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Andrew Lynch: Lee's dramatic exit has left Kenny needing pals like never before to beat new army of doubters

Enda Kenny's short-term survival prospects can be summed up very simply. If even a handful of Fine Gael TDs come out against him over the next few days, then the bandwagon will start to roll and he will almost certainly be finished.

If they decide to close ranks instead, then he can stagger on -- badly wounded, but with the precious breathing space he needs to reassert his leadership.

This leaves the FG parliamentary party with an agonising dilemma. At least half of them would probably get rid of Kenny in the morning if they thought it could be done without any bloodshed.

Their problem is that after seven and a half years of waiting to become Taoiseach, there is no way he will go quietly -- and with memories still fresh of how leadership battles almost destroyed the party in the recent past, nobody wants to be seen as the traitor who first plunged in the knife.

The national debate ignited by George Lee's stunning resignation is remarkably similar to the Roy Keane-Mick McCarthy spat of May 2002 (by sheer coincidence, just a fortnight before Enda was elected FG leader).

A talented but maverick player has walked out in a huff because he didn't believe he was getting the necessary support from his team manager.

You can either criticise the rebel's immaturity or applaud him for taking a stand -- and with 83pc backing in a Liveline poll, it looks as if so far the battle for public approval is going Lee's way.

To be fair to FG, they have done a pretty good job of circling the wagons so far. It's no coincidence, however, that the most pointed comments so far have come from three of the party's youngest and most ambitious TDs.

Leo Varadkar has stated bluntly that Kenny should have offered Lee a frontbench position before it was too late to prevent the ex-RTE man from storming off. Lucinda Creighton complains that their star recruit was simply not handled very well. Simon Coveney, with refreshing honesty, admits: "I don't care what the FG spin-doctors say, this is bad news for us."

Each of these three people will have a big say in the future of FG -- and on the question of Kenny's leadership, it sounds ominously as if they're keeping their options open.

The key player right now, however, is finance spokesman Richard Bruton. As the only FG TD who can rival Lee in the popularity and economic expertise stakes, any move by him against Kenny would settle the issue within 48 hours. The deputy leader is a loyalist by nature, but he must realise that this could be the opportunity of a lifetime to emulate his brother and wind up as Taoiseach.

Assuming that Kenny makes it through this week, the next round of opinion polls will be crucial. While FG are still riding high, there has been some slippage over the past couple of months and the leader's own rating is still desperately low.

If that trend continues, then the alarm bells will start to ring -- because after six straight general election defeats, the thought of a seventh is too much for most TDs to bear.

As for Fianna Fail, they cannot believe their luck. For the first time in ages, they can sit back and enjoy the fun as the spotlight is turned on another party's problems.

The best outcome for them would be to see Kenny damaged but left in place, the worst would be a smooth transition to a Bruton leadership.

George Lee's political career was like a shooting star, briefly lighting up the sky before it suddenly crashed down to Earth. The big question now is how much collateral damage he leaves behind.

He may be a big loss to Irish politics -- but, in the long run, someone else is likely to be the biggest loser of all.


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