Fine Gael Ministers insist new party leader elected by Easter
Fine Gael ministers have tonight insisted a new party leader will be elected by Easter.
Mr Kenny told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting he will deal with the leadership issue “effectively and conclusively” following his return from Washington in March.
The Taoiseach did not give a clear indication of when he will exactly step down but Fine Gael ministers have said they expect to begin the process of electing a new leader the week after he returns.
One minister said Mr Kenny gave a “clear indication” that a leadership contest will be “done by Easter”. The minister said it is now “up to Enda Kenny to honour that” and insisted the “contest begins week after St Paddy’s Day”.
The view was supported by at least two other ministers.
Enda Kenny took a series of swipes at his potential challengers, telling TDs and senators that he is “not afraid” of motions of no confidence.
Arriving 12 minutes late and reading pre-prepared notes, Mr Kenny came out fighting at tonight’s parliamentary party meeting as he faced down his critics within the party.
He said motions of no confidence and veiled threats have “no effect” on him, a party source said.
“There wasn’t a whimper out of any of the rebels. He had them on the ropes and told them all where to go.”
Mr Kenny told them he has already said he will depart as leader and that he will do so in his own way.
Other sources said that while Mr Kenny did not name either Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney, his remarks were clearly directed at them and their camps.
It's believed Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney are to put their contest ‘on ice’ after the Taoiseach’s defiant performance.
Speaking to Independent.ie Mr Coveney said Enda Kenny spoke with “authority and experience”.
He said Mr Kenny struck the right note and the key thing now was to ensure the unity of the party.
In a further sign that TDs will now back away from criticism of the Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said the Taoiseach has “settled the matter”.
“The leadership will be dealt with effectively and conclusively after the St Patrick's Day visits.
“I think everyone is relieved that we have avoided damaging divisions,” he said.
The Taoiseach was described as “nervous” and “under pressure” and drank from a glass of water during the meeting.
Mr Kenny took a clear swipe at Dublin North West TD Noel Rock, who was the first politician to call for him to go.
As Mr Rock was taking notes of the meeting in his role as secretary, Mr Kenny said: “I hope the Secretary can put down his pen and listen.”
Sources described the Taoiseach as “combative” and said there was a “lot of resentment” in the room.
Earlier, party chairman Martin Heydon asked that all TDs and senators put their phones in their pockets.
He said that if people need to leave the room they can, but they may well be perceived as having leaked to the media.
In a statement tonight the chairman of the Fine Gael party Martin Heydon said the party is now “united”.
“The Taoiseach has addressed this issue and he will tell us of his intentions after his trip to the US next month,” he said.
“He has already said he will not lead Fine Gael into the next General Election. He reiterated that position again tonight.”
The Kildare TD said Fine Gael would continue to focus on their work in Government.
“Our motivation is the people of this country and the issues that matter to them. We continue to focus on implementing the Programme for Government,” he said.
“Over 200,000 jobs have been created since 2012. Employment has dropped from more than 15pc to 6.8pc last month. We are now on course to achieving full employment which is remarkable considering where we were six years ago.
“There are international challenges coming with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and a potentially changing European frontier. We are concentrating and working night and day on these issues. Fine Gael’s work continues.”