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Andrew Lynch: Next Taoiseach? You’re having a laugh, Enda

Enda Kenny wants to be the next Taoiseach.

Today's disastrous opinion poll suggests that he can no longer even claim to be leader of the opposition.

It seems that no matter how unpopular this Government gets, the public's doubts about the Fine Gael leader as an alternative Taoiseach just will not go away -- and with even Kenny's own deputy refusing to back him in public, Brian Cowen is not the only party chief who has serious question marks hanging over his future this weekend.

The figures speak for themselves. Since the last general election in 2007, Fianna Fail have lost a staggering 25pc in popularity. The Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, whose support was always believed to come from natural FG voters, have disappeared off the scene and left their 2 or 3pc up for grabs.

Amazingly enough, however, FG under Kenny have completely failed to capitalise on this historic opportunity.

Their 4pc drop in support to 28pc is part of a consistent trend and sends them right back down to where they were at the last election.

Most worryingly of all, Kenny's own personal rating has tumbled another 7pc to a dismal 24pc -- suggesting that his public image is a major part of the party's overall problem.



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After narrowly surviving the leadership crisis provoked by George Lee's resignation last January, Kenny promised that from then on he was "going to be myself".

The evidence suggests are voters are even less impressed than they were when he was presumably pretending to be someone else. Although most Dail observers believe that his performances there have slightly improved, they clearly haven't got through to a public who have now decided that Eamon Gilmore and Labour represent the real alternative.

When asked on Prime Time last night if he had full confidence in Enda's leadership abilities, Richard Bruton visibly dodged the question.

That moment could turn out to be highly significant in the days ahead. The finance spokesman has never denied that he would love to emulate his brother John by becoming Taoiseach one day -- and all the evidence suggests that if the party had the courage to install him as leader, they would jump back up in popularity overnight.

On today's poll results, FG would certainly be in power after the next election -- but only as junior partners in a Labour-led Government.

For the party's younger generation of ambitious TDs represented by Leo Varadkar and Lucinda Creighton, who were barely out of nappies the last time FG actually won an election in 1982, that just isn't good enough. The old guard led by Bruton will be none too impressed either, since the next few years represent the last chance they will ever get to hold senior ministerial office.

So will Kenny survive?

As things stand, the odds are just about in his favour. Bruton is openly ambitious and would be the clear favourite in any immediate leadership contest, but he is also uncomfortably aware of the old saying: "He who wields the dagger never wears the crown."



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In other words, Bruton wants the job but is hoping that somebody else will make the first move. The most likely assassin from within the shadow cabinet is Simon Coveney, who has also said that he regards himself as a future leader.

Whatever they decide, it is long past time for FG to put the leadership issue to bed. They must either back Kenny decisively or sack him with the minimum of bloodshed -- because at a time when the public is crying out for an alternative to the current Government, agonising over their own internal problems is a luxury the opposition can't afford.

Enda Kenny recently told this journalist that to be leader of FG you had to have "the reputation of Michael Collins and the personality of Muhammad Ali".

He can add the skin of a rhinoceros to that list if he wants to survive the difficult weeks ahead.


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