Fear of an election on all sides has enabled the minority government to get this far but Enda Kenny’s days as Taoiseach are coming to an end, writes Daniel McConnell
JUST when will Enda Kenny go as leader?
It was the only question being asked yesterday and it was a matter of when not if.
Everywhere you looked in Leinster House, you saw the panicked faces of TDs, ministers and backbenchers alike, fearing the threat of an imminent general election.
It was fantastic in one way to see them squirm.
On a far more serious note, the fear of an election was real, as everyone seemed to realise how fragile the edifice of this minority government actually is.
It is that fear of an election on all sides of the House which has enabled this ramshackle administration limp on this far.
No one has the money, energy or work done in terms of candidate selection in order to contest an election.
Hence, we have had seen Fianna Fáil refusing to stick the knife into Enda Kenny and claiming the mantle of responsible opposition.
It’s hogwash of course but it suits them for now to leave the Government in place.
Every week that passes, they are seeing their poll ratings nudge upward and Fine Gael’s ebb away.
The gap between the two, according to the latest Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll, is now 11 points. Whether it is that pronounced remains in doubt but what is not in doubt is the trend which confirms Fine Gael are on the slide and Micheál Martin’s soldiers of destiny are in the ascendancy.
With all that in mind, we are still faced with the reality of the fact that Enda Kenny’s days as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael are coming to an end.
The admission from the Taoiseach that he made up a conversation with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has severely damaged his credibility and hastened calls for his departure.
The complete mishandling of the fallout of the Maurice McCabe scandal in recent days has brought the Government to the edge of collapse more than once since Monday.
Even yesterday Kenny seemed unable to find a dignified means of dealing with the crisis. Despite the crisis engulfing the Government, Mr Kenny’s press handlers sent a notice yesterday that the Taoiseach would not be taking any media questions at a major Brexit address he was giving in the Mansion House on Dublin’s Dawson St.
Having been warned that the media would nonetheless be seeking answers to the crisis at the event should he refuse to engage with reporters, the Taoiseach’s spokesperson was not for turning.
As a result, the Taoiseach was forced to run scared from reporters, skulking in and out of the event through side doors, thereby bypassing the assembled members of the fourth estate.
So much for being the most transparent Taoiseach in history as is often claimed by his press adviser.
But it was symptomatic of how febrile the atmosphere around Leinster House was yesterday.
The vista of him dodging the media also only cements the perception of him under pressure rather than standing tall and facing his detractors.
But while Kenny was dodging the media, attention was beginning to shift toward the Fine Gael party meeting.
While the leader’s fabrication of his conversation had annoyed the hell out of many of his troops, even some of his most ardent loyalists, there was a consensus that now was not the time to move against him.
“You don’t attack yourselves when you are being attacked from outside. It is time to close ranks and we will deal with the internal business later on,” said one TD to me last night.
However, a small number of Fine Gael TDs said the time for the leadership change is now only a matter of weeks away.
Noel Rock, TD for Dublin North West, repeated his call for a discussion about a change of leadership because of the threat of an early election, and given Kenny’s commitment that he will not be leading the party into the next election.
Another leading Fine Gael backbencher, John Paul Phelan, said the party needs to address the leadership issue within the next two months.
Speaking on his local radio station, KCLR live, Phelan said Kenny should depart as leader in the “near future” because an early general election is likely.
Phelan said the Government is in a “precarious position” and that Fine Gael TDs need to “act” in order to avoid catastrophe.
KCLR Live presenter John Masterson asked when this should happen and Mr Phelan replied: “Within six to eight weeks. I do think there should be a new leader of Fine Gael in the near future because we will probably have another general election in the near future.”
Senior ministers Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Simon Harris have been approached in recent days by Fine Gael TDs and senators deeply concerned about Mr Kenny’s leadership. Their interventions, we are told, are not part of any shadowy campaign from contenders Varadkar and Coveney to unsettle their leader. The two men were speaking their minds — totally unprompted from those people with genuine aspirations of leadership.
But, Rock and Phelan, combined with John Deasy’s revelation that he told Kenny of his concerns about the party’s treatment of Maurice McCabe as far back as 2014, serve to further undermine the standing of the leader.
Each one, a minor cut which chips away at Kenny’s ability to survive.
For Coveney and Varadkar, their modus operandi so far has been to hold fire, but their respective camps are getting restless for movement.
Neither man has wanted to put a foot wrong but should either wait too long they risk letting the holy grail slip through their fingers.
While Varadkar is the widely accepted front-runner in the leadership stakes, Coveney’s slow and steady approach to the job has seen him close the gap.
Ultimately, Kenny risks ending his political career in murky circumstances, as an admitted misleader of the public, rather than bowing out gracefully last year having achieved the prize of returning Fine Gael to power.
If that happens, he will only have himself to blame.
Denials, clarification and confusion
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