Contenders pay tribute after an emotional Kenny bows out
An emotional Enda Kenny officially announced his “retirement” as Fine Gael leader yesterday in a four-minute speech to TDs and senators after three months of delay.
Mr Kenny confirmed he would step down as party leader from midnight last night, in a move that marks the official starting gun for the long-awaited race to replace him as Taoiseach.
In a short, four-minute statement to Fine Gael’s weekly parliamentary party meeting just after 4.30pm after it had been brought forward by two hours at short notice at his request, Mr Kenny said the time has come for him to depart.
Describing his resignation as leader as a “retirement”, Mr Kenny said he would officially leave from midnight last night but would stay on “in an acting capacity” until a new leader is elected on Friday, June 2 — exactly 15 years since he was appointed leader in 2002.
“I want to assure people that throughout this internal process, I will continue to carry out my duties and responsibilities as Taoiseach in full.
“I intend to provide a brief but appropriate period for my successor to engage with groups and members supportive of Government, and with other parties in the Dáil regarding provision of Government for the future,” Mr Kenny told colleagues, before pausing to fight back emotions when he mentioned his late father Henry Kenny who served from 1954 to 1975, his wife Fionnuala and his children.
The speech — which was controversially officially tweeted out by Mr Kenny’s Twitter account moments before TDs and senators who have previously leaked parliamentary party meeting events — came shortly after 4.30pm, during a meeting that ended within 17 minutes.
Mr Kenny, who was afterwards given a lengthy standing ovation by a crowded parliamentary party meeting after months of calls for his resignation, quickly left for an unknown separate engagement, bringing an end to his time in charge.
Minutes after the parliamentary party meeting ended, dozens of Fine Gael TDs and senators attended a media event on the plinth of the Dáil, paying tribute to Mr Kenny’s 15 years as leader and six years as Taoiseach.
They included Fine Gael party chair Martin Heydon and deputy leader James Reilly, the latter of whom denied Mr Kenny had been forced from office.
In separate statements last night, three of the most likely contenders to replace Mr Kenny paid tribute to his time in charge and said history will be kind on his legacy.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney said he was “proud to have served in opposition and then in Government with Enda” and that “his record in Government since 2011 will be viewed very positively by historians”.
“As leader of Fine Gael Enda Kenny has been a towering figure in modern Irish history and will be recognised as such over the coming days, weeks, months and years,” Mr Coveney said.
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald were equally strong in their praise, with Ms Fitzgerald saying he “always strives for the very best for the country” and that it was “my privilege and honour to serve by his side”, while Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar was similarly clear in his tributes.
“Enda Kenny has been an extraordinary Taoiseach and Fine Gael’s most successful leader ever. After decades of service to our party and country, we owe him a debt of gratitude, his legacy will be far-reaching,” he said.
The announcement came after months of delays on when Mr Kenny would depart, with his visit to meet US president Donald Trump, Brexit, the Northern Ireland political crisis and the British elections all given for reasons to delay his departure in recent months.
An hour before confirming his departure, Mr Kenny attended the launch of a bereavement and end-of-life care ‘Finite Lives’ report launch in Government Buildings by Independent senator Marie Louise O’Donnell, who was appointed to the upper house by Mr Kenny.
In a speech littered with symbolism, Mr Kenny said Ireland must always strive to allow people to die with “dignity, and respect”, adding poignantly that people could work together “for 15 years” — the exact time he has been Fine Gael leader — and that suddenly one person could be gone.
“But the work is still there, the desk is still there... After the loved one takes that last breath, there is a silence and a stillness, and no more,” he said after Ms O Donnell paid an emotional tribute to him.
Tributes paid from across political spectrum
Rival parties and Coalition colleagues have lauded “statesman” Taoiseach Enda Kenny for bringing the country “back from the brink”, as some criticised him for being responsible for the “deep paralysis” which has engulfed Ireland and the Dáil.
