should Fianna Fáil really help Fine Gael rightly get their legs under the table at Government Buildings?
With that scenario, Mr Kenny could concentrate Fine Gael TDs' and Senators' minds by asking them if they were keen on a snap election.
So far there are only five rebels ready to put their heads over the parapet: Brendan Griffin of Kerry; Jim Daly of Cork South West; Pat Deering of Carlow-Kilkenny; Michael D'Arcy of Wexford; and Fergus O'Dowd of Louth.
Mr Kenny's supporters dismiss them as "disappointed in the promotion stakes." But that may not be a durable device for avoiding a simple reality: the quintet are saying what many are thinking.
Some of those thoughts are occurring inside the cabinet room. Though all the Government team insist they remain loyal to Mr Kenny and his right to frame his own exit plans in due course.
There was an interesting moment yesterday when Housing Minister, Simon Coveney, a potential contender to succeed Mr Kenny, replying to questions, stressed that the Taoiseach was entitled to pick his own timetable for departure. But then Mr Coveney also said it was difficult to see how things would be three years from now, given the current political climate.
In private conversations, other key party figures, including some ministers, were frankly saying that there must be a limit to Mr Kenny's "long goodbye."
One source suggested that this one cannot go much beyond next Christmas.
"An election this year is unlikely. But an election next year cannot be so easily ruled out. That means we have to have a leader ready for the campaign," one source said.
Rumours that some rebels might take to being absent for important votes seemed less likely. That carry-on means expulsion and/or local party ostracisation. But the rumour's existence tells its own tale.