Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s closest allies within Cabinet face being wiped out once he leaves office, the Irish Examiner can reveal.
Senior Fine Gael ministers including Frances Fitzgerald, Michael Noonan, Charlie Flanagan, and Richard Bruton face the axe from Cabinet once Enda Kenny steps down, Simon Coveney has told his supporters.
It is understood that Mr Coveney — who is seen to be neck and neck with Leo Varadakar to take over as leader once Mr Kenny resigns — believes a radical “generational change” is needed within the party to set them up on a steady footing for a general election.
But when pressed on his departure date, Mr Kenny last night remained defiant and said his main priority is Brexit negotiations. He indicated he does not intend on stepping down soon by detailing a number of international trips he will be taking as Taoiseach in the coming weeks.
However, privately Mr Kenny has admitted to senior colleagues that he is “disappointed” in himself and acknowledges he will not be able to stay on for as long as he intended.
The jockeying for support had already began around Leinster House yesterday, with lists being drawn up putting Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar on between 25 and 30 votes each out of a total of 71 parliamentary ballots.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is expected to remain in the leadership race, despite a dismal week during which she came under fire for her handling of the McCabe scandal. It is likely that Mr Bruton, who previously staged a failed heave against Mr Kenny, will also throw his name into the hat. While party insiders have not ruled out Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe who is viewed as a measured and steady hand.
As the two main contenders quietly begin seeking support from TDs and senators, the terms of reference for the tribunal into smears against Sgt Maurice McCabe and other garda whistleblowers passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas yesterday.
While all members of Fine Gael believe Mr Kenny must make clear his plan to step down, there is divergence amongst members as to how quickly this should happen.
It is understood that Mr Coveney and many of his supporters would like to give the leader space between this week’s crisis and his departure; others, mainly in Mr Varadkar’s camp want Mr Kenny gone almost immediately.
Mr Kenny acknowledged to senior Fine Gael members that it had been a “bad week” for both him personally and for his party after he was forced to admit a mea cupla for detailing a conversation with Katherine Zappone which never took place.
Mr Kenny has long maintained that he would remain in place until 2018, but would not lead his party into the next general election, but he has confided in colleagues that this cannot now happen.
Publicly, however, Mr Kenny refused to show signs of weakness. “I am focusing entirely on a really busy and challenging time ahead and we have got lots of work for all of our party to engage themselves in, ministerial portfolios and programmes for Government to implement, that’s what we will be about,” he told reporters at an event in Dublin last night.
Despite a call from backbencher Pat Deering to make his intentions known on when he will stand down, or possibly face a vote of no confidence at the parliamentary party meeting next week, Mr Kenny maintained that it had been an “ordinary working day”.
“Politics is a vocation, it draws you into stormy waters as well as calm.
“Today for me was a very ordinary working day, we had a cabinet meeting at 7.30am where we approved and signed off on the terms of reference for the public inquiry into the allegations of a sustained smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Tomorrow is another ordinary working day,” Mr Kenny said.
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