Pressure on leadership rivals to force exit date from Taoiseach
Fine Gael backbenchers fear stumbling into an election with Enda Kenny still at the helm unless he moves quickly to enact a succession plan.
Pressure is growing on Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney to force the Taoiseach to give a timeline for his departure after the hugely embarrassing row over whether Fine Gael could do business with Sinn Féin.
After appearing to open the door to a future coalition, Mr Kenny issued a statement on Saturday saying he didn't see "the parties to be in any way compatible".
Fianna Fáil has been closely watching the row, with Willie O'Dea telling the Irish Independent it was "mind-boggling" to see how "naïve" the Taoiseach was to "fall right into an obvious trap set by Sinn Féin".
Sources said that a small group of backbenchers, who came close to demanding Mr Kenny's resignation during the summer, believe he is trying to remain on as leader long enough that he will "accidentally on purpose" have to lead them into another election.
The unprecedented scene of Cabinet ministers publicly distancing themselves from Mr Kenny over the weekend has badly damaged his standing within Fine Gael.
However, sources said it is not enough for any of the main leadership contenders to launch a heave as "most people genuinely want Enda to go on his own terms".
Social Protection Minister Mr Varadkar, who is seen as the frontrunner to replace Mr Kenny, pointedly said on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' that Mr Kenny "is going to want to preserve his legacy as a great leader for Fine Gael".
"He'll know the right time to step down and ensure there's an orderly transition," he said.
This was interpreted by some TDs as an indication that the ball is still in Mr Kenny's court - but he needs to play his next move carefully "to avoid chaos".
One backbench TD said: "Kenny needs to say when he's going to go. There's a hardening of opinion that we need a change, to pass control to the next generation.
"Fianna Fáil are increasing in the polls and Sinn Féin are playing a new game so we need to react. A new leader would change the dynamic, even if that meant shortening the lifetime of the Government."
However, former Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton summed up what many Fine Gael TDs are saying privately, tweeting: "Getting to point now of where if you want top job, time to put up shut up." And another Cabinet minister told the Irish Independent: "The situation is very precarious. There's a lot of plotting going on."
A number of Fine Gael backbenchers said last night that they wanted to save their comments on what is now being considered "the Sinn Féin gaffe" until a meeting of the parliamentary party on Wednesday.
Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd, who shares a constituency with Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams and Imelda Munster, said that he welcomed the Taoiseach's clarification.
"I think it's very clear that we won't be doing a deal with Sinn Féin. That is a view that is very strong across the whole party," Mr O'Dowd said.
"I don't think the Taoiseach set out to end up in this situation. It was more by accident than intent, so I'm glad he has clarified the position."
Fianna Fáil's Mr O'Dea said he thinks "Enda Kenny's mask has slipped".
"It seems he would do a deal with Kim Jong-un if it allowed him to stay in power," he said.
He said Sinn Féin's talk of entering a coalition as a junior partner was a "cynical ploy to get the middle class who see them as undemocratic and controlled from the North as now being responsible. But Kenny fell for it hook, line and sinker".
Asked about the growing calls for Mr Varadkar to intervene, Mr O'Dea said: "You can only be the great pretender for so long."