The tributes and criticisms were laid out in a series of statements responding to Mr Kenny’s widely predicted “retirement” as Fine Gael leader from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, the Independent Alliance and the Greens.
Speaking shortly after Mr Kenny’s decision was confirmed in an official statement on Twitter moments before the Taoiseach read out the same statement to his parliamentary party, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he believed his long-term rival is a “decent” person.
“One of the fundamental tenets of our democracy is a commitment to public service and the Taoiseach has more than fulfilled that obligation. He has worked diligently for his county, party, and country over a long period of time.
“While over the years we have had our differences on many political and policy issues, I have always appreciated Enda’s decency, good humour and approachability.”
Despite both leaders repeatedly criticising each other over their failures in office, Mr Martin — who has worked more closely with the Taoiseach over the past 12 months due to the confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael — said he accepts Mr Kenny provided “years of public service” and wished him well in “future endeavours”.
Government colleagues were equally respectful, with Independent Alliance TD and Transport Minister Shane Ross saying Mr Kenny “has proven to be a true statesman who has always had the interests of the country at his core”.Speaking from Malta,
Communications Minister Denis Naughten (Ind) — part of the 2010 heave against Mr Kenny while a Fine Gael TD — said he has, over the past year, “witnessed first-hand his commitment” to Ireland and “sincerely” wishes him and his family “good health and happiness for the future”.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone (Ind) paid an equally glowing tribute: “As a leader he was always open to change, the successful marriage-equality referendum is the greatest example of this.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who was Mr Kenny’s public expenditure minister during the 2011-16 Fine Gael-Labour government, said the Taoiseach brought Ireland back from economic ruin and that history will ultimately look kindly on his time in power.“I believe Enda Kenny will be remembered as Taoiseach of the Government that brought our country back from the brink.
“Regardless of the challenges we faced, Enda Kenny took them on with humour, grace, and determination. He did his country much service,” he said.
A more guarded response came from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who qualified his remarks by saying Mr Kenny “did his best from his perspective”.
However, Mr Adams - who on Tuesday was jokingly asked by Mr Kenny during a Dáil leaders’ questions debate if he wanted to join him in retirement amid growing talk about his own departure date - said the Taoiseach is still responsible for “a deep paralysis in the body politic”.
“This is a do-nothing Government courtesy of the confidence and supply arrangement with the Government’s partner in Fianna Fáil. There is a deep paralysis in the body politic,” he said.
Greens leader Eamon Ryan thanked Mr Kenny “for his service as Taoiseach over the last six-and-a-half years”, and wished him well for the future.
However, he stressed Fine Gael officials must now quickly find a replacement, who should be in place before the “crucial” European Council meeting on June 22, which will decide on further Brexit negotiation strategies.
Varadkar poised to throw his hat in ring for leadership
Leo Varadkar is expected to declare his intention to run for the next leader of Fine Gael tomorrow as the race begins in earnest.
Mr Varadkar’s supporters remain confident that he will win but said it would be a tightly fought campaign.
Last night East Galway TD Ciaran Cannon declared his support for the Social Protection Minister. Other Fine Gael members who have already voiced support for Mr Varadkar include Eoghan Murphy, John Paul Phelan and Michael D’Arcy.
Dublin North West TD Noel Rock, who has been a vocal supporter of Mr Varadkar and was among the ‘rebel’ TDs who called for Mr Kenny to step aside in recent months said: “I think it’s all to play for, as the Taoiseach said ‘let the games begin’.”
Senator Neale Richmond said: “I declared my support probably 14 years ago at a Young Fine Gael conference and I can do to help my old friend I will be prepared to do it. In terms of ability and competency both are pretty well proven. But ultimately I believe that if Leo Varadkar is the next leader of Fine Gael we have the potential to broaden our support base and increase our votes.”
Senator Catherine Noone, who ran in the same constituency in the general election as Mr Varadkar said she is “reasonably confident” that the Dublin West TD will clinch the leadership.
“I think it will be a close contest and I think we are very fortuitous in that we have at least two good candidates.
