Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has insisted now is not the time for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to be forced from office as a rumoured backbench Fine Gael TD no confidence motion in the party leader appeared to be shelved last night.
Mr Varadkar made the comment after a week of increasing questions over when the Fine Gael leader will step down, sparked by a series of controversies for the party last week.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics after the Somme commemoration events at Kilmainham, Mr Varadkar said despite Fine Gael suffering “a bad week, absolutely”, the Taoiseach should not be pushed from power.
Mr Varadkar — whom a poll last week suggested is the favourite to replace Mr Kenny with 31% public support — said it would be wrong to force him from office now and that his cabinet colleague needs to make the decision himself.
“He’s said that he doesn’t intend to lead the party into the next general election and Enda Kenny will decide in his own time when he wants to relinquish the leadership,” said Mr Varadkar. “I don’t think it would be right to push him, I don’t think it would be the right thing to do.
“I don’t think that it’s time for Enda Kenny to depart. We’ve only just formed a Government, we’ve only just managed to get one through after a very difficult election.”
The comments — which followed a similar position expressed by both Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in recent days — came as support for a rumoured backbench no confidence motion in Mr Kenny appeared to cool last night.
Weekend reports had suggested six unnamed Fine Gael TDs were due to table a motion calling for a leadership race before the end of 2016 in order to allow Mr Kenny’s replacement time to grow into the role before a potential snap election early next year.
However, with no motion to be heard at Wednesday’s parliamentary party meeting by last night, a number of Fine Gael TDs told the Irish Examiner there is no appetite yet for a forced removal.
Despite widespread anger at Mr Kenny’s decision to re-appoint ex-health minister and Taoiseach Seanad nominee James Reilly as party deputy leader, the TDs said they want to give Mr Kenny the opportunity to decide to leave with dignity over the coming months — provided a schedule for his departure is announced soon.
The issue is expected to be raised at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, where a number of TDs close to Mr Kenny have suggested the Taoiseach is likely to give a speech addressing the controversy and reference specific legislation he wants to pass before leaving.
The timeline for his departure and the mechanics of choosing a successor — most likely before Christmas — are also certain to be raised at a media event Mr Kenny will attend tomorrow in Berlin after meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio yesterday, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes warned party colleagues that despite frustration over the lack of clarity on the issue, “now is not the time for self-mutilation”.
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