Fine Gael leadership contender Leo Varadkar has moved to quell any immediate heave against Enda Kenny, warning party rebels to back down so the Taoisseach can get on with his work.
The message by the Social Protection Minister will cause some confusion among backbenchers who want Mr Kenny to decide on a date to step aside sooner rather than later.
The issue of the leadership was raised at Fine Gael’s pre-Dail meeting in Kildare last week, where Mr Kenny surprised many by suggesting instead he would assesses his ministers next year. There was speculation on the weekend that Mr Kenny will be given until next May to give up the leadership, one year on since the fragile minority government was agreed.
“Of course, as a party we have to plan for the future but we’ll do that at an appropriate time,” said Mr Varadkar.
“Obviously I want to be part of Fine Gael’s future. In the meantime I think it’s important that we all support the Taoiseach, he has to concentrate on government and on his job. He can’t be distracted by internal party matters.
“Secondly, there shouldn’t be any further public displays of disunity. Nobody wants to support a party that is more interested in talking about its own issues than the hopes and fears and problems that people face.”
His warning against party dissenters will come as a surprise to many who have heard him, while saying he might be interested in the leadership, suggest he may not stick around in politics.
Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, Cork South West TD Jim Daly, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd and former junior minister Tom Hayes are among those recently reiterating a desire to see a timeline set for Mr Kenny’s departure.
Meanwhile, debate on the budget will increase this week when Finance Minister Michael Noonan and the Revenue appear before the Oireachtas budget committee. With three weeks before the budget, ministers are also set to meet Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe Minister this week about demands to cut back spending requests. While up to €3bn in spending requests have been submitted, the Government has less than €1bn to spend between services and tax cuts.
An increase in the old age pension, money to reduce hospital waiting lists, reductions in USC costs for workers and funds to subsidise childcare will form part of the €1.7bn total package being worked on for 2017.
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