Enda Kenny intends to lead into next decade

Enda Kenny intends to remain Taoiseach into the next decade after winning the 2021 general election, the Government chief whip has revealed.

In a blow to the Fine Gael leadership ambitions of intense rivals Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, Mr Kenny plans to serve a full term if re-elected, and then go on to fight another election, according to chief whip Paul Kehoe, who is a long-standing key ally of the Taoiseach.

The chief whip also said he expects a vote transfer pact between Fine Gael and Labour at the next general election — which has a 30% chance of being held this November.

Mr Kehoe spoke of Kenny’s ambition and also moved to pour cold water on the assumption in the Coveney and Varadkar camps that they were the only possible successors to Mr Kenny by stating that others are in the mix to lead the party.

“I believe Enda Kenny, if he is returned as Taoiseach after the next general election, will serve another five years and more,” the chief whip told the Irish Examiner.

With Agriculture Minister Mr Coveney and Health supremo Mr Varadkar jostling to assume the mantle of natural successor to the Taoiseach as party leader,Mr Kehoe issued what amounted to a political reality check to both hopefuls. “There’s an awful lot of other people who aspire to be in the office of the Taoiseach,” he said. “I would say there is even more than Simon and Leo that would aspire to be Taoiseach of this country.”

Mr Kenny has only once referred to remaining Taoiseach into the 2020s: In 2013, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy jokingly asked him if he intended to stay in power beyond 2020, and the Taoiseach replied: “Yes, of course.”

The ambition is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous statement in 1987 that she intended to “go on and on” as British prime minister and Tory leader.

Mr Kehoe’s confirmation of the ambition caused one senior Fine Gael source to suggest pushing Mr Kenny into a presidential bid in 2018 instead. “I do not think the ‘Endless Enda’ idea is a runner,” said the source. “I’d give him two years if we win the election, then it would be best to try and park him in Phoenix Park.”

Despite Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton insisting it is too early to talk about an election pact between the two Coalition parties, Mr Kehoe said a vote transfer pact was “absolutely” likely.

“I would expect there will be a transfer pact between Fine Gael and Labour at the next election. Absolutely,” the chief whip said.

The timing of that election has been a cause of widespread concern within Fine Gael with some in the party arguing the Government should go early in November after a relatively generous budget, while others urge caution and the need to stay the course until February or March.

Though Mr Kehoe said he was more inclined to go for a poll in early 2016, when pressed on whether he would put the chances of a November election at 30%, he said: “Absolutely.”

However, the chief whip was speaking before a poll which showed a marked decline in Fine Gael support after the Eurostat decision on Irish Water’s borrowing status which has spooked many of the party’s TDs.

Mr Kehoe said Finance Minister Michael Noonan had recovered well from his cancer scare, and that he expected him to stand again for the Dáil in Limerick.

“I don’t have any concerns about Michael Noonan’s health,” he said. “He has made a great recovery from his recent illness and I believe he will stand in the next election, he has an awful lot more to offer to the party and the country.”

Mr Kehoe ruled out a post-election pact with Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, or Independents.

“I think the Irish people will be given two possible coalitions after the next general election,” he said. “You are either going to have Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin or the Fine Gael and Labour government. The most obvious partner for Fianna Fáil at this stage is Sinn Féin, both of them are singing off the same hymn sheet.”

The chief whip was also careful to dismiss talk of any deal with Fianna Fáil after Mr Coveney sparked outrage from some grassroots Fine Gael supporters and the Labour Party by suggesting that such a coalition was possible.


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