Monday 19 March 2018

'Angst' in FG threatens to topple Kenny

Martin warns over future of Government

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Collins
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's immediate future as Fine Gael leader is in jeopardy after he was forced to issue a humiliating statement yesterday insisting he would not go into government with Sinn Fein.

As fury intensified around Enda Kenny's handling of the embarrassing crisis, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin last night warned "internal Fine Gael angst" could collapse the Government.

But Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald came to the defence of the Taoiseach, insisting he had not suggested a change in Fine Gael policy but rather had commented on the changing nature of election results.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed Enda Kenny's statement. He said: "In politics you have to make compromises to get things done but if you don't have red lines, then you stand for nothing. This is a red line for me."

However, the Taoiseach's latest blunder has led to increased discussion around his leadership and he is likely to face demands early this week to set out his plans for departure when he faces his parliamentary party.

There was speculation in Fine Gael last night that Mr Kenny may be pressured to resign as leader by Easter.

A Cabinet minister last week also said he believed Mr Kenny would step down in the summer to allow a leadership campaign to take place during the Dail recess.

Ms Fitzgerald last night told the Sunday Independent that Mr Kenny had "made it absolutely clear that we do not see a future with a coalition with Sinn Fein and I don't see us in coalition with Sinn Fein".

However, the controversy has caused serious concern in Fine Gael ranks. Several senior politicians yesterday made contact with this newspaper to set out their deep unease with the Taoiseach's comments last week which led to his statement yesterday.

The Cabinet ministers and backbench TDs said they been inundated with calls from angry constituents who fear their support could see Sinn Fein put into power after Mr Kenny's expressed view.

There are real concerns that the Taoiseach's comments could see the party lose a significant amount of votes should an election be called.

One senior minister said Mr Kenny was "handing votes" to Fianna Fail by suggesting Fine Gael would work with Sinn Fein.

"Our message was always that Fianna Fail would go into government with Sinn Fein because there is a group of Fianna Fail TDs who have said they are interested in working with Sinn Fein," the minister said. "The Taoiseach's comments throw that out the window."

However, speaking to the Sunday Independent last night, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Fine Gael should "focus less on politics and more on policies" as people are "fed up" hearing about the party's internal workings.

He added that he was committed to the confidence and supply agreement, but was concerned that "internal Fine Gael angst" would bring down the Government.

In an attempt to dampen the controversy, Mr Kenny was yesterday forced into making a statement. "The Fine Gael party position is, has been and will remain, not to enter into coalition government with Sinn Fein," he said.

It is understood the Government is eager to bring an end to the controversy around the Taoiseach's position ahead of a State visit by UK Prime Minister Theresa May who will arrive tomorrow.

Read More: The questions we asked the Taoiseach

There is also growing frustration among Fine Gael TDs and senators over the failure of Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney to bring the leadership issue to a head.

Mr Kenny's official position is that he will step down as Fine Gael leader before the next general election in 2018. However, should the minority government fall before then Fine Gael may not be in a position to elect a new leader.

Sources close to Mr Varadkar said he would not be "goaded" into moving against the party leader.

Ms Fitzgerald said the Taoiseach was aware of the mood within the party surrounding his leadership.

"The general view in the party has been he is as tuned into the situation as anyone else, and he has made his priorities clear at the moment and he also has said he won't lead the party into the future. I have no doubt he will deal with that in the right way," she said.

At a monthly media briefing for political correspondents last week, Mr Kenny was asked on three separate occasions if he would enter into government with Sinn Fein and each time refused to give an answer.

The question arose after Mary Lou McDonald suggested Sinn Fein should change its position of going into government only if it is the majority party.

At the same press conference, Mr Kenny said he was in favour of a united Ireland and would use Brexit negotiations to ensure there continued to be an opportunity for a border poll after Britain leaves the EU. "I will be negotiating very strongly to see that Ireland's rights here are defended and I will say this to Prime Minister May and the language of the negotiated agreement should contain the opportunity that is now in the Good Friday Agreement, voted on by the people," he added. "If, at some future time, should people decide we should have a united Ireland then that's what they can have in that opportunity."

Meanwhile, Mr Martin branded Sinn Fein an "undemocratic organisation" after Michelle O'Neill was appointed as the party's most senior politician in the North without an internal party election.

"We saw last week how Michelle O'Neill was appointed, not elected as the leader of Sinn Fein in the North, by Gerry Adams and 'others' without even saying who the 'others' are. They are anonymous and hidden for some reason. This activity is not normal behaviour for any democratic Republican party," he told the Sunday Independent.

"Their decision to collapse the Northern institutions for party political reasons less than a year after an election shows just how cynical and unaccountable they can be.

"When the smoke clears, people will see that nothing has changed. It's only a year ago that an independent intelligence report found that the Provisional Army Council oversaw Sinn Fein strategy, retained an intelligence- gathering capability and still maintained weaponry.

"It's two months since Gerry Adams refused to provide evidence to the gardai for their investigation into the murder of Brian Stack. "His entire party, North and south, defended his decision and all those who stood against this hypocrisy were condemned as enemies of the peace process."

Sunday Independent

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