Enda Kenny has survived a leadership heave but is still likely to face dissent in his party after a decision by rebellious backbenchers to temporarily back down.
Rebel TDs, who attempted in recent days to set a date for his departure as Fine Gael leader, have now rounded on senior party colleagues for not backing them after they were left isolated.
The Taoiseach’s position now looks safe after a string of senior ministers yesterday gave their support for him and effectively killed off the mini-revolt.
However, renewed focus on Mr Kenny’s leadership is expected to be raised in the autumn or after the budget.
Mr Kenny said yesterday he was going nowhere and had “no intention of being diverted from the task” of leading the country. His remarks came after a succession of ministers backed him.
An “experienced” leader was needed for post-Brexit talks, ministers said, ahead of the Taoiseach today travelling to Berlin to fight for Ireland’s position in talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Mr Kenny’s relationship with European leaders was important.
“He led the government which took the country out of the biggest crisis they’ve had in two generations, when we nearly slipped into bankruptcy,” said Mr Noonan. “He saw the back of the troika and he’s presiding over the country that’s growing at the fastest rate of the 28 in Europe.”
A motion on Mr Kenny’s leadership will not be raised by backbenchers at tomorrow’s weekly Fine Gael meeting. Instead, a “discussion” is expected to be held, say party sources.
Health Minister Simon Harris said he had full confidence in Mr Kenny and it was premature to launch a motion of no confidence against Mr Kenny, given the minority Government was only two months old.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said putting forward a counter-vote of confidence in Mr Kenny at the meeting could “lead to division” within the party.
However, Fine Gael TDs who attempted to set the date for Mr Kenny’s departure are now blaming senior party figures, tipped to succeed Mr Kenny, for not backing them up.
Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, and Frances Fitzgerald all played down demands by backbenchers that Mr Kenny decide how and when he would leave.
However, some of the dissenting backbenchers have told potential successors to go public with their ambitions.
Kerry TD Brendan Griffin told the Irish Examiner any fresh attempt to remove Mr Kenny now requires senior ministers seeking to replace him to express their real views, saying backbenchers have done all they can.
Mr Griffin is the only TD to publicly admit being behind the draft motion to oust Mr Kenny. He said concerns remain among more than a dozen Fine Gael TDs and that it is now up to ministers to push the matter.
“I wouldn’t be saying names, but if people, ministers, are saying off the record that he should leave, then they should have the courage to say the same on the record,” said Mr Griffin. “There is a lot more at stake here than being held in high esteem by the current Taoiseach. What this requires now is for people who want to be leader to make their views known publicly.”
Another TD who had been critical up until yesterday added: “It is time for people to make a decision, enough is enough.”
Other critical TDs accept Mr Kenny is safe for now. They include Cork South West TD Jim Daly, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd, and Wexford TD Michael D’Arcy.
However, those TDs remain convinced Mr Kenny will have to step down either over the summer break, the autumn, or at Christmas at the latest in preparation for a likely election next year.
Mr O’Dowd said he still wants a leadership change “sooner rather than later”, and “the party should reflect on this over the summer”.
Fergus Finlay: 10
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