Sunday 25 September 2016

Kenny will face heave if he fails to step down as leader by May

The stated intentions of the FG and SF leaders have made Micheal Martin the big winner of the week, writes Jody Corcoran

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Going nowhere: Until another potential candidate steps forward, Fine Gael will be stuck with Enda Kenny as leader and the country will be stuck with him as Taoiseach. Photo: Tom Burke
Going nowhere: Until another potential candidate steps forward, Fine Gael will be stuck with Enda Kenny as leader and the country will be stuck with him as Taoiseach. Photo: Tom Burke

As the Fine Gael parliamentary party has just discovered, the removal of Enda Kenny as leader will be every bit as difficult to achieve as was his recent election as Taoiseach - more so, in fact.

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The likelihood now is that Mr Kenny will continue as both Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach for a full year since since he was re-elected in May.

Whether his minority government achieves anything notable in that year, however, remains a moot point: the indications are that it will not.

The other outcome to the Fine Gael 'think-in' last week is that the date of the next general election will be probably around October 2017.

Enda Kenny went to that 'think-in' in the full knowledge that his leadership of Fine Gael would be the only issue on the agenda.

If he was in any doubt, all he had to do was read an article under the name of the former Fine Gael TD, Tom Hayes, in the Irish Independent on Monday.

If ever there was a 'stalking horse' article this was it:

"The position of the leadership of the party will no doubt be up for discussion. Mr Kenny has already signalled that he will not lead the party into the next general election.

"It is my firm view that Fine Gael must now take steps to ensure that it does not allow Fianna Fail the opportunity to pull the plug on the Government with an imminent general election with no new Fine Gael leader in place.

"It is glaringly clear to me and to most observers that this Government does not have a very secure future and its lifetime will be of relatively limited duration. The best time for the party to elect a new leader is during a Dail recess. Ideally, Mr Kenny should be allowed to pick a time of his choosing to hand over the leadership, but that may not be possible due to the current government make-up.

"Accordingly, it is my personal view that the party should now proceed and elect a leader designate who will be ready to step into his shoes, the moment he steps down, or a general election is called, whichever comes first."

You can take it those are not just the personal views of Mr Hayes, or a few discontented Fine Gael TDs, but of one, if not both of the rivals for the Fine Gael leadership, and the entire parliamentary party.

There are only two real leadership contenders: Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, neither of whom is prepared to show his hand at the moment.

Were the leader-designate idea as expressed in the article under the name of Mr Hayes, to happen (and it might), it would cause its own difficulties.

Ultimately, it would fully drain authority of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach while he remained in office, as much as it would if he were to announce his departure date now.

Enda Kenny knows this: so, all he had to do last week was stare down his rivals, which he did. Now the pathway is relatively clear for him to remain in office until next summer; but it will be a turbulent year in which there will be only one clear winner - Micheal Martin.

The Fianna Fail leader, more so than Enda Kenny himself, had most to be pleased about at the end of last week.

In Fine Gael, the hand-wringing will go on, up to and after the Budget next month; up to, during and after Christmas; up to and after February next, a year on from the election; and up to May, a year on from Mr Kenny's re-election as Taoiseach, and probably up to, during and after next summer and the Budget the following October, when an election can be expected.

If nothing else, the year to come will be a spectacle for political anoraks, but whether anything much good comes out of the 'will he/won't he' pantomime that lies in wait is debatable.

All of this can be avoided if either Simon Coveney or Leo Varadkar shows his hand. As of now, neither will, not because they fear that Enda Kenny will defeat them in a leadership contest, because he would not. He is as lame a duck as they come.

The issue for both, and others who may be minded to throw their hat in the ring, is whether they will actually win; that is, defeat the other candidate or candidates in the contest. Neither can be sure of that at the moment, although Varadkar remains the favourite, according to opinon polls.

Until one or other, or both by mutual agreement, or indeed some other potential candidate steps forward, Fine Gael will be stuck with Enda Kenny and the country stuck with him as Taoiseach and the borderline dysfunctional government he leads.

However, should either Coveney or Varadkar show his hand between now and whenever, let's say at Christmas, or in February, what will Micheal Martin do? That's the question. The consensus view is that the Fianna Fail leader will immediately pull the plug rather than allow a new Fine Gael leader to develop status in the office of Taoiseach.

And nobody, least of all Fine Gael TDs, wants an election. But I do not hold with that view at Micheal Martin will cut and run.

First of all, there is no certainty that either Varadkar (or Coveney), but particularly Varadkar would command the support of Independents to make up the 58 votes required: Leo does not give the impression that he is a fan of this minority administration.

In my view, Varadkar himself would pull the plug first, in the hope that Fine Gael would benefit from a bounce in his relative honeymoon period as leader.

It is also my view that Micheal Martin would be more inclined to continue to underwrite the current administration until such time as the gloss wears off either Varadkar or Coveney, which in the current era should not take too long; or until such time as Fianna Fail hits a consistent 30pc to 35pc in the opinion polls. Mr Martin does not want to be stuck with another borderline dysfunctional government, after all.

It will not be all plain sailing for Fianna Fail, of course: Micheal Martin will have other issues to weigh up, not least that Fianna Fail maintains a distance, or not be seen to be a constituent part of the current administration; or indeed that Fianna Fail would not be seen to be outflanked by the various Independents in negotiations with Fine Gael to pass a Budget or to implement other policies, such as those policies will be.

On the other hand, the Fianna Fail leader received further good news last week: Gerry Adams has just confirmed that he intends to lead Sinn Fein into the next election and will continue as Sinn Fein leader for at least another five, possibly 10 years.

Sunday Independent

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