Fine Gael TDs last night called for Enda Kenny to set out his timeline for stepping down as Taoiseach as early as the summer recess.
Mr Kenny stands badly damaged and weakened after a bruising week and Housing Minister Simon Coveney yesterday said a process of succession must begin “in the not too distant future”.
The other main challenger for the leadership, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, confirmed he would “love to lead the party”.
Their utterances were seen last night by many TDs as the opening shots of the leadership race. Following Wednesday night’s meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, at which Mr Kenny’s leadership was called into question, pressure has escalated significantly on him to set out his departure.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, several TDs said they believe the leadership succession should begin in the coming weeks. Former junior minister Fergus O’Dowd said a change would have to happen when the Dáil is not sitting.
“The Taoiseach has said he won’t lead us into the next general election. A period of calm is when to do all this, when the Dáil is not sitting,” he said.
One TD, who did not want to be named, said: “If FF are strong in the polls in the autumn, they will use something in the budget, either on services or the USC to go to the polls. They’d be mad not to.”
Kerry TD Brendan Griffin said: “The Taoiseach himself should consider all the options there and not there. Obviously, the timing of the Dáil recess presents an opportunity as a party to see us get together to have a conversation.”
Cork South West TD Jim Daly said he wants Mr Kenny to reveal his intentions on Fine Gael’s leadership after October’s Budget, saying clarity is needed.
Wexford TD Michael D’Arcy said his party was “drifting” and the ball was now “rolling faster than anyone” had anticipated.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr D’Arcy said Mr Kenny needs to indicate his plans for stepping down, to allow the party move on. However, it is a matter for the Taoiseach and his plans will dictate what happens after that, he said.
Clare TD Pat Deering questioned why a leadership change needed to be a “drawn out process”.
Party chairman and Kildare South TD Martin Heydon said he would like to know if there is a “plan in place” on leadership succession.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Mr Heydon said Kenny should stand aside and allow a leadership contest take place at a time when the Government is not busy, either the summer or after the budget.
TDs also expressed surprise that senator James Reilly was reappointed as deputy Fine Gael leader .
Mr Deering said he thought somebody else would have been given the position.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Coveney said: “There will be a time in the not too distant future I expect when leadership is going to have to be discussed in Fine Gael.”
Mr Coveney said issues in the party needed to be resolved internally and “there was an acceptance that this week hasn’t been a great week for the government.”
Party sources said the latest opinion poll, which showed Fianna Fáil opening up a large lead on Fine Gael, justified the strong position taken by TDs at the parliamentary party meeting.
A source said: “There is a slow growing momentum, with just two names being mentioned; Leo and Simon.”
Fine Gael officials last night said Mr Kenny seemed very “isolated” especially given that his main advisor Mark Kenneally and Feargal Purcell were on holidays and his chief economic adviser Andrew McDowell was set to leave.
“These are self-inflicted injuries by his own hands in the last week. This [criticism] is not co-ordinated, it’s an organic outpouring of frustration,” said a source.
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