Sunday 26 May 2019

Fine Gael can't afford to be left in 'leader limbo' by Kenny

Enda Kenny. Picture: PA
Enda Kenny. Picture: PA

Fionnán Sheahan

It's a lose-lose situation. Enda Kenny was putting the Fine Gael succession stakes on the long finger. Assuaging the concerns of his would-be successors, the Taoiseach spoke last year about his plans to pass on to a new leader - eventually.

He was making it clear the General Election would be his last as Fine Gael leader. In an interview with the Irish Independent last September, he provided his clearest signal on his own long-term political future - if he won the election.

"And when I do that, I would not seek a third term as Taoiseach and I would like to think at that point you would have a squad of men and women who are ambitious, who have got talent, who have got experience," he said.

Kenny made similar comments in the run-up to the election as he sought to become the first Fine Gael leader to be returned as Taoiseach in successive terms. Come the General Election, Kenny didn't quite win - but he was returned as Taoiseach, in a minority government, partnered with Independents and dependent on Fianna Fáil to remain in power.

The question arose again when the new Government finally came to office.

In an interview with the Irish Independent last month, he was again quizzed on how he would - even logistically - reconcile his desire to serve a full term and yet hand over to a new leader for the next General Election.

"I have a very clear process in mind and I'll set that out in due course," he said in the wide-ranging interview.

The transcript of that section of the interview is published here today to show the Taoiseach's thinking.

In effect, the same question of when and how he planned to hand over power was posed to Kenny at the fractious Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last Wednesday night.

From the interview, he states he intends to see out the full term in office of this Government and then pass on to a successor ahead of the next General Election.

And he has a "process" worked out to allow this transition to happen.

Simple? Not really. The new administration is less then secure. The prospects of this Government lasting the full five-year term of this Dáil are slim, if not non-existent.

The agreement with Fianna Fáil runs out after three years, provided it even holds for that long. The erratic nature of the Independents is there to behold on a weekly basis.

To complicate matters, Fine Gael's new rules for electing a leader mean the decision extends beyond the party's TDs, senators and MEPs to the councillors and grassroots members. At best, the new process would take a month.

In the event of a snap election, Fine Gael can't afford to be left in 'leader limbo', with Kenny still in place and no successor chosen. Besides, once you start to talk about your own departure in politics, you're as good as gone. Kenny will seek to get to the Dáil recess next week without setting out his succession process.

But it's only a matter of time before he is forced to set out his plans. And then his departure will be swift.

Irish Independent

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