“I think it will benefit the party to have a shorter period, we are all tired talking about it we just want to get on with it,” she said.
Paying tribute to the departing Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said Mr Kenny had brought Fine Gael from the edge of extinction to its current position as the largest party in the State.
“He brought Ireland from the brink of bankruptcy back on to the road to prosperity.”
“Enda gave hope to a battered and bruised Ireland in 2011. His dedication and determination gave Fine Gael a landslide in that year’s general election. But more importantly, he brought this country back from the brink of economic collapse, and offered political stability when countries across Europe were staring into the abyss.”
He said he owes him “so much” having been appointed by him to the front bench following his first election as a TD.
Coveney to formally seek nomination today
A series of TDs and senators are set to come out in support of Simon Coveney today as he officially confirms his bid to become the next taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael.
The Irish Examiner understands Cork East TD and junior justice minister David Stanton, Mayo senator John O’Mahony, Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan, and Longford-Westmeath senator Gabrielle McFadden will back Mr Coveney today as the race to replace Mr Kenny officially begins.
Sources said all four of the Fine Gael parliamentary party members have vouched their support for Mr Coveney in recent days and will make their views public today.
The move is likely to be followed by similar public vouching of support for Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar by other colleagues, the official endorsements will give Mr Coveney’s campaign a head start as the race formally begins after months of delay.
The news emerged last night as it was also learned Mr Coveney will become the first leadership candidate to officially announce today when he contacts party headquarters to formally seek nomination.
He will contact party headquarters — which has set a cut-off point of Saturday for nominations — this afternoon after a Dáil media briefing alongside supporters and before he attends two housing policy events in Dublin.
Party headquarters will then contact all Fine Gael TDs, senators, and MEPs asking for eight people to formally back Mr Coveney’s bid for power.
Sources said these official backers will include Health Minister Simon Harris, Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer, junior minister Damien English, Kate O’Connell, Maria Bailey, and senator Tim Lombard.
Mr Coveney will attend the Clare party branch’s AGM tomorrow before holding a rally in Cork on Saturday and officially launching his campaign in Dublin on Sunday.
While questions have been raised over the relatively short timeframe put in place for the leadership campaign, Mr Coveney’s close confidante, Mr Lombard, said last night it will not make any real difference.
He said the campaign is likely to be “robust” and “intense”, and that it may suit the party to hold a short campaign in order to prevent any subsequent internal party fallout.
Party all a-Twitter as the games begin
Some might say he was an unlikely leader some might say, who confounded his critics. But Enda Kenny surprised all and controlled the moment when he chose to announce his resignation.
A lightning tweet only seconds into the Fine Gael party meeting in Leinster House announced his resignation would take effect from midnight.
Bang! In a split second, the man at the helm of Fine Gael for 15 years said he was retiring, not resigning.
“I thank all my loyal constituents and supporters in Mayo for their unstinting loyalty since 1975, and for their support for my family previously in providing unbroken service to the County in Dáil Éireann since 1954,” he told a packed party room.
In a brief speech, he made specific reference to his wife, Fionnuala, and their children, thanking them for support.
“Let the games begin,” he quipped.
And after a standing ovation, he was gone, out the door.
First came the plaudits. This was the man who had brought Fine Gael back from the dead and led the country out of the crash. No one will be able to take that from him, said one long-term ally after the meeting broke up.
Mr Kenny was emotional, said TDs, and specifically mentioned his family, no doubt a reference to his late father and constituency predecessor, Henry Kenny. Then the tributes began to flow. Cabinet colleague Katherine Zappone was one of the first, followed by the Independent Alliance’s Shane Ross as well as the main party leaders. But the moment belonged to Fine Gael.
Enda Kenny guided country through time of change. I wish him well. Work of Government must not stall during this period.— Katherine Zappone (@k_zappone) May 17, 2017
Out on the plinth at Leinster House, there was a monster doorstep of party TDs and senators who greeted the curious media. Cameras circled the group and the questions began.
Parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said the Taoiseach had “very much” been in control of the day and had now left a “smooth transition” period for his successor.
Under the plans, a new Fine Gael leader will be elected by June 2. Mr Kenny will remain as caretaker Taoiseach after the two-week race, allowing his successor negotiate their own tenure.
Deputy party leader James Reilly said Mr Kenny had not been pushed, was leaving a legacy, and had helped rebuild the country. He was, he said, a man with his “finger on the pulse”.
TDs said the brief meeting was sombre. Indeed it was, only taking place after the launch of ‘Finite Life’, a document on end of life and bereavement.
By late evening, fellow Mayo man Michael Ring was praising Mr Kenny’s energy, saying he worked 18-hour days and was still up at dawn every day.
There’s no doubt that all political thoughts began turning almost immediately not to political farewells, but to the election of a new Fine Gael leader.
You could see the anxiety in the eyes of TDs as they wandered the corridors. There were reminders of the previous divisive leadership election heave of 2010. Many will be hoping this is not repeated.
While it will be a three-part process involving parliamentary members, councillors and ordinary members, it will be a quick race and all over by June 2.
However, Mr Kenny the outgoing 66-year-old Taoiseach was enjoying his moment. Advisers said he was in his office with staff as TV stations covered his resignation on the evening news. Later, he was “unwinding with friends”, Merrion St sources said.
They used to say that a week was a long time in politics, now everything changes with just one simple tweet.
Contenders plan 16-day campaign
The battle to succeed Enda Kenny has been on for weeks, but can now formally get under way.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s demand for a shorter leadership contest means Fine Gael officials are now preparing plans for a 16-day campaign in order to conclude matters by the June bank-holiday weekend.
It comes as the Irish Examiner has learned that the four regional hustings will be broadcast live on Facebook.
The party’s national executive will meet today to formally move to open the process for nominations to be accepted. This window for nominations will last for three days so that means nominations will close Saturday evening.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney are the two confirmed candidates but it is not clear if Education Minister Richard Bruton will also contest.
It will require 10% of the parliamentary party or eight TDs, senators, and MEPs to nominate a candidate.
RThen a series of regional hustings will take place around the country.Those hustings will take place
in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and somewhere in the midlands from the end of next week.
TAs it has been reported, the national executive will form a four-person ethics committee, led by party general secretary Tom Curran and chairman Martin Heydon, to ensure the Varadkar and Coveney campaigns don’t get out of line.
“They will be there to ensure the teams behave themselves, and it will be a body to see that nobody steps out of line. But should issues arise, that ethics committee will be there to address them,” said a source.
Mr Heydon, speaking to reporters on the plinth, said the election was an exciting opportunity for Fine Gael to show what it has to offer and that the party will seek to oversee a positive contest.
The hustings will be breadcast live online, both on the Fine Gael website and via the social media websiteFacebook.
Voting will be by way of a rolling ballot on the weekend ahead of the meeting of the parliamentary party.
It is clear the party members will not know the result of the wider membership vote.
Under the rules, the 73-person parliamentary party make-up 65% of the electoral college. The party’s 232 councillors make up another 10% and the 20,000-plus wider membership of the party account for the other 25%.
Mr Kenny requested the Fine Gael executive council expedite this process and have it concluded by close of business on Friday, June 2.
As the Dáil is not sitting the following week, the earliest the Dáil can vote on a new taoiseach is Tuesday, June 13.
“The statement said he would stay on for a brief period. If we have a vote on June 2, the Dáil is not due to sit the following week, and it is the Dáil who elects a new Taoiseach, so there wouldn’t be an opportunity for over a week,” said Mr Heydon.
He confirmed the national executive will meet today to finalise the rules under which the contest will be held.
“The Taoiseach has instructed the executive council to expedite the process to find a replacement leader and have a conclusion to that by Friday, June 2,” said Mr Heydon.
“Those of us charged with overseeing the process will ensure that happens.”