Sunday 17 December 2017

Varadkar defends Kenny despite party's views he is now 'caretaker leader'

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's position as leader of Fine Gael remains insecure, despite Leo Varadkar's insistence that he does not need to be looking over his shoulder.

Several senior sources in the party have told the Irish Independent that Mr Kenny was now viewed as "effectively a caretaker leader" while they regroup after the election disappointment.

Mr Varadkar, who is a frontrunner for the job, was sent out to put up a defence of the Taoiseach yesterday and publicly state that there is no threat to Mr Kenny's leadership.

He said the election "was a defeat but not a rout" and repeatedly insisted Mr Kenny had the full support of the parliamentary party.

"We had a parliamentary party meeting about this where everyone spoke … and we're clear as a party that Enda Kenny is our candidate for Taoiseach and we fully support his efforts to put together a coalition," Mr Varadkar said.

"In order to do that, he needs to know he doesn't need to be looking over his shoulder, and that he doesn't need to be concerned."

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' the Health Minister added: "He needs to know that his key lieutenants, key ministers who he raised up and appointed to Cabinet are behind him and they are."

He denied that senior ministers had discussed Mr Kenny's position but later added that colleagues he spoke with backed the Taoiseach to remain on.

However, there is now widespread acceptance within Fine Gael that Mr Kenny is not a viable long-term option as leader.

There is particular concern that if the impasse over the formation of a new government results in another election, the Mayo TD will have to be sidelined very quickly. Sources said the parliamentary party meeting referred to by Mr Varadkar did not engage in a 'blame game' or hear significant criticism of Mr Kenny's performance during the election campaign - but privately senior TDs and ministers admit they need to consider a change once the election dust settles.

"There is a sense of realism. Enda Kenny can't lead us into another election but nobody is plotting anything right now. It would be an insane time to do anything rash," said one ministerial source.

Another said: "He knows himself what the story is."

Some TDs defend Mr Kenny by arguing that his potential successors - Mr Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald - "did not cover themselves in glory" during the election campaign either. Each was involved in oversight committees that formulated plans for the communications strategy, manifesto and constituencies.

On Newstalk 'Lunchtime' yesterday, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said Mr Kenny had "a very clear mandate" to form a government - "if that's successful he can lead us into the next election".

However, he was less committal on Mr Kenny's future role if Fine Gael is not back in government, noting that the party rules mean he would have to undergo a vote of confidence.

Irish Independent

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