FG 'relaxed' over Kenny staying as Taoiseach until June
Enda Kenny will remain as Taoiseach until at least June as he warned his future successor faces a "short period of time to reflect" before taking over the leadership.
Mr Kenny last night confirmed he plans to announce his departure after a crucial EU summit on April 29 - but indicated that he would remain in place for the duration of the upcoming Fine Gael leadership contest.
With a contest scheduled to last just over three weeks, it appears inevitable Mr Kenny will remain in the job until the summer, much to the dismay of his critics.
For the first time, Mr Kenny last night spoke about his potential successor, who he said would be "elected by the various segments of the party".
He insisted that the candidates would be given a short period, "not too long", to map out their stalls ahead of a leadership contest.
At last night's parliamentary party meeting, Mr Kenny began his address by telling TDs and senators that his mobile phone was remaining on as he was expecting a call from British Prime Minister Theresa May following the London terrorist attack.
He said he would be "very busy" over the coming weeks and would today attend the funeral of the late Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.
The Fine Gael leader then outlined a series of potential scenarios in relation to Stormont, including the prospect of fresh elections if no government is formed.
He spoke about his time in the US last week - and received a round of applause and personal praise from senators Paudie Coffey and Ray Butler.
Mr Kenny then emphasised the importance of upcoming Brexit talks, insisting he will remain in place until the EU summit on April 29, when EU leaders will map out their strategy.
Several sources say they now believe Mr Kenny could trigger a leadership contest in early May and would remain as Taoiseach for the negotiations that follow the April 29 meeting.
TDs admitted he gave his clearest indication yet that he therefore could remain on as Taoiseach until late May or June, when the election result concludes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan told RTÉ there was an "expectation" among EU leaders that Mr Kenny would remain in place for the start of the negotiations.
Meanwhile, one of the frontrunners in the race to succeed Mr Kenny yesterday said Fine Gael is "pretty relaxed" about when he steps down as leader.
In a further sign that the Taoiseach will be allowed to remain in office until the summer, Simon Coveney said delays to the triggering of formal Brexit negotiations had "extended things somewhat".
But he said all of Fine Gael "expected" that Mr Kenny would be at the April 29 Brexit meeting. "There's nearly more of an obsession outside Fine Gael than in it. I think the party is pretty relaxed at the moment," he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk radio.
Mr Coveney said there was merit in sending the incumbent Taoiseach to the initial Brexit meetings as he had been preparing for the negotiations for more than a year.
"The actual deal is done based on trust between senior political figures," he said.