Tuesday 23 January 2018

Fine Gael jitters as ministers fear Kenny will try to fudge his exit date

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Kevin Doyle, Cormac McQuinn and Ralph Riegel

Fears that Enda Kenny won't name a specific date for his departure as Taoiseach are gripping Fine Gael ahead of a crunch meeting tomorrow.

Several ministers and TDs have told the Irish Independent they suspect Mr Kenny will try to "dig in", "fudge the issue" and "avoid giving a clear outline of his intentions".

Sources said such a scenario would lead to "panic" and a possible "bloodbath in the party".

A number of backbench TDs have held off tabling a motion of no confidence in Mr Kenny but are likely to reverse that decision as early as Thursday if they are not satisfied with his answers at the parliamentary party meeting.

Pressure will also ramp up on the frontrunners to succeed the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, to wield the knife if he tries to cling longer than necessary.

"I don't expect clear timelines. He will explain the work he has to do in the US and on Brexit. He's going to look for a couple of months. He won't be saying 'I'll be gone by a certain date'," one minister said.

Another said: "If Kenny lets this develop, it could be a very nasty campaign. He hasn't a notion of going.

"You have Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney saying 'give him time', but if they keep that up he won't be gone before Christmas. He is trying to divide and conquer."

One backbench TD said: "He'll try to drag this out for his own reasons. The party can't let that happen."

Read more: Coveney warns FG TDs to 'back off' Enda Kenny - while Harris and Bruton refuse to rule themselves out of race

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

While Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney have told party members to "trust" the Taoiseach's judgment, senior party sources last night said they were "clueless" as to the Taoiseach's thinking.

Sources who would be considered close to Mr Kenny said it was likely only his wife Fionnuala was fully aware of his plan.

Cork South West TD Jim Daly has indicated that if the Taoiseach doesn't provide a workable timeframe for his exit he is prepared to challenge at tomorrow's meeting.

A number of other TDs, including party vice-chairman Pat Dearing, are understood to be prepared to table a no confidence motion that threatens to split the party down the middle.

Possible motion: Fine Gael Vice Chairman Pat DeEring. Photo: Tom Burke
Possible motion: Fine Gael Vice Chairman Pat DeEring. Photo: Tom Burke

"If he was wise he'd go now. He wants Paddy's Day, then it's Brexit and before you know there's a budget," a junior minister said.

Speaking in Cork yesterday, Mr Coveney appealed for calm within the Fine Gael ranks and signalled he would not back a no confidence motion.

"What we have is a lot of impatience from some people. But what I have said very clearly over the weekend is that I trust the Taoiseach's judgment to manage a process of transition within the party but also a process of transition for the country," he said.

The Housing Minister said Mr Kenny "deserves the time and space" to step down of his own volition "and I am not going to start laying down timetables or conditions and I am certainly not going to support anybody who suggests that we should be forcing the issue".

He criticised colleagues for "demanding timelines" but repeated his belief that Mr Kenny would set the process in train "quite quickly" after St Patrick's Day in the White House.

Irish Independent

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