Thursday 26 April 2018

Leadership battle: Kenny's fate will be decided by group of 14

Fionnan Sheahan, Michael Brennan and Aine Kerr

A group of 14 Fine Gael members will decide the future of party leader Enda Kenny tomorrow, the Irish Independent has learned.

But both the pro- and anti-Kenny camps agreed last night that at least a third of the parliamentary party will declare no confidence in the party leader in tomorrow's vote.

The numbers still appear to be in Mr Kenny's favour, but there are widespread suggestions he will still have to resign, even before tomorrow's meeting.

There are 70 members in the parliamentary party and both sides agree on the way 51 will vote. Already 29 have publicly declared their support for Mr Kenny and another four are regarded as definitely backing him. That makes it 33 on his side.

However, the anti-Kenny side says there is a doubt over five of these votes. They question whether three members who say they will vote for the leader will do so in a secret ballot. And another two are regarded as having the potential to change their vote in the next 24 hours.

Twelve members, 10 of whom are frontbenchers, have publicly said they are against Mr Kenny, with another 11 regarded by both sides as definitely voting against him.

Therefore, both camps agree there are 28 definitely backing Mr Kenny and 23 definitely not.

There are then 14 members who have yet to publicly say where they stand, with those involved in the campaign feeling their votes are up for grabs.

This group includes justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan, from Laois-Offaly, who has previously strongly backed Mr Kenny, but would not state his intentions yesterday, and Limerick East's Kieran O'Donnell, who is in the same boat.

Also on the list are Dublin North-East's Terence Flanagan TD; Longford-Westmeath's Senator Nicky McFadden; Cork South-Central's Deirdre Clune TD and Senator Jerry Buttimer; Cork East's David Stanton TD; Limerick East's Michael Noonan TD; Clare's Pat Breen TD; Tipperary North's Noel Coonan TD; Kerry South's Senator Paul Coghlan; Galway West's Padraic McCormack, the party chairman who is specifically staying out of saying who he is backing; Galway East's Ulick Burke; and Senator Ciaran Cannon.

Mr Kenny last night made a peace offering to the rebel 'Gang of Nine' frontbench members who declared a lack of confidence in his leadership of the party.


He indicated he will leave the door open for any of them to be reappointed to his frontbench next week -- a move not regarded as credible for all the existing members.

But the Fine Gael leader's position became increasingly untenable yesterday as more than half of his frontbench said they no longer had confidence in his leadership.

Mr Kenny is banking on his parliamentary party weighing in behind him in a crucial vote of confidence tomorrow as the battle for the leadership became increasingly bitter.

Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar, Olwyn Enright, Brian Hayes and Denis Naughten were among nine frontbenchers to join Richard Bruton in expressing no confidence in Mr Kenny.

But the group of nine did not say they are backing Mr Bruton at this time, leaving the prospect of a leadership contest open if Mr Kenny is ousted.

There were warnings from Mr Kenny's camp last night that such a leadership contest could take months to resolve as it would involve sending ballot papers to councillors and members who would have votes in an electoral college.

Mr Kenny pulled the rug out from under the dissidents' plans to attack his leadership by cutting the highly anticipated frontbench meeting short. On a day of drama he then dissolved his party frontbench and announced he will be launching a new line-up next Monday.

The emergence of the entire nine frontbench members who are expected to go against Mr Kenny was a boost to those against the leader and evidence of the weakness of his position.

Mr Kenny struck a conciliatory tone last night as he said anybody who accepted the result can still serve in the party. But sacked finance spokesman Mr Bruton and Mr Naughten are among those not expected to be reappointed in such a scenario.

Last night, the canvassing within the party was intense, with both sides believing victory was in sight, although Mr Kenny's was the more confident.

"It's not in your face. There was an extensive meeting on the collective analysis of names," a source said.

"There is no heavy canvassing right now. There is no need for it. We want a vote because we believe it would be convincing. Bring it on."

Irish Independent

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