A “brazen” Taoiseach Enda Kenny intends to stay in office until the summer recess following his “successful” trip to Washington DC last week, senior Fine Gael ministers have said.
Mr Kenny was originally due to declare his intentions this week to the members of Fine Gael parliamentary party but this is not expected to happen for at least two weeks.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan, speaking in Brussels, gave Mr Kenny’s desire to remain a significant boost last night by saying he should remain until at least June.
Mr Noonan said the Taoiseach will lead Ireland into the opening of the key Brexit talks at EU leader level, which will happen in late April or early May and continue into the second phase of talks in June.
“It is my own opinion that he should stay on until the second phase as well when the details of Ireland’s negotiation position have been established and signed off on and that is the end of May, early June,” Mr Noonan said.
Several Cabinet ministers last night told the Irish Examiner that the chances of Mr Kenny going sooner rather than later are “pretty low” and that before the recent Garda McCabe controversy, people were ready to see the Taoiseach in place until the summer recess.
Mr Kenny is confident that he cannot be moved before then as there is no appetite within the party for a heave and neither of the main contenders to succeed him, ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, are likely to force him from office.
“Kenny is clearly confident after his successful dealings with Donald Trump and good luck to anyone who wants him gone now. That is not going to happen. He will brazen it out,” said one minister.
“We were okay with him staying until the summer before the recent controversies. July may be pushing people’s patience but he knows he won’t be pushed out so it could be that long,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, senior Fine Gael figures have raised the possibility of a transition period to allow the new Fine Gael leader hold discussions with the Independents in Government as well as Fianna Fáil.
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes suggested that a new party leader could be in place by early May.
However, Mr Kenny would remain on as Taoiseach potentially until the Dáil recess in July, he said.
Education Minister Richard Bruton — who has yet to rule himself out of the leadership bid — indicated that he would be open to this option.
“I think the party will have to consider options like that as to whether they bring advantage. They wouldn’t be conventional but I don’t close my mind to any possibilities.
“The most important thing is that we achieve continuity without disruption to the progress we are making,” he said.
Speaking in Cork, Mr Coveney said he was not going to start outlining dates and time-frames around Mr Kenny’s departure but added that the party is “pretty relaxed about what’s happening”.
“I trust Enda to manage the process. I don’t think we’ll be waiting too long to see that process kicking into action.”
Mr Coveney added that the “vast majority” of people he had spoken to had expected Mr Kenny to remain on for the first European leaders’ meeting after Article 50 is triggered.
While Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar are seen as the main contenders, a spokesman for Frances Fitzgerald yesterday said she is “still seriously considering” putting her name forward.
He said: “The Taoiseach has said that he would outline his position at some point once he returned from Washington, so she is awaiting that.”
Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly said he expects Mr Kenny to remain in place until at least May.
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