US trip will be Kenny's last as he is given final chance to step down
Enda Kenny's trip to the White House for St Patrick's Day will be his final one as Taoiseach, senior party sources believe.
After a week that has rocked Fine Gael, a growing number of TDs and ministers are now briefing against Mr Kenny. There is now a widely held belief in Leinster House that the party leader should be given a last chance to step down of his own volition.
"He has been hinting at dates all the time. The last one was the Pope's visit in 2018, but a more realistic one is St Patrick's Day," said a well-placed source.
The Irish Independent understands that Mr Kenny is currently planning to combine his visit to meet US President Donald Trump with a trade mission that will take him to several cities. It is expected to take between eight and 11 days.
Over the past 48 hours, a number of Fine Gael backbenchers have discussed the prospect of launching a challenge to Mr Kenny at the parliamentary party meeting.
Discussions have centred around a direct call for Mr Kenny to spell out his exit strategy and to lay out a time frame for a succession period.
But such a move will not take place until the Garda whistleblower crisis is defused. "It's close - but it won't be this week," said one source involved in the plotting.
The theory within the party is that Mr Kenny has lost a large chunk of the so-called 'middle ground' TDs and senators in recent weeks.
These are members who, just a few months ago, would have rarely spoken out about the leadership issue.
Sources who want Mr Kenny to go quickly say a number of deputies formerly in this category now agree that the leadership issue is coming to a head. A key consideration is the fact the traditional trip Stateside will coincide with the British government's triggering of Brexit.
As the self-appointed Brexit Minister, Mr Kenny is leading Ireland's response. Until now, this was seen as a reason to keep him in position, but some TDs now feel they should change leader before the two-year negotiations get under way.
"There's a gap between St Patrick's Day and Easter in which a contest could take place, or in a worst case scenario from Easter until the summer recess," one TD said.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney are now seen as the only credible candidates to replace Mr Kenny.
In a sign of growing dissent within the ranks, two Fine Gael councillors openly debated Mr Kenny's leadership on national radio yesterday.
Cllr Brian Murphy from Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown claimed Fine Gael was "constantly running to Fianna Fáil for approval".
He had earlier posted a message on Facebook in which he described Mr Kenny as "pure toxic".
Defending her party leader on RTÉ's 'Liveline' Cllr Patricia Stewart, also from Mr Murphy's constituency, said Mr Kenny "will go down as one of the best Taoiseachs we've ever had".
The programme conducted a text poll which found that 54pc of listeners believed Mr Kenny should resign.
However, the Irish Independent has learned that Fine Gael representatives sought to manipulate the poll by alerting members via WhatsApp and asking them to back the Taoiseach.