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Andrew Lynch: The text that surely spelled out the end of Enda's ambitions

Getting dumped by text message is never a nice experience.

When Enda Kenny received the news of Fine Gael's latest opinion poll disaster on his mobile phone last night, he made the mistake of instantly reading out the results to his parliamentary party meeting.

The stunned silence said more than words ever could -- and suggested that June's failed leadership heave may have just been a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

Is this really the end for Enda?

The FG leader's political demise has been predicted so many times that it would be dangerous to count him out just yet.

Even so, this poll sends him right back to the danger zone -- and gives his internal enemies the best chance they will ever get to finish him off once and for all.

The figures could hardly be any more embarrassing. Despite being up against the most unpopular government in the history of the State, the main opposition party has actually slipped back to 24pc -- exactly the same position as Fianna Fail. Kenny himself has a dismally low approval rating of 25pc, while Labour's Eamon Gilmore is streaking ahead as the public's choice to be the next Taoiseach.

Until recently, Enda has been boasting that FG might even win an overall majority at the next general election.

If this result was translated into reality, however, the party would actually face the humiliation of losing Dail seats.

Junior

They could still scrape into office as Labour's junior partners -- but instead of getting his feet under the Taoiseach's desk, Kenny would be forced to go in there and beg Gilmore for a decent job.

Even before today's bombshell, Enda was already having a bad week.

The row over Mary Coughlan's pairing arrangements was a PR disaster, making him look petty, short-sighted and more interested in scoring political points than creating jobs. It left FG TDs gloomily reflecting that every time their boss tries to act like a tough guy, he ends up blowing his own foot off instead.

If Kenny had not already survived a leadership challenge just three months ago, he would certainly be facing one today.

As things stand, it remains to be seen whether his critics have the nerve to give it one more try. The easiest solution would be for Enda to admit that the game is up and voluntarily resign -- but having spent eight years of his life battling to become Taoiseach, he will not fall on his sword unless he genuinely believes that he has no alternative.

Before the rebels make a move, they need to have a hard think about who their candidate should be this time.

Richard Bruton almost certainly still wants the job, but he did himself no favours with his disastrous handling of the last campaign. That leaves the door wide open for one of FG's younger generation to stake their claim -- because while Brian Hayes, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar all gave Bruton their full support in June, they may well feel now that he had his chance and blew it.

Hayes is the most likely to go for broke, since he is still sore at being sacked by Kenny last June and has warned that the leader must up his game or face the consequences.

Coveney's standing within the party has improved since his well-timed tweet about Brian Cowen's infamous Morning Ireland interview. Varadkar's youth makes him the outsider, but his combination of arrogance and ability means that he has to be viewed as a real contender.

Dwindling

If FG are going to ditch Kenny, they need to move fast. With the Government finally agreeing to hold the three by-elections in the first quarter of next year, it is clear that their dwindling Dail majority cannot last much longer. The smart money is now on an April general election, which would give a new FG leader precious little time to impress the public as an alternative Taoiseach.

The voters have told Enda Kenny that they're just not that into him. It's now up to the people around him to make sure that he gets the message.


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