LATEST: Leadership contenders express relief at party meeting outcome

Latest: Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said Mr Kenny had shown an authority that would hopefully deliver a process and a transition that would be well managed that would keep the party together and the Government together, writes Juno McEnroe and Daniel McConnell.

    • Fine Gael party members met at 5.30pm today to hear from Taoiseach about his departure from office

    • Kenny announced that he will deal with his departure plans after his visit to the US for St Patrick's Day

    • Kenny told the meeting that he will not be swayed by "caucuses or statements", after recent threats to topple him

    • Fine Gael had requested TDs and senators to hand over their phones at tonight’s meeting

    • The request had been made "out of respect" for Enda Kenny and due to concerns over previous leaks

    • Charlie Flanagan has said that the Government’s work has not been interrupted by leadership issues

    • Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney have both expressed relief at the outcome of the party meeting

Update 8.48pm: Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said Mr Kenny had shown an authority that would hopefully deliver a process and a transition that would be well managed that would keep the party together and the Government together, writes Juno McEnroe and Daniel McConnell.

"More or less what I was hoping would happen did happen,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he was very happy with the Taoiseach's speech adding that he managed to convince the room that the matter will be dealt with on his return from Washington DC.

Mr Coveney, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said Mr Kenny did not offer any apology for his mishandling of the Maurice McCabe crisis.

"That was last week's matter. He thankfully rose above that. He was clear and that is very welcome," he said.

Leo Varadkar commented: "The Taoiseach has settled the matter. The leadership will be dealt with effectively and conclusively after the St Patrick's Day visits. I think everyone is relieved that we have avoided damaging divisions."

Update 7.27pm: Taoiseach Enda Kenny told a Fine Gael party meeting this evening that he will not be swayed by "caucuses" or "statements", after recent threats to topple the party leader, writes Juno McEnroe and Daniel McConnell.

Mr Kenny arrived late to the Leinster House meeting and put down several pages of notes before he spoke to anxious TDs, senators and MEPs.

Sources present told the Irish Examiner that Mr Kenny was "stern" and to the point during his address, which came after his commitment on the weekend to respond to party calls for him to set out when he would resign.

He told members that he had “good judgement” and had over 40 years of experience in politics.

He also said that Fine Gael needed to think about how it wanted to “hand the party over” and that members should not “tear” themselves apart.

Mr Kenny outlined a series of commitments he had in the United States around St Patrick's Day and signalled that would give a timeframe on his resignation when he returns after that trip, sources said.

But the speech, which lasted only eight to ten minutes, shocked some present.

“You could see the blood drain from people's faces,” said a party source.

“Their heads dropped and Leo [Varadkar] looked particularly pale,” the member added.

An extensive round of applause then followed before members moved onto other topics.

Members told the Irish Examiner this evening said that Mr Kenny had left the impression overall that he was “out for war” and ready for any confrontation but overall had managed the situation well.

Speaking after the meeting, Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon confirmed that Mr Kenny told a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting that he will outline his future intentions after his trip to the US next month.

Mr Heydon said the Fine Gael party will now proceed in “a united fashion”.

“The Taoiseach has addressed this issue and he will tell us of his intentions after his trip to the US next month.

“He has already said he will not lead Fine Gael into the next General Election. He reiterated that position again tonight (Wednesday). He has told us he will outline his intentions effectively and conclusively shortly after his return from the US.

“Fine Gael continues to focus on the important work of this Government with our coalition partners. Our motivation is the people of this country and the issues that matter to them. We continue to focus on implementing the Programme for Government,” Deputy Heydon said.

Update 6.30pm: Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs he will deal with the leadership issue shortly after St Patrick's Day, writes Daniel McConnell.

Mr Kenny's much anticipated address to party members was very short at the beginning of the meeting.

According to sources at the meeting, Mr Kenny said he would deal with his departure from office decisively and definitively on his return from Washington DC for the annual trip to the White House for St Patrick's Day.

It is understood Mr Kenny's speech was short, was greeted with a round of applause and there were no other speakers.

The meeting has moved on to other routine matters.

He appears to have fought off any immediate no confidence motion, with the rebel TDs who want him gone saying nothing.

Update 5.40pm: Enda Kenny has been addressing the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party this evening on his future as leader.

He has been defending his stewardship of the party and the country, but he is unlikely to commit to any actual date for stepping down.

Speaking ahead of this evenings meeting, Fine Gael TD Ciaran Cannon said he wants Enda Kenny to outline a definitive timeline regarding his leadership.

"I mean he’s been quite definitive in the past in saying that he’s not going to lead us into the next election.

"There was a belief or a feeling across Fine Gael certainly in the last six months or so that the next election was quite a long way away - none of us are too certain on that."

Update 4.15pm: The Foreign Affairs Minister says the work of Government is not being interrupted by the Fine Gael leadership issue.

Enda Kenny is due to address his parliamentary party this evening regarding his future as leader.

Speaking this afternoon Charlie Flanagan said the media is overstating the issue.

"The work of Government undoubtedly continues.

"On Monday when I was welcoming the Foreign Minister of the United Emirates for discussions here, I was asked a single question on my way in - which was about the leadership of my party - and my brief reply was aired on the national news for the next 24 hours."

Simon Coveney is tipped to be a main contender to replace Kenny.

Update 4.05pm: A Fine Gael spokesman has moved to clarify that TD Josepha Madigan has only requested phones be confiscated at tonight’s meeting of the party, but has not submitted a formal motion, writes Daniel McConnell.

The clarification from spokesman Barry Duggan to journalists came after Ms Madigan’s request became known, causing a considerable stir around Leinster House.

The message from Mr Duggan read: “All, heads up. That was a request from Josepha regarding tonight’s meeting re mobile phones – not a motion. Will be dealt with by chairman at the meeting”.

Party members will gather at 5.30pm to hear from Taoiseach Enda Kenny as to his intentions about departing from office.

Earlier: Fine Gael is to take the unprecedented step of ordering TDs and senators to hand over their mobile phones before tonight’s crunch parliamentary party meeting in a bid to prevent any details about Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s departure plans leaking out, write Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Elaine Loughlin.

The controversial decision - which is in marked contrast to the usual approach to the weekly behind closed doors meetings and has never been made before - has been called for due to concerns over previous leaks and "out of respect" for Mr Kenny.

In a motion to the parliamentary party tonight, Dublin-Rathdown TD Josepha Madigan will ask for a "phone free" meeting to take place "out of respect" for allowing Mr Kenny to explain his position fully before his plans are made public.

It is understood those supporting the motion will cite the fact that recent parliamentary party meetings have effectively becoming public due to the level of leaking involved, a situation highlighted last week by senator Paul Coghlan.

While a large number of TDs and senators are likely to be uncomfortable with the measure, it is unclear whether they will oppose it due to the fact this may indicate they are behind regular leaks from the meeting.

However, given the public need for clarity on Mr Kenny’s future as Taoiseach due to the impact it may have on Government stability and wider policies, the move is likely to be criticised.

In addition, it has given the impression Fine Gael is seeking to limit information on its leadership issue after Sunday’s decision by Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to close down an official Fine Gael What’s App messaging group after a message from Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan suggesting Health Minister Simon Harris will run as a leadership candidate.


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