Wednesday 25 April 2018

Chairman Mayo is a non-runner as FG plans for Kenny departure

Enda Kenny leads the way with Dr Liam Twomey (right) and Paul Kehoe (left) in 2004
Enda Kenny leads the way with Dr Liam Twomey (right) and Paul Kehoe (left) in 2004

Philip Ryan Political Correspondent

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

And with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in hiding over the latest Irish Water fiasco perhaps Government chief whip Paul Kehoe felt lonesome.

Any other explanations for Kehoe's sudden burst of adoration for the Fine Gael leader are welcome.

As the Chief Whip's declaration of '10 more years of Enda' left many of his own party members, let alone the public, scratching their heads.

Others genuinely fear the suggestion will cost the party votes, with many believing Enda's sell buy date is nearing an end. Even Kehoe's constituency colleague and soon-to-be retired Wexford TD, Liam Twomey, denounced the suggestion as "crazy".

Twomey noted that Enda will be leader of Fine Gael for 15 years in two years' time.

"No-one wants a Chinese-style party leadership, if he stayed on beyond 15 years he would be doing more damage than good," he told the Irish Independent.

Twomey said there is an expectation among the parliamentary party that Enda will step down within a year or two of his second term in office, should he be re-elected as Taoiseach.

"Everyone thinks Enda has done a great job with the economy but there is only so long he can stay around," said a Fine Gael source.

Last weekend, the 'Sunday Independent'/Millward Brown opinion poll showed the Taoiseach's personal popularity rate has plummeted.

This is despite turning around the economy, reducing unemployment and all the other great things his advisers like to repeat ad nauseam.

The current debate over his ambition to lead the party into the future is not his own doing, but he has suggested in the past that he will serve out a full-term on the other side of a general election.

This would put him on the other side of 70 in 2020, should the next Government see out its full-term.

The Taoiseach is undoubtedly sprightly for his age, and as Limerick TD Patrick O'Donovan pointed out this week: "How many other party leaders could cycle the Ring of Kerry?"

Nonetheless, Enda could face accusations of 'bed-blocking' if he does not step down graciously and make room for a fresh-faced heir apparent.

And they are lining up.

Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, Simon Coveney, who is tipped for the top job, played down the prospect of 'endless Enda'.

"This was a view by the Government Chief Whip who made a pretty innocent comment," Mr Coveney insisted.

"Ireland is a democracy, the people will decide who the Taoiseach is and who the Government is and I will let the Taoiseach make comments on what he wants to do in the future," he added.

Paschal Donohoe, who is a good outside bet, was also notably cool on the topic when he was pushed for a comment earlier in the week.

The bookie's favourite, Health Minister Leo Varadkar, is reluctant to weigh into the debate but recent polls show he is the clear frontrunner to take over from Enda.

Liam Twomey believes Varadkar in charge would help "rejuvenate" Fine Gael after what is sure to be a difficult election.

Others in the party feel the same, but some believe he still needs another term at the Cabinet table before he can start calling the shots.

Then there's Justice Minister France Fitzgerald who has proven her competence in the past year and become popular among her colleagues.

Fitzgerald is an outside bet but is seen as a safe pair of hands who could keep the ship steady while Varadkar matures.

There will obviously be no heaves against Enda this side of the election - and what happens on the other-side will very much depend on the result.

On current poll results, Fine Gael is facing an up-ill challenge to land a second term in Government.

And anything but a strong majority will leave the door wide open for a leadership challenge.

The Taoiseach has proved his resilience in the past when faced with a heave but, after 15 years at the top, he may feel it's time to pass the torch the next time.

Irish Independent

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