The Fine Gael leader is this weekend scrambling to secure vital Independent and smaller party support — ahead of Fianna Fáil — to avoid defeat in the first battle of the post-election war.
The move comes as outgoing Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan says that he believes it is now time for the two party leaders to settle their differences and make a deal in “the best interests of the country”.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the former Kerry TD has also revealed for the first time that Mr Kenny personally told him to move aside as arts minister for “gender” and “geography” reasons.
Mr Deenihan was given a junior post and replaced as arts minister by Cavan-Monaghan TD Heather Humphreys in the 2014 Cabinet reshuffle. He explained: “I didn’t expect it. I had built up a real connection with people from the arts. It would have been nice to finish the work.
“He [Enda Kenny] mentioned two reasons. First of all was gender, he had to do something about gender balance in Cabinet. And number two, geography, as there was no minister north of a line between Galway and Dublin, so he had to reshuffle Cabinet to ensure there was gender balance and geography.
“I accepted it, I’m a team player. I wouldn’t have been human if I wasn’t disappointed.”
The confirmation comes after speculation before about why Ms Humphreys won the post. It may also reignite debate about Mr Kenny’s promise for a 50-50 gender split in any future cabinet.
But Mr Deenihan, who last week lost his seat in Kerry after almost 30 years as a TD, said Mr Kenny and Mr Martin should work together for the good of the nation.
“For stability, I think that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should make an arrangement now, that might not compromise either party but would be in the best interests of the country. The way they can do that is setting out a programme of tax reform, Dáil reform and setting out the parameters.”
Both leaders, though, are now in a battle to secure the most votes for next Thursday’s nomination as taoiseach, when the new Dáil meets. Mr Kenny is planning meetings and phone calls with Independent TDs, the Social Democrats and Greens over the next 48 hours, after Mr Martin made a head-start in the race.
During a meeting with the Independent Alliance yesterday, Mr Kenny was told the group’s 10-point charter for change is central to whether they back him.
Further demands are expected during planned calls to Michael and Danny Healy-Rae, who are seeking a minister for rural affairs, as well as to Independent TDs, Clare-based Dr Michael Harty and Cork South West’s Michael Collins, the Social Democrats, and the Greens before the weekend is over. While Thursday’s vote is likely to be a stalemate, the result will be key to potential future negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath believes the true talks on forming a government won’t begin until after Thursday’s vote.
Mr Martin began speaking to Independents last Tuesday while Mr Kenny only started contacting possible supporters yesterday.
Mr Martin has already spoken to the Social Democrats, the Greens, a smattering of Independents and the Independent Alliance.
Meanwhile, Labour ministers Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Kevin Humphreys and Ged Nash, who failed to get re-elected, now hope to win a Seanad nomination.
Labour’s national executive board will also meet today to reflect on its dismal election performance.