Saturday 19 January 2019

Analysis: Endless Enda and his secret 'process' will keep him in power until summer

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with 7 month old Savanah Marie who was at the St. Patricks Day parade with her grandfather Mark Cassels in New York. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with 7 month old Savanah Marie who was at the St. Patricks Day parade with her grandfather Mark Cassels in New York. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Fionnán Sheahan

Enda Kenny knows exactly how he is going to stand down. He has it all planned out down to the final detail.

He just hasn't told anyone.

It's 18 months now since Mr Kenny said he won't be leading Fine Gael into another general election. So he knew the day would eventually come when he would have to pass the baton while still in government.

Last year, after he was eventually returned to office, he again spoke about fulfilling his term as Taoiseach and how he would ensure there was a successor in place to lead the Fine Gael party into the next election.

"I have a very clear process in mind and I'll set that out in due course. And I've got a lot of work to do between this and then," he told the Irish Independent.

"I have a very clear understanding of what it is that I am going to do and I will set that out in due course."

The timescale on Mr Kenny's departure from office has sped up a bit in recent months.

But he's still clinging on.

The Taoiseach looked to be on his last legs a month ago. But he bought himself time. Mr Kenny is a master of reading the political tea leaves.

'Live to fight another day' might well be his motto.

He got out of a corner in the Fine Gael parliamentary party when it looked like he was finished. He kicked to touch for St Patrick's Day. In reality, he knew the heat would have dissipated by the time he returned.

Buoyed up by his trip to the States, he's now talking confidently about still being in place in May.

He has now set a deadline of April 29, when there is a crucial EU leaders meeting on Brexit, for dealing with the leadership issue.

Once again, he said there will be an orderly transition and he knows what has to be done. Now supporters are saying he can easily make it to the summer. But it doesn't mean the leadership contest has to wait until the holidays.

"He can remain as Taoiseach and tell the party to go ahead and elect a new leader. He can resign as leader but be Taoiseach until July. You can have a separate leader and Taoiseach," a TD supporter of Mr Kenny said.

And there is historic precedent being cited.

John A Costello served as Taoiseach in the Fine Gael-led inter-party government formed in 1948, without being the party leader. But the then leader Richard Mulcahy was not acceptable to the other participants, primarily Clann na Poblachta, due to his role in Civil War executions.

"Sure, he can easily be Taoiseach until July that way," a party figure said.

The leadership contenders, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, are unlikely to make a move for different reasons.

Mr Varadkar can't afford to be seen to be the figure who thrust in the knife. The last round of backbench calls for Mr Kenny's departure were too close to Mr Varadkar for comfort.

Mr Coveney needs the extra time to make up the lost ground on his competitor.

"The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will become and closer it will be," a minister said.

Irish Independent

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