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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Varadkar calls on under-fire Kenny to set departure timeline

Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

SOCIAL protection minister Leo Varadkar has given his clearest signal yet that he expects Taoiseach Enda Kenny to set out a timeline for his departure as Fine Gael leader in the coming days.

As he faced allegations that he orchestrated attacks on the Fine Gael leader, Varadkar said: "Everyone is waiting to hear from the Taoiseach.

"The current situation is distracting and destabilising for the Government, the party and the country. I have full confidence in the Taoiseach to settle it," he added.

The minister's supporters welcomed Varadkar's comments and vowed to move on the Taoiseach by this Thursday if he does not announce when he plans to step down as leader at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday.

"If Kenny tried to stick it out, we will move," a prominent rebel TD said.

Varadkar's closest advisers said Enda Kenny "deserves the weekend" to consider his position.

However, there was panic in the Varadkar camp after the minister was branded a "judas" by an unnamed Cabinet source in the Irish Independent.

Leo Varadkar's backers blamed the Taoiseach's supporters for what they said was a "smear" on the social protection minister.

However, a number of his supporters confirmed they were talking to Varadkar about the events of the last week. Sources close to housing minister Simon Coveney insisted they would not move on Kenny and have vowed to allow him to step down in his own time. Coveney is understood to have told Kenny this last week.

The Sunday Independent also understands Coveney and Varadkar agreed there should be a leadership contest during a secret meeting in Leinster House on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Carlow Kilkenny TD Pat Deering is understood to have contacted a number of party colleagues seeking signatories for a motion of no confidence in the Fine Gael leader.

However, it is now looking unlikely that it will be put down ahead of the Wednesday meeting.

The Taoiseach's spokesman yesterday gave no indication of Enda Kenny's plans when contacted by the Sunday Independent.

"The Taoiseach will do as he has always done which is to focus on the job in hand which he will carry out with continued dignity and dedication," he said.

Fine Gael Wexford TD Michael D'Arcy, an outspoken critic of the party leadership, urged members not to "cannibalise" each other during the leadership contest.

Foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan warned an internal Fine Gael war could result in the party being bounced into an election they do not want.

"Fine Gael needs to keep calm and measured over the next few months or we'll catapult ourselves into a messy election that will play into the hands of Sinn Fein and loony Independents," Flanagan told the Sunday Independent.

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty has called on her Fine Gael colleagues to desist from issuing ultimatums to Kenny over his future as Taoiseach and party leader.

"He has done a tremendous amount for us in Fine Gael over the last 15 years and just because of that, if no other reason, he deserves the due respect, regard and space to talk to his friends and family, make his decisions and come back to us," Doherty said on RTE Radio. Yesterday Health Minister Simon Harris refused to rule out running for the leadership of Fine Gael.

He insisted he will only let his "views known" when Taoiseach Kenny steps aside.

And one of the leading contenders for the top job in the party, Housing Minister Simon Coveney, was also keeping his cards close to his chest. "I'm not going to preempt what's going to happen over the next couple of weeks," he insisted. Both men were among a number of high-profile political guests at the wedding of former Fine Gael Senator, Eugene Regan, in Dublin yesterday.

The air was thick with intrigue as low- level machinations within the party reached fever pitch.

Minister Harris said the Taoiseach should not be forced out of his job, insisting he will let his "views known" should a vacancy arise.

"I have no intention to get into these issues today. I don't think the timing is right. There is no vacancy. The Taoiseach has my full support and confidence.

"I'm working very hard at my job and if and when a vacancy arises in the future I'll make my views known then."

He stressed that he trusts Enda Kenny's "judgement" to decide when the time is right to step aside. "I'm very happy for him to make his own decision.

"It's very important that he's given space to do just that.

"I think he's absolutely owed that after the service he has given - and continues to give - our party and the country.

"The Taoiseach has served both the party and country extraordinarily well.

"He has made it very clear that he won't lead the party into the next general election and I'm very happy for the Taoiseach to set out a timeline of his own choosing in due course.''

Sunday Independent

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