Saturday 17 March 2018

Enda Kenny in race to summer recess amid storm over his leadership

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Cormac McQuinn, Miriam Donohoe and Caroline Crawford

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is racing to the Dáil's recess in the hope that the questions hanging over his leadership will be diffused over the break.

After enduring perhaps his most gruelling week at the helm of Fine Gael, the Taoiseach aims to brazen it out for less than a fortnight before the summer holidays provide respite from the leadership storm.

Pressure is mounting on Enda Kenny to clearly explain a timeline for his departure from the Department of Taoiseach with one Fine Gael TD saying he should resign by September.

Kerry backbencher Brendan Griffin said the party cannot trust Fianna Fáil not to use October's budget to spark an election.

The two parties have a three budget deal but Mr Griffin believes that Michael Martin's party are already taking advantage of the arrangement.

And he claimed the Independent members of government are forcing Fine Gael to deviate from its core values and principles.

In a statement to RTE, Mr Griffin said Fianna Fáil could create a reason "during Budget negotiations, most like  on an issue that would make Fine Gael look as bad as possible".

The TD said that not having a new leader in place by before an election the party "would be decimated and Fianna Fáil would most likely return to power in large numbers."

"I would have major fears for the progress we have made as a country in recent years in that event," he said.

A senior Fine Gael source said: "I don't think he (Mr Kenny) has much of a strategy. I think everyone wants to get to the summer recess."

And a Fianna Fáil source agreed that Fine Gael was trying to run out the clock, saying: "I think that's obviously what they're up to. Enda Kenny is trying to get to the recess."

Ministers Joe McHugh and Heather Humphreys last night added their voices to those calling for Mr Kenny to be given time to decide on his plans for stepping down.

Mr Kenny, meanwhile, has maintained his silence on the matter, despite rumblings over the weekend that backbench TDs were discussing formally questioning his leadership at a Fine Gael meeting this week.

The senior Fine Gael source said that Mr Kenny and his team of ministers had been on an election footing since last September.

They have been working "hammer and tongs" over the campaign and the talks to form a government.

He said that the main contenders to take over from Mr Kenny - the likes of Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald - had no appetite for challenging the leadership now.

"They're all tired and exhausted and this (the debate over Mr Kenny's leadership)doesn't help any of the pretenders to the crown."

The source dismissed the significance of any backbench plotting, saying those involved are disgruntled TDs who weren't given jobs by Mr Kenny.

Last night, International Development Minister Joe McHugh said he believed Mr Kenny should be given the summer to make a decision on his future.

Speaking during a visit to Uganda he said: "The Taoiseach has already indicated that he will not be leading out on the next general election. I think after all he has done for the country he should be afforded respect and given the summer to make a decision."

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys also added her voice to Cabinet colleagues rallying around the embattled Taoiseach.

She said: "Enda Kenny has my absolute and full support and I feel that he should be given the time and space to decide himself when to go."

Social Protection Minister Mr Varadkar however, while continuing to back Mr Kenny, was slow to say if he backed the Taoiseach's reappointment of Dr James Reilly as Fine Gael deputy leader.

That unexplained announcement last Wednesday took Mr Kenny's Cabinet colleagues by surprise and became a lightening rod for discontent in the party.

Asked on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' if he backed Mr Kenny's choice, Mr Varadkar initially said he wasn't consulted and it was the Taoiseach's decision.

When asked again, he said: "I think it's something that came as a bit of a surprise to a lot of people in the party in general but it is a decision that Enda Kenny is entitled to make and he has made it.

"Therefore I support it."

Irish Independent

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