The possibility of a change of Taoiseach has escalated significantly the chances of an early general election.
The development comes following another day of chaos in the Dáil which was moments away from collapse after Fine Gael TDs failed to show up, causing a 40- minute delay to the start of business.
Chief whip Regina Doherty was under fire last night from party colleagues and the Opposition on two fronts.
She was rebuked for failing to marshall her TDs on time and also for comments in a radio interview which appeared to heap pressure on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to clarify when he is stepping down.
In an interview on LMFM, she said the Taoiseach must clarify the process for him stepping aside as Fine Gael leader to avoid causing confusion.
“Unless there’s clarification of the process laid out, there will be confusion,” said Ms Doherty. “Otherwise you’re going to have me and the other 49 members of Fine Gael telling you something different until it is clarified.
“It would be fair if the Taoiseach clarified this so we could get back to normal,” Ms Doherty added.
However, the Irish Examiner can reveal that change of Fine Gael’s leadership will not be tolerated by Fianna Fáil. Several Fianna Fáil sources, speaking privately, have said they are not willing to let Fine Gael gain momentum from a change in the leadership.
The party’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, told the Irish Examiner such a change could “destabilise” the current arrangement.
“I do think that a change in leader or a change of Taoiseach could be a destabilising issue in the current arrangement,” he said.
“There is no doubt that that succession issue within Fine Gael is a potential destabilising issue in the current arrangement. It is something that would be a concern within Fianna Fáil, when that plays out. ”
Yesterday, three of the likely candidates for the leadership — Ministers Frances Fitzgerald, Leo Varadkar, and Simon Coveney — all sought to take the sting out of the damaging week for Fine Gael.
A spokesman for Ms Fitzgerald said: “There is no vacancy. When a vacancy arises is a decision for the Taoiseach.”
Speaking in Brussels, Mr Coveney said: “There isn’t a leadership contest in Fine Gael right now, there isn’t going to be any time soon. A vast, vast majority of us in Fine Gael trust the Taoiseach to be able to make appropriate decisions around that and it’s his call and he’ll make it.”
Asked about a poll which showed Mr Varadkar is the current favourite to succeed Mr Kenny, Mr Coveney said: “I’m pleased for Leo, he’s a good friend of mine, it’s nice to see that he’s popular.”
Fine Gael was dealt another blow yesterday morning when the Dáil struggled to reach a quorum.
Business finally began almost 40 minutes late at 11.15am after chief whip Regina Doherty rushed into the Dáil, only to receive a dressing down from ceann comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl.
With just two Fine Gael TDs present when business was due to start an “urgent” text message was sent to avoid business collapsing.
“Please attend in chamber NOW or business will collapse,” read the text.
Describing the delay as “fairly unprecedented”, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said TDs “need to be aware of their responsibilities”.
Speaking in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary described the delay as a “farce” and said: “I understand the person in charge of business was on her local radio station talking about Fine Gael leadership which is a matter for the Fine Gael party. “When it impinges on the business in the House, it is not good enough.”