Monday 22 January 2018

Fine Gael ministers hold late-night talks about Kenny's leadership

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the launch of Proclaiming a Republic, The 1916 rising, at the National museum of Ireland, Collins barracks. Pic: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the launch of Proclaiming a Republic, The 1916 rising, at the National museum of Ireland, Collins barracks. Pic: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny alongside director of the National Museum of Ireland, Raghnall Ó Floinn, at the launch of ‘Proclaiming a Republic, The 1916 Rising’ at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, yesterday. Photo: Mark Condren
Sean Kyne. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor, John Downing and Cormac McQuinn

Senior Fine Gael ministers have begun actively discussing the future of Taoiseach Enda Kenny's leadership ahead of today's crunch meeting of the parliamentary party, the Irish Independent can reveal.

In a worrying development for Mr Kenny, ministers seen as loyal to the Taoiseach are now beginning to raise questions over his role in the party's disastrous General Election campaign.

At an event in Dublin yesterday, a visibly uncomfortable Mr Kenny dismissed suggestions that his leadership was under threat.

But senior Fine Gael figures have confirmed that ministers have held late night discussions, both in person and over the phone, about replacing Mr Kenny.

"Talks have being going on since Saturday and they are intensifying," said a ministerial source.

Another minister said they believed Mr Kenny's days were numbered and that he would eventually be replaced by either Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald or Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

But a third minister said Mr Kenny's leadership was "beyond question" as long as he remained in place as "a potential future Taoiseach".

Several other TDs said privately they believed Mr Kenny would either step aside or be replaced in the coming weeks.

And in a further blow to the Fine Gael leader, one of his most able backbenchers has refused to express confidence in him.

Galway West TD Seán Kyne became the first sitting deputy to openly question whether Mr Kenny can continue as party leader.

"It would be difficult to say that," he said when asked if he had confidence in his party leader.

Mr Kyne was then asked three times in total if he could express confidence in Mr Kenny and failed to do so on each occasion.

The TD, who is based in Connemara and is an Irish speaker, made his comments on TG4's 'Seacht Lá' programme.

Mr Kyne had already said the Taoiseach was responsible for some of the problems associated with "a very bad" Fine Gael campaign characterised by "a lot of mistakes".

He had also singled out Mr Kenny's comments a week before polling in which he described some people in his native Castlebar as "whingers".

And there was criticism levelled at Mr Kenny and his leadership by former minister Alan Shatter, who lost his seat in Dublin-Rathdown.

Mr Shatter said that as leader of Fine Gael, Mr Kenny had "serious questions" to answer in relation to the failings of the campaign. He declined to say whether Mr Kenny should remain on in the position.

He also singled out Mr Kenny's backroom team for criticism.

"We all got lost in fiscal space . . . That was the most bizarre commencement of a campaign that I have seen in my 30 years in politics," Mr Shatter told 'Today with Sean O'Rourke'.

"In Fine Gael there is an issue with election messaging. The obsession with focus groups and marketing, the use of outside consultants, an incapacity to, during the course of that campaign, recognise when things were going wrong."

The party's deputy leader James Reilly, who also lost his seat, said the campaign "didn't connect emotionally" with the electorate.

"We needed to make it more real," he told RTÉ's 'Drivetime', adding that he believed Mr Kenny should remain on as Taoiseach.

Fine Gael TDs will today meet in Leinster House for the first time since the election. Party sources say the meeting is expected to last several hours as TDs agree a set of proposals that will form the Fine Gael position in government negotiations.

But several TDs are expected to voice their concerns about the election at the meeting.

There will be criticism of the manner in which the campaign imploded in rural Ireland and the continued use of the slogan 'Keep the Recovery Going'. Calls during the campaign to drop the slogan were dismissed.

Irish Independent

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