LATEST: Michael McGrath warns speculation over Taoiseach is destabilising the Government

Update 10.40pm: Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath has warned that speculation over Enda Kenny's leadership is destabilising the Government.

The controversy continued tonight when an email from Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon was circulated on social media, calling on members of Fine Gael to refrain from commenting any further about the Taoiseach.

Deputy McGrath is concerned that Fine Gael party politics is deflecting from the work of Government.

"This speculation about a General Election is coming about as a result of internal Fine Gael politics and if an election does arise it will be because of that. We don't think that it is necessary and we want to see the Government refocus, recommit to the issues that they were elected to deal with."

Update 9.15pm: The chair of the Fine Gael parliamentary party has tonight written to members asking them to stop calling for Enda Kenny's departure, writes Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter.

Martin Heydon has emailed TDs and Senators stating he is "greatly concerned that the Taoiseach and leader of our party is not being shown the respect his service and his office deserve."

It comes after a number of Fine Gael members called on Mr Kenny to make clear in the coming days the date for his stepping down.

Mr Heydon continued: "I ask - in the best interests of a united Fine Gael and in the interests of common decency - that members of the parliamentary party refrain from making further public utterances about our party leader. Such comments ultimately hurt our party.

"Any comments should be kept for next week's parliamentary party meeting which will take place as usual at 5.30pm next Wednesday," he told members.

Update 4.40pm: Taoiseach Enda Kenny should be allowed to remain in power for up to 18 months to oversee the first stage of the formal Brexit negotiations, one of his party colleagues has claimed, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy made the claim as he dismissed any talk of an immediate leadership change or heave against Mr Kenny next week as being "not in the interests of the country".

Speaking to the Irish Examiner after the All-Ireland Civic Dialogue on Brexit event at Dublin Castle, Mr Murphy said the coming months are "vital" for Ireland and that Brexit should remain the focus of all politicians.

And in a sign that Mr Kenny is being urged by his dwindling number of supporters to fight back against calls for him to resign now or within the next 12 weeks, Mr Murphy said he has told the Taoiseach he should remain until summer 2018.

"The next number of months are going to be vital for the country, and in my view it is not in the national interest to change leader and be distracted by a leadership contest.

"My strong preference is for Mr Kenny to remain for the first stage of Brexit negotiations. That begins next month and is at least six to eight meetings [of the EU Council].

"It [any deal] has to get to the European parliament within a two-year time-frame, so the first stage of negotiations will be at least a year to a year and a half long," he said.

Mr Murphy confirmed he has told Mr Kenny he wants him to stay, and claimed he was "heartened" by Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar's comments that he will not force Mr Kenny from power, despite a number of widely believed supporters of Mr Varadkar openly calling for Mr Kenny to step aside.

Asked if a short leadership race would remove the risk of distracting from Brexit as the issue would be resolved early in the negotiations, he said the "simple reality" is Mr Kenny has built up "personal relationships" with other EU leaders now vital to Ireland's post-Brexit future.

Speaking to reporters before the All-Ireland Civic Dialogue began, Mr Murphy repeated the view.

"To change the captain of our team before we run out of the dressing room is a ludicrous proposal.

"It is vital that all the people involved in the divorce process [Brexit] focus absolutely on the job in hand.

"The Taoiseach has been clear. He has a unique skill set. At this point for our country, the last thing we should be talking about frankly is leadership change.

"Some of the people in our party who want to have a cut should put the country first, and put our country before our party.

"It is not good to be dis-organised when the real negotiations start," he said.

LATEST 4pm: Foreign Affairs Minister Flanagan has said he is focused on his current role and he won't be throwing his hat in the ring to become the next party leader.

LATEST 2pm: Dublin Fingal Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell has said Taoiseach Enda Kenny's position as leader of Fine Gael is now "untenable", writes Daniel McConnell, Irish Examiner Political Editor.

Mr Farrell said he no longer has confidence in Mr Kenny and has called on him to step down to make way for a new leader.

"Unfortunately, I no longer have confidence in the ability of Enda Kenny TD to lead Fine Gael and I believe his position is now untenable," he said in a statement.

"Fine Gael, as a party in Government, requires a leader who can manage the party in a manner which inspires faith amongst the Parliamentary Party, our local representatives and the wider membership," he said.

Mr Farrell then sought to pay tribute to Mr Kenny.

"I wish the acknowledge Enda Kenny's unwavering commitment to public service and to working in the best interests of our society and the Irish public."

