Taoiseach Enda Kenny must explicitly set out his time-frame for stepping down this Wednesday or risk “tearing Fine Gael apart”, senior figures last night warned.
It emerged yesterday that government business has effectively been placed “on hold” with a key meeting of ministerial advisers only lasting 30 minutes, compared to the normal two hours, because of the leadership crisis.
Mr Kenny’s pending address to the parliamentary party is now seen as make or break, but sources close to both leadership candidates, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, have said Mr Kenny must be “defintive” in terms of his intentions or face a motion of no confidence.
Cork South West TD Jim Daly said the leadership contest must commence immediately and uncertainty engulfing the party “needs to end, and end quickly”.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Daly said: “If this is not brought to a head, this will tear the party apart. Even if Enda stays as Taoiseach I don’t care, but this needs to begin so it can end before we tear ourselves apart.”
Signficantly, his comments were being backed up by ministers and TDs, who also feel anything less than a clear timeline for his departure will be unacceptable.
“No vague statements will do now. He has to be definitive and neither can he kick to touch,” said one senior minister last night.
While the prospect of a motion of no confidence at this week’s meeting, as threatened by party vice-chair Pat Deering, has receded since the weekend, Mr Kenny has been put on notice that his time is all but up.
“No one wants to humiliate him, but he has to state when he is going. He can’t play games anymore,” said Mr Daly.
For his part, Housing Minister Simon Coveney sharply warned Fine Gael TDs and senators to “back off” Mr Kenny and allow him space to declare his intentions.
Mr Coveney said the party had had “a very difficult week last week”, and he does not want frenzied speculation over the leadership to cause difficult weeks and months ahead.
Mr Coveney said it was crucial that Fine Gael people “trusted” the Taoiseach to know what was best for the party and country. “I think that people do need to back off,” he said.
He also said that imposing time tables on Mr Kenny to depart office was not helpful.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris has refused to rule out contesting the leadership of Fine Gael.
He dismissed any suggestion he is too young to become leader. Speaking at University Hospital Galway (UHG), he said he had displayed a leadership role throughout his political life.
“Age, to me, is immaterial,” said Mr Harris. “I look to be judged on my job and the job that I am doing, and I am working as hard as I possibly can at that job.
“I try to provide leadership in whatever role I am given, whether I was minister for the OPW, minster for state for the Department of Finance. I am a TD for six years, county councillor before that, and now a member of government as minister for health for the last 10 months.”
Mr Kenny is to address a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday on the matter.
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald said she will wait until a contest has been announced to consider her position regarding the leadership.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Richard Bruton has said he wanted to discuss with colleagues where the party and the country was going at a time of remarkable change. Mr Bruton was pressed by the media as to whether he would declare his intentions about the upcoming vaccany at a meeting of his local organisation.
“I haven’t commented on the leadership. I want to discuss with colleagues where this country is going. We need to sit down as a party, we know change is coming,” he told reporters at an event in Dublin.
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