Alan Farrell

"While I sincerely thank An Taoiseach for the work he has done in rebuilding our party since becoming leader in 2002 and even more so for his incredible stewardship of the country since 2011, I believe it is now time for him to step aside and allow a new leader, with a fresh approach, to lead us into the future," he added.

Mr Farrell said the party must be prepared to tackle the challenges which arise in society.

"In doing so we require a leader who can lead with confidence, and highlight how the values an principles of Fine Gael can best benefit our society and every community across our country," he added.

"Over the last number of days, we as a party have stumbled from one crisis to another, highlighting how fragile our arrangement as a minority Government is. Not only were we close to an election once, I firmly believe we came close three times. If anything should be learned from the events of the last few days it is that we must be ready for an election at any time," Mr Farrell said.

"In order to do that, we must have a new leader in place who will inject a new impetus and provide a new direction for Fine Gael," he said.

"As the co-author of a recent internal party report, I am very much in tune with the feelings and position of our membership, right across the country. A week does not go by that a further comment from another constituency arrives.

"In a democratic organisation, that is not healthy and thus, I reluctantly withdraw my support for the continued tenure of Enda Kenny TD as leader of Fine Gael," Mr Farrell said.

Mr Farrell's statement echoes the call for a new leader made by the party's vice chair Pat Deering, who has threatened to table a motion of no confidence at a meeting of the parliamentary party next week.

Update 1pm: One of the two main contenders for the Fine Gael leadership says he doesn't think Enda Kenny will be 'rushed' into making a decision on when to step down.

Simon Coveney has been attempting to calm backbenchers who want the Taoiseach to depart within days.

Speaking to Ocean FM in Sligo this morning, Minister Coveney said it is up to Enda Kenny to decide when that will be.

"Lots of people want to get the excitement of a leadership campaign and so on underway. I think Enda has been here before, I don't think he'll be rushed by other people.

"He'll think about this and he'll make up his mind. I think he'll share that with the party when he's ready.

"I don't think we should be trying to force that process. I think that would be wrong."

Update - 10.45pm: The Finance Minister Michael Noonan is predicting it will be a "long time" before a new leader of Fine Gael is elected.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin this morning, Minister Michael Noonan suggested there will not be a change of leader in the coming weeks.

He said: "I mean there is no vacancy yet, as you know.

"There's a long time before a new leader is selected, so it's a little premature to be selecting cabinets."

Update - 8.35pm: Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has said he will not put his name forward for the Fine Gael leadership position, if the position becomes vacant.

However, he told RTE's Morning Ireland that he may consider it in the future.

He added that he did wish to play a "leadership role" within the party, without specifying what that might be.

Minister Donohoe said he had been approached by colleagues urging him to consider contesting the leadership, but says he is happy with the job he has.

He told Newstalk Breakfast: "I'm aware of all the speculation that is underway at the moment, but my decision and my view on this matter is unchanged.

"I am very lucky to be where I am, I've a job that I want to keep the opportunity to keep on doing, and when the Taoiseach makes his mind up, I expect others to do the same too.

"But I am very clear about where I stand at the moment. I will not be a candidate."

It is understood Enda Kenny will be given time over the weekend to set a timeline for his departure or face a motion of no confidence.

Mr Donohoe said he wanted to play a leadership role within the party but he would not be putting himself forward for the position of leader.

He said Taoiseach Enda Kenny would continue to “represent the best interests of the party and the people”.

“The Taoiseach has already indicated that he doesn’t intend to lead Fine Gael into the next election. I want to make sure he has the space to make a decision, I believe he will include a wide set of circumstances when he is making that decision.”

Mr Donohoe said Mr Kenny has done a fine job leading the party and country.

“It is up to him to decide how and what he wants to do,” he said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“The party will need the space and the opportunity to renew and plan for the future.”

He said: “Enda (Kenny) has always shown an ability to make decisions that are above his own interests.”

“I believe it is crucial to recognise the role of Enda as Taoiseach and leader.

“It is crucial that all of this be dealt with in a careful and orderly way.”

Mr Kenny has indicated he will not be standing aside as party leader in the coming weeks despite facing increasing pressure to outline his departure date.

Mr Kenny, defiantly, on Thursday night said he would fulfil commitments he has made as head of Government in the coming weeks.

Earlier: Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s closest allies within Cabinet face being wiped out once he leaves office, Elaine Loughlin and Daniel McConnell of 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 Varadkar 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.

This story first appeared in today